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Stone Soup Podcasting

I’m in Toronto now, having just quaffed beer with the likes of Tom Dowling, Jenny Levine, and Art Rhyno, among other luminaries. I’m trying hard to convince myself that it’s almost midnight, and my eyes are starting to get heavy (thank you, Tylenol PM!). But I wanted to talk about how I did the podcast I posted yesterday (I think it was yesterday–this week is a blur), because it was so easy. Better quality would be harder, really good quality even more difficult (I have this image of myself stapling egg cartons to the walls of my office and over-investing in huge, expensive sound equipment). But basic, get-me-over-the-wall quality is within anyone’s reach.

Here’s my stone soup podcasting for the Windows XP platform. My objective was to create an MP3 file and upload it to my podcast-enabled blog. I’d love more ideas and input on how to do this better, but this is how it happened.

For better-than-what-came-installed-with-XP recording software, I installed Audacity (open source, donation encouraged if you like it).

When I opened Audacity, I hit the record button and started talking, then stopped the software, “rewound,” and hit play, not expecting to hear any sound. To my surprise, my voice came out of the computer.

I’ve been anticipating a break from reality any day now… but the sound of my voice wasn’t generated by psychosis. I have a webcam, a Logitech 4000 (mounted on top of my Dell flat screen monitor), that has a built-in microphone. It picked up my voice very faithfully in its funky little limited webcam way, leapfrogging over all of the recording obstacles I had predicted.

(If I didn’t have a webcam that obliged me this nicely, and I was still thinking low-end, I would look for a cheap microphone designed to work with computer sound cards. Traditional microphones, even good ones, don’t always play nicely with sound cards.)

With the technical problems eliminated (at least for very low-end production), I concentrated on content and delivery. I wrote out what I wanted to say, and printed it so I had hard copy while I practiced. Greg at Open Stacks is a natural at podcasting (which I dearly want to rename “folk radio,” though I have been informed it’s too late for a name change), and he can talk for half an hour without much of a script. I need more structure. So I scratched out my script and then printed it, and practiced reading it once through. Then I recorded myself, and I didn’t get it right the first three times, but it is a short broadcast, and the fourth time, despite some muddy articulation, was a “go.” (I know on professional radio the pops and ticks and “uhs” get cleaned off, but this was stone soup podcasting. In a way, it was more exciting for being so raw, the way radio and TV were once upon a time.)

I saved the audio project and exported the file to MP3, then uploaded the sound file to my blog. As noted earlier, I had already installed Brandon Fuller’s MTEnclosures plugin and modified my RSS 2 feed accordingly.

All I needed to do then was create a blog entry with a link anywhere in it to the MP3 file I had created. Podcasting aggregators scan blog entries for special media types such as MP3. That was it. Now any podcasting aggregator that plugs in my RSS 2 feed can find my latest podcasts (currently, my only podcast, but that will change).

My office is very small (though adorable; it looks out on to a garden patio), and yes, it has hard walls. A less than optimal “studio,” a cheap and incidental microphone, free recording software, and a bit of add-on software for my blog that if I am a decent woman I will donate to but don’t have to: that’s my podcasting setup.

By the way, I call my office Middlemarch, which is close to the name of the street we live on, and Dorothea is a plump female squirrel who sits on the stoop of my office and scolds me if I don’t put out peanuts. If squirrels had hips, her paws would be perched on hers; I swear she tilts her head to one side when she reads me the riot act.Maybe some day I’ll get lucky and she’ll let me podcast her little lectures.

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