School of Podcasting

[The following column originally appeared in print in October 2006. I am republishing it as part of my continuing effort to maintain an archive of my published columns. Important note: I have not updated this since its original publication. While most of the sites remain as described, some may have changed. All information was current as of the date of original publication.]

Have you ever considered a career in the lucrative and rewarding field of legal podcasting? Are you a lawyer who sometimes wears headphones with your pinstripes? Do you ever wish you could send your colleagues your deepest thoughts in digital format? If you answered yes to any of these questions, then the Ambrogi School of Legal Podcasting could be for you.

Many famous legal podcasters are graduates of our school. We can’t identify them because, being lawyers, they’d probably sue us. But trust us, several of our graduates are earning six-figure incomes!* (*Although not from podcasting.)

Interested? Send no money now. Instead, take this free, no-obligation course, “Launching Your Career in Legal Podcasting.” Ready? Let’s get going.

Essential Equipment

To start, you’ll need a computer. Not just any computer will do – you’ll need one that plays and records sound. If you don’t have a computer that meets this requirement, then, let’s face it, you’re probably a cheapskate who won’t ever pay our tuition.

Still with us? OK, you’ll also need devices to get the sound into and out of your computer. We call them “microphone” and “headphones.” Note that we did not say “speakers.” Using headphones prevents feedback and echoes that distort the recording.

Any computer microphone and headset combination will work – the same headsets you use for computer gaming or Internet telephony. In general, USB headsets deliver better sound than those that plug into your computer’s microphone and speaker jacks.

For more professional sound, consider a package such as Podcast Factory from M-Audio. For $180, you get a high-quality microphone with desktop stand, a USB audio-interface device with gain and level controls and stereo inputs, and a suite of recording and mixing software.

Hardware all set up? Because so many of our students are incapable of plugging in a microphone, we recommend this five-minute sound test at AudioHelp. It ensures that your microphone and speakers function properly.

Sound Software

OK. With the mike on your desk and headphones on, you look like a pro already. But you’re not ready to start yet. Now you need the software that will record your voice to your computer and allow you to edit it.

For this, you want Audacity, a free, open-source program for recording and editing sound. Don’t let the price fool you. Audacity has sophisticated editing features that let you trim out unwanted gaps or glitches, weave in music or other sounds, and add special effects such as equalization and reverb. For Apple users, another option is GarageBand.

One feature Audacity lacks is the very one you most want it to have – the ability to record in MP3 format. For this, there is a simple fix, called the LAME MP3 Encoder. You can read all about LAME at http://lame.sourceforge.net. But to quickly add it to Audacity, search “lame” from the Audacity site and you’ll find the instructions. Once you’ve added LAME, you will be able to export Audacity recordings into MP3 format.

For an even more polished sound, you may want additional production software for adding in sound effects, audio tracks, loops and other tricks. The Podcast Factory mentioned above comes with one called Ableton Live Lite 4.

But beware: Before you add music to your podcast, pay attention to licensing and ownership issues. For a safe selection of music for your podcast, visit the PodSafe Music Network.

The secret ingredient that distinguishes a podcast from other Web audio recordings is an RSS feed. This allows your multitudes of fans to subscribe and automatically download new episodes. For the tech-savvy among you who wish to create this feed by hand, a how-to is at AudioFeeds.org. But the simpler route is with software that automates the creation of the RSS feed, such as Podifier or FeedForAll.

Online Podcasting Tools

Now that I’ve told you about all the software you need, I’ll reveal to you that you don’t need any of it. Several Web services let you record, store and distribute your podcast online, requiring no special software on your computer. One is Podomatic, a free service that lets you record and syndicate podcasts via your Web browser. Another free service is Odeo Studio, which lets you record audio over the Web or upload files you’ve recorded on your computer.

Like any broadcast, a podcast is more interesting with a guest. Using voice over Internet, you can interview or have a conversation with someone and record it as a podcast. A popular Internet phone service is Skype. But the Skype software does not allow call recording, so podcasters turn to third-party options that enable Skype recording, such as Pamela and Hot Recorder.

An alternative Internet phone service, Gizmo, directly allows voice recording. Gabcast, lets you record and distribute podcasts using your landline or cellular phone.

There you have it, everything you need to get started. Just add your voice and you’re on your way to a successful career in legal podcasting.