Any institution like the Podcast Asylum relies on products and services to keep it running. Here are some hints about what works and what doesn’t when it comes to producing great podcasts.
In the course of writing this book, Penny Haynes posed a LinkedIn question asking to talk to business owners who had never used audio or video to market themselves. I was hard put to think of anyone besides my mother. Itâ€™s not just that I know a lot of podcasters and vidcasters. Iâ€™ve spent my time in industries where people have used audio and video to market themselves for decades.
Back when I was teaching Greek and Roman drama, I made video recordings of all my productions. The first client whose book I helped write gave me audiocassettes with recordings of his class lectures to turn into book chapters. Nearly everyone Iâ€™ve worked for since has used some form of video or audioâ€”including the old-fashioned â€œgetting interviewed on radio and TVâ€ format.
The only difference between that and what Penny talks about in this book is that most of the audio and video recordings used as â€œdemo reelsâ€ or sold as products before 2004 werenâ€™t digital, and they werenâ€™t online.
The rapid growth in both the tools for creating digital media and the bandwidth for sharing it just mean there more ways to use audio and video for your business. More than 101 of them, in fact. Penny lists 103 and then provides some additional ideas in the Sample Projects section at the end of the book.
I defy anyone who reads it not to think of some way to use these tools for his or her business. And Iâ€™d be surprised if those of you already using audio and video donâ€™t discover new applications. My favorite discovery was one Penny also mentioned in a recent interview with Anna Farmery: turning audio into video by adding slides to your audio recording.
I donâ€™t know why I never thought of that. Itâ€™s probably because Iâ€™ve been too focused on extracting the audio from video files where the visuals add little or nothing, the better to listen to them on my MP3 player while driving. Now I just have to find time in my schedule to go back and do it with some of my presentations.
On the down side, 101 Things could have benefited from the services of a book designer, as there are some odd page breaks and layout issues. Those are only a minor distraction, as the repeated references to the Commercial Creation Center are a minor annoyance.
If youâ€™re a podcaster or a podcasting/media consultant, buy this e-book for your clientsâ€”but read it yourself first to help you pitch them.
SnapKast version 2.0
Windows XP, XP Tablet PC
Longer ago than I care to admit, I was asked to evaluate SnapKast, a product by Lecture123.com designed to â€œcreate PowerPoint podcasts in a snap.â€
The interface is very simple: you just drag your PowerPoint file onto the â€œRecordâ€ button in SnapKast, rather the way you use the Levelator. Nevertheless it actually took several snaps before I could produce a video, due to two problems. The first is that I’m constitutionally incapable of producing a podcast without audio and video clips in it, and SnapKast can’t process those, so it spat out an error message at me the first time and hung up.
SnapKast processed the second file I tried successfully, and I was able to record myself narrating the slideshow, even if I couldn’t play any of the included recordings. This part of the process reminded me of nothing so much as using the Co-op World interface for the Online Podcasting Expo back in April, though I can’t remember whether their system produced the same pixelated effect when processing transparent images.
Once you’ve recorded your presentation, you choose the format you want. The options are .mp4 video and .mp3 audio, with some advanced options for choosing the size of the video and the frame rate. The recommended 320 x 240 size for video podcasts is painfully small for viewing PowerPoint slides, even those like mine which include mostly pictures and very few words. The largest size, 1024 x 768, is fine for playback on a computer, but not too useful for playback on a portable device. That problem, however, is really due to PowerPoint as a medium and not to SnapKast.
After the conversion phase comes the playback phase. I noticed two problems: the audio tends to skip every so often, and the video switches to the next slide before I’m finished narrating the first one. The latter problem might be solved by adjusting frame rates, which is something I’ve had to do to get audio and video synced properly with Camtasia.
At this point, you can e-mail your presentation or copy it to the clipboard, but I, of course, was interested in the podcasting functionâ€”and this is where I ran into my second problem. I have a 1440 x 900 widescreen laptop, and I had set it to use large fonts so that I wouldn’t have to squint to see things. This messed up the way SnapKast displayed and meant that I was unable to enter a URL into the required field for generating the RSS feed. When I re-set my display, it worked just fine, and I was able to get to the â€œPublishâ€ window, which is the last stage of the SnapKast process.
I was a bit puzzled at first, since it said â€œDrag and drop to publish,â€ but not until I opened the help section did it explain where to drag it. (You have to open your FTP client, connect to your site, and then drag the podcast folder over.) I’m not sure that I’d exactly call this â€œpublishing,â€ given that if you hit the â€œPublishâ€ button in, say, Microsoft Expression Web, it actually connects you to your web server and puts the file there.
For actual podcasting purposes, in order to include a click-to-play option and show notes, I’d be better off just uploading the file into my media directory and using PodPress to include it in my feed existing feedâ€”which is what I’m doing here in order to let you see the video. The only viable option on the SnapKast feed page seemed to be iTunes, which did work correctly. Otherwise I could see the RSS feed, but not a link to the file. And there’s no autodiscovery on the feed index page, either.
Apart from that, the quality of the video produced is quite good for the file size, and the audio (between skips) is fine. If someone only wants to create videos of PowerPoint presentations, and doesn’t mind adapting the presentations to accomodate SnapKast, it’s a decent tool. But I don’t expect it to be a big hit with podcasters, and I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone whose budget extends to purchasing Techsmith’s much more sophisticated Camtasia.
The support team was very responsive, though.
Note: click the â€œPlay in Popupâ€ button to see the video.
Disclaimer: As a contributor to the authorsâ€™ podcast, For Immediate Release, I might be expected to have a biased opinion. I do, but I also held the book to the standards of their podcast and their blogs. If it hadnâ€™t been good, I would have been seriously disappointed.
But not to worry, itâ€™s good.
Naming a book â€œHow to Do Everything with Podcastingâ€ is ambitious, but that was the publisherâ€™s choice. They have a whole series of â€œHow to Do Everythingâ€ books. And while there might be things you can do with podcasting that arenâ€™t covered in the book, itâ€™s impressively comprehensive.
I particularly appreciated the details about sound editing in Chapter 9 when I had to assemble the interviews from the iMeme conference. (It helped, but with background noise as bad as that, thereâ€™s not a lot you can do if you donâ€™t use a directional mic in the first place.) The only omission Iâ€™m aware of in that section is a reference to the Levelator, an amazing tool every podcaster should have. (Itâ€™s free, too. Gigavox invented it in self-defense.)
I imagine many people will head straight to Part IV, â€œMake Money with Your Podcast,â€ but I really appreciated Part V, â€œUse a Podcast as a Business Communication Tool.â€ These 65 pages are pure gold for any podcast evangelist operating in either the corporate or small-business world. Shel and Neville start by pointing out that creating a podcast is not a business goal. Rather, podcasting is a tool that can serve a purpose in the businessâ€™ overall strategy. If your company starts podcasting â€œbecause everyone else is doing it,â€ the podcast is not likely to be a success.
Thereâ€™s also an appendix about legal considerations for podcasters, one listing podcasting resources, and a podcasting glossary to help you sort out the jargon. And to keep up to date (because things on the Web change so quickly), thereâ€™s a website for the book. You can find Shelâ€™s mix-minus instructional video (for recording Skype calls without echoes) and a whole lot of other good stuffâ€”including a long list of links to podcasts.
Three cheers and five stars, guys.
I hadnâ€™t gotten very far into The Business Podcasting Bible before concluding that the book designer should be hauled out and shot. The book is very difficult to read, not because of the writing but because of the way itâ€™s put together. The font for the main text ought to be called â€œeyestrain.â€ Itâ€™s plenty large enough, but seems to vibrate on the page. (Being able to see the text on the other side doesnâ€™t help, either.) Given that one person in eleven is subject to migraines, as I am, headache-provoking print is not a good investment.
The sans-serif font in the sidebars is actually easier on the eyes, the graphic design truism about not using sans-serif fonts for long blocks of printed text notwithstanding. But the sidebars themselves are maddening, because most of them run to several pages. A sidebar is an eye-catching thing, particularly when set off with a shaded background and a different font. It distracts from the main text. In order to finish reading the sidebar, I had to go forward several pages, then come back and read the rest of the main textâ€”or read the main text first, and then come back for the sidebar. Either way, it created a lot of work, and it interrupted the flow of ideas, making it very hard to take in the information the authors were trying to impart.
I also found it jarring that the word â€œpodcastâ€ was capitalized and often used instead of the word â€œpodcasting.â€ We donâ€™t capitalize â€œradioâ€ or â€œtelevisionâ€ or â€œfilm,â€ so I canâ€™t think why we should capitalize â€œpodcast.â€
These formatting issues are a terrible pity, because Paul Colligan and Alex Mandossian have some great things to say about podcasting forâ€”and asâ€”a business. Iâ€™ve been a regular listener to Marketing Online Live, where most of these ideas were previewed, for years. Colligan and Mandossian are probably the ultimate authorities on making money with your podcast, because theyâ€™ve used everything they tell you about in their own businesses.
This is not a technical how-to book about podcasting. If you want to know how to record and edit your podcast, set up your feed, and so forth, read Podcasting for Dummies or How to Do Everything with Podcasting. If you want to know about dead-time learning, teaching your audience to consume podcasts, premium podcasting, and monetization, read this book.
Better yet, buy the book and download the bonus audio you get from the member site (instructions on page 77). Itâ€™s a sight easier to take in than the printed version (so to speak). The member site hasnâ€™t been all that active lately, but the recordings of the LA an Orland Podcasting Secrets Workshops contain tons of helpful tips, and Paul Colliganâ€™s â€œPicking Your PodcastTopic â€“ 17 Questions You Must Ask Yourselfâ€ is not to be missed.
Itâ€™s probably worth the 20 bucks just to get the audio downloads, but my recommendation would be to wait and see whether they overhaul the next edition to be more readable. It would be easy enough to solve the layout problem by incorporating those long sidebars into appropriate parts of the main text, saving sidebars for short tips, and to pick a better font and thicker paper.
Or go back and listen to all the archives of the Marketing Online Live podcast, which covers most of these topics. And whether or not you download the earlier episodes, subscribe now if you have any interest at all in podcast monetization.
Skylook is the brainchild of Australian Jeremy Hague, designed to integrate Skype into Outlook. I liked Skylook 1.5 and love Skylook 2.0. (You can read my review of Skylook 1.0.3 at Kickstartnews.com.) The SMS message features (you can send text messages to your cell phone through Skype) aren’t as interesting to me, or likely other podcasters, as the call recording.
One thing I always liked about Skylook’s recording feature is that it starts immediately. No forgetting to press the “record” button and having to re-do the interview. But recordings used to be MP3 only, one channel. Now Skylook records both sides of the conversation on separate channels, and offers a variety of audio formats and bit rates.
Audio geeks will tell you not to record directly into your computer, but Skylook is easy, reliable, and produces sound quality as good as most of the podcasts I listen to. Plus it gives you a Skype answering machine with an Aussie accent, and it saves your text chats, too. (All these things get sent to your Outlook inbox, so you don’t have to remember to check for them.)
Disclosure/Disclaimer: I was a Tee Morris fan before I read this book. I still am. So obviously I was predisposed to like it.
Wiley Publishing’s â€˜For Dummiesâ€™ series is wildly popular in spite of the fact that most of us don’t like to think of ourselves as Dummies. Fortunately, this book works just fine for smart people who donâ€™t happen to know much about podcasting, and thereâ€™s a great companion podcast by Tee Morris. (Season 1 contains 20 episodes; Season 2 will accompany the sequel, which has the unlikely title of Expert Podcasting Practices for Dummies.)
The book is both readable and comprehensive, and includes plenty of humor (and not just in the cartoons before each section). I could do without the font used for the subheadings, but at least itâ€™s legible, and I presume they chose it to convey friendliness. Podcasting for Dummies walks you through the basics of choosing your equipment (microphones and mixers), using audio editing software, podcast blogs, RSS, bandwidth and hostingâ€”and thatâ€™s just chapter 2!
It was Podcasting for Dummies I turned to when I needed to know how to put a music â€˜bedâ€™ under a voice recording. (I later used that knowledge to record a comment for Tee Morrisâ€™ podcast, The Survival Guide to Writing Fantasy.) The explanation of bit rates, sample rates, and ID3 tags should be required reading, and the chapter on XML and RSS is a useful reference for moments when feeds won’t validate. Indeed, the traditional â€˜For Dummiesâ€™ design makes it easy to use the book as a reference on any of the topics covered.
The final section of the book is a series of Top Tens (types of podcast, most influential people in podcasting, reasons why podcasting wonâ€™t kill radioâ€”and reasons it will). Some of these lists, like specific links and details about software, may become obsolete quickly, but the principles remain sound and neither audio editing nor ID3 tags are going away any time soon.
Many of the example podcasts used in the book relate to science fiction, reflecting the interests of the authors, and thereâ€™s a wee bit of Macintosh bias in the screenshots. (Why are so many podcasters Mac users?) Those are just observations, though, not criticisms, and the inclusion of podiobooks.com is a boon to would-be podcasters who are either published or unpublished authors.
One thing that is missing, at least from the first edition (I think I have the first edition, though they were up to the third printing by the time I got my copy at the PME last year), is any discussion of PodPress, the popular WordPress plugin for podcasting (used on this site for the Reports from the Asylum). Of course, PodPress was much less sophisticated at the time the book was written, and WordPress hadn’t yet opened up the WordPress.com hosted service.
It will be a great relief when the sequel to this book appears and Tee Morris can get back to podcasting.