[May 19, 2006]

POD PEOPLE

(The Irish Times Via Thomson Dialog NewsEdge)It's a pod world - you're just living in it. Jim Carroll explains the ins and outs, hows and whys of podcasting

WHEN you hear senior broadcasters nervously telling listeners that their show is now also available as a podcast, you realise that a tipping point has been reached. What was once a niche area and solely the preserve of the online community has now firmly become a mainstream media activity.


Just as radio shows now rarely operate without text numbers and e-mail addresses, the podcast has also become an essential part of the broadcast package. But podcasting is not just confined to the radioheads - everyone is getting in on the act.

For a start, it's not just for the pros. If blogging allows wannabe journalists to show that they can't write, podcasting gives every would-be Gerry Ryan or Joe Duffy access to the masses with their blather. Yes, you too can have a 24/7 Liveline. Armed with a microphone, easily available freeware and a few lines to spin, you have the same access to a worldwide audience as everyone else in the game.

In practice, however, getting a share of this audience for your podcast is tough. In the great pod-rush now underway, familiar names and media brands dominate the most-podcasted lists. That's unlikely to change in the short or medium term, though it hasn't stopped thousands taking to the microphone looking for their chance to shine.

Many would-be music podcasters are in a bind because of licensing problems which prevent the use of copyrighted material. There are moves afoot by various industry bodies to bring in a special podcast licence. In the meantime, most podcasters can get around this by using either copyright-free material or featuring a very large amount of unsigned bands.

But you don't necessarily need music to make your podcast zing. There are podcasts dealing with everything from recipes and improving your golf swing to reviewing new computer games and discussing The Da Vinci Code. If it can be talked about, it can be podcast, so the diversity available is quite staggering.

No doubt, there are readers of The Ticket who have things to say (or who just want to know more about podcasts in general), so here's a bluffer's guide to the ins and outs of podcasting.

An obvious question, but what the hell is podcasting? I mean, what does it refer to?

Podcasting is the term used to describe a way of distributing audio online so that audio files are sent automatically to a user's computer. You can then listen to the audio on your computer or download it onto a portable digital player, such as an iPod.

What separates it from normal audio downloads is that when you subscribe to a podcast feed from, for example, a certain radio show or podcaster, every edition of that show or podcast will then be sent automatically to your computer. Think of it as subscribing to a magazine or newspaper: the audio files simply show up on your doorstep.

Who came up with that silly name?

It was a journalist. Ben Hammersley at the Guardian coined the phrase and has been living with it ever since. He is the Podfather.

What do I need if I want to become a podcasting Dave Fanning?

To start with, you need a microphone, some recording and editing software and some story ideas or discussion topics which you think people might want to hear. That's all it takes to create the initial podcast.

Let's say you want to record a podcast featuring you and your mate talking about the various gigs and shows happening in Ireland over the next few months. Record your spiel using a microphone and Mini-Disc recorder (or straight onto your computer, if you wish). Then, once you have the recording on your computer, use some editing software to turn your random thoughts into podcasting gold.

Mac users will probably use Garageband, but there are several free audio editors available online (one which is highly recommended by many is Audacity at audacity.sourceforge.net/).

Save your broadcast as an MP3 file and you're ready to podcast

OK, so how do I get the podcast from my computer to the web?

You publish it online in much the same way as any blogger operates and simply upload your finished podcast to your webpage or blog. (If you don't already have your own web space, get this sorted right away.) You then create a podcast feed (the technical term for this is "RSS feed") so people can listen to and subscribe to your podcast on their own computers. There are many RSS-feed generators available online, such as Feedburner's Smartcast (www.feedburner.com) or Feed for All (www.feedforall.com), which will sort this out for you.

Smashing. But how do I get people to actually listen to me?

You need to advertise your wares. Get your podcast listed in all the major podcasting directories and guides like www.podcastdirectory.com, www.podcast.net, podcasts.yahoo.com and www.podcastalley.com. Register with iTunes (go to the "submit podcast" page of the iTunes Music Store). Send the link for the podcast to all your friends.

And update your podcast on a regular basis. Just as most people quickly tire of blogs when they're rarely updated or have nothing new to offer, the same applies to podcasts.

I don't want to be a podcaster, but I do want to hear what all the fuss is about. What do I need?

You simply need software to ensure you can subscribe to and listen to podcasts. If you have iTunes, you don't need to do anything else. If you wish to use something else, check out the list at www.podcastingnews.com/ topics/Podcast_Software.html

Where do I go to get some podcasts?

The best place to start is, not surprisingly, the iTunes Music Store. Apple has been swift to capitalise on the podcasting phenomenon and there is now a dedicated podcast section where you can download podcasts on science, technology, comedy, sports, news, politics and much, much more to your heart's content. Best of all, the vast majority are free.

The most popular podcast on the Irish iTunes Store remains the Ricky Gervais Show, but the Top 20 chart also includes Today FM's Matt Cooper, Jack Black's Nacho Libre Confessional and a podcast on TV show Lost.

What about music podcasts? Are there good ones?

There are plenty of music podcasts out there, all of which smartly manoeuvre around the copyright restrictions by using radio or special sessions or club mixes. The excellent Morning Becomes Eclectic on KCRW has sessions with Josh Rouse and Elbow, while London's XFM had Paul Weller and Goldfrapp round for a chat and some music. In terms of club mixes, we're really loving Erol Alkan's Trash to-do.

Other gems out in podcast world include Martin Scorsese's acclaimed No Direction Home documentary on Bob Dylan. Plus check out the highly recommended podcasts from Paste magazine, especially if you're a fan of The Fiery Furnaces, Son Volt, The Frames or Buddy Miller.

There are also a few Irish music podcasts worth checking out. We like the Phantom FM podcast, and the recently launched New Music Ireland podcast is doing very well with its focus on rising Irish acts, although we could do without less of the overbearing presenter.

What about traditional media outlets? Are they in full podcast mode?

Both RTE and the BBC now have a limited number of shows available as podcasts. What seems to be holding many European broadcasters back are the limitations on music use, but this will change in the future. For now, These stations seem happier to have people listening to online audio streams rather than downloading shows to cart around on their iPods.

As for newspapers, many are dipping their toes in the podcast ocean with basic audio pieces rounding up what it says within their pages or excerpts from interviews.

So we can expect a Ticket podcast soon?

Talk to the editor.

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