Creating podcasts on a Mac, Part 1

Podcasting is now far, far easier and cheaper even than I’d imagined — even for complex productions. I’ve been experimenting. Here’s a very quick summary of what I’ve learned so far about doing this on a Mac, my platform of choice.

Now if your podcast is just you talking then you can take a much simpler approach. Read no further.

However this investigation was inspired by the “live recording” of the 2 Web Crew. Having an audience contributing comments and questions via text chat created an interesting dynamic — similar to talkback radio but less formal. I wanted to explore further.

The technical challenge is combining all of the audio elements before the audio or video stream is piped up to Ustream or wherever. There’s probably quite a few ways to do this, but my starting-point was The UStream Tool Kit — which also covers Windows.

For an audio podcast, you can use either Ambrosia Software’s WireTap Studio or Rogue Amoeba’s Audio Hijack Pro to prepare the original sound. You can use a microphone for one voice or something like Skype or (yes, I am paying attention, Simon Rumble) Google Talk to record online conversations with others. Both tools can mix in audio from any running application — sound effects and music from iTunes, for example — and both can stream the audio to uStream or or wherever.

Once your program is recorded, you can use any number of audio editing tools to clean it up and remix it before uploading it as a “permanent” podcast. Audacity is a free open source multi-channel audio editor for Windows, OS X and Linux.

For a video podcast, you can of course record vision on any digital video camera or webcam and edit it in any video editing application. However an amazing free tool called Cam Twist turns your Mac into a complete live video mixing desk.

Cam Twist has camera switching and fades, text overlays, special effects, drop in pre-recorded movies and more. There’s even things which are possible only on a computer, like automatically turning a Flickr photo set into a slideshow, or running a text crawler across the bottom of the screen which is pulled in from an RSS feed. Again, you can use Ustream or to involve a live audience, and even route it through Skype to involve remote participants.

Cam Twist doesn’t do audio mixing, but you could run one of the audio tools in parallel, or have a second Mac doing the audio mix, or route the signal to an external audio mixer and then bring it back in. which approach you take depends on the complexity of your mixing needs.

The video in Cam Twist is standard “video chat” 320 x 240 pixels. However as computers become more powerful and bandwidth increases, Cam Twist or its successors will surely handle broadcast-quality material.

The final step is publishing the podcast and its associated RSS feeds. The simplest method is probably to use WordPress as your blogging platform, and add the podPress plug-in to deal with everything else.

podPress uploads and inserts your media file (audio or video) into the blog post with a player for formats including MP3, RM, OGG, MP4, MOV, QT, FLV, ASF, WMV and AVI. It automatically generates feeds for RSS2, iTunes and ATOM and BitTorrent RSS, and automatically submits the new episode to podcast directories including iTunes, Yahoo! Podcasts, Podcast Alley, Podcast Ready and Blubrry.

OK, that quick overview skipped a lot of important details. However each tool has comprehensive tutorials, and my main aim is to record my thinking as I develop my own podcast toolkit.

Tonight I’ll produce a test video podcast as a proof-of-concept exercise. Stay tuned. Details posted later today.

I’m not expecting too many problems. When I was with ABC Radio and elsewhere, I produced some fairly complex outside broadcasts. One involved tying together a program from Port Adelaide where one presenter was up in a lighthouse and the other was 300m away on a wharf without line of sight, and we had to incorporate live crosses to a cricket match at Adelaide Oval, a rowing race in Launceston, Tasmania, and of course the news on the hour. Oh, and did I mention we took talkback calls and had a live band? This is a doddle.

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