Podcasting began as a kind of “voice blog” for amateurs — a way for personal computer users to broadcast their voice over the internet. Now, the concept has evolved into something much bigger — a powerful way for communications professionals to create a wide range of programming on niche topics of interest for large audiences.
When audio streaming over the internet was announced by Rob Glaser of RealNetworks at NAB 1995, few could imagine where it would lead. Now businesses use podcasts to create marketing, training materials and webinars, classes are taught, entertainers perform and major news organizations — like the New York Times — use podcasts to enhance their election coverage.
Not only are podcasts cheap to produce, but audiences for popular productions can soar much faster than broadcast programming due to the viral nature of the internet. Comedian Marc Maron even scored a recent coup by getting President Obama to do a podcast from his garage. It became a viral sensation.
The technology of podcasts can range from simple to being akin to a full blown radio or television production. Podcasts can be done with audio or video. There are advantages and downsides to both methods. Just because video is available does not make it the best choice.
In 2014, only six out of the Top 100 podcasts on iTunes were produced on video. Leo Laporte’s “This Week in Tech,” which has both an audio and video edition, finds the audio edition more popular than the video. Most top podcasters chose audio over video since their audio formats draw a larger audience.
There are, of course, situations where video works better. For example, “how to” podcasts allow the narrator to demonstrate visually how something is done and to show charts, graphs and photos of objects. It is also now easier to distribute video podcasts, with free hosting available on YouTube.
High quality video, however, costs more to produce and video production is far more complex. Shooting it with an iPhone will not result in good production value. You need to be concerned with video formats and other technical issues. Skype is available both for audio and video podcasts and is used by many, including broadcast stations.
Using video can cause a show to lose out on the in-car audience. How important is that audience? Is your subject matter better communicated with video? What will you loose without video? Determining whether to use audio or video is an important issue one should think about before choosing to do a podcast.
The basic one-person audio podcast is very low cost and can use a single USB microphone with a laptop. These start at about $50 and are available from virtually every microphone manufacturer. Multi-microphone audio set-ups get slightly more complicated, but are still reasonably inexpensive. Audio podcasts are widely consumable and supported by all podcast apps and directories.
For podcasts with two or more people, each person needs a microphone and headphones. It becomes just like a professional broadcast studio. Consider sound effects, intros and music. Where will these sounds come from? Every sound needs to be considered and factored into the plan.
Many standard recording mixers can be used for podcasting and offer good service. But this is where the “gotchas” come in. A mixer can accept several microphones, but usually only has a single headphone output. That means you add need to add headphone distribution for guests or buy the right mixing console to start with. These kind of details add up.
For professional podcasting applications, it’s worth the extra cost to get the rugged durability of a broadcast-grade mixing board to begin with. Certain boards are designed specifically for podcasting. They don’t cost much more, and may, in fact, cost less.
There is a wide range of choices. And consider your location? Is it acoustically viable or will sound treatment be needed? One needs a complete workflow before even thinking of purchasing gear. Use your head and map out exactly what you want to do and how you will work in advance.
Manufacturers like Shure, Yamaha, Audio-Technica and Tascam make high-quality, podcast gear. Mixing and podcast systems have gotten very convenient in recent months and can be done virtually anywhere.
Of course, what matters most is the quality of the program — something most amateurs totally forget. The equipment is the last thing one should think about when considering a podcast. What is it you want to communicate? What is the purpose of the podcast? What is the desired result? These are key issues.
A well executed idea, a good story and capable talent are the most important attributes needed to be a success. When those come together, a podcast can be a highly effective communications medium.
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