November 7, 2007

Be heard: Podcasting with Linux

Author: Lisa Hoover

Many people are giving up blogging to try their hand at podcasting -- creating a downloadable audio file that will play on any standard MP3 player. Recording, editing, and packaging a session isn't very difficult but, until recently not very many tools existed to help you get the job done. Now Linux-friendly applications are starting to pop up everywhere.

The basic tools you'll need haven't changed much since podcasting began. At the very least, you'll need a good microphone and headset, and a sound card equipped with a line-in port. There are several high-end hardware products on the market, but for general podcasting needs, some basic equipment paired with good editing software will meet most people's needs.

To record a podcast with more than one person, try Skype or Gizmo's conference calling feature to accommodate several speakers at once. To drastically reduce line noise while recording several people in more than one location, consider conducting the session over a land-based telephone line, which picks up far less ambient noise than a PC. Use a service like or InstantConference to connect speakers and record the call for free.

There are several free tools available to help you record audio directly to your computer via microphone, clean it up, then upload your session. Some of the most popular include:

Ardour -- Designed to meet the needs of professional sound engineers, Ardour has a steeper learning curve than other free audio editing options but is feature-rich and powerful. It also includes several audio-for-video features not found in similar audio editing tools.

Audacity -- The granddaddy of audio recording software, Audacity comes bundled with most Linux distributions and is also available as a free download. Its noise removal tool ÃÅ allows you to eliminate pops, hisses, and hums from your recording, negating the need for an elaborate and expensive microphone system. Audacity is also popular with the podcasting crowd for its handy dubbing and import/export features.

Ecasound -- A basic audio recording app designed for simple playback, format conversions, and basic mixing. Ecasound is a command-line tool, but several GUI scripts are available.

Hosting your podcast

Once you've created a podcast, how do you get it into listeners' hands? At least three popular content management systems offer podcast hosting features.

Drupal -- A full-featured, server-side content management platform, Drupal also supports podcasting via added modules. Simply record an audio file to your computer, add it to a blog post, and Drupal will automatically present it as a podcast to readers. A Creative Commons module is also available to let bloggers select which license to include with syndicated content.

WordPress -- Though typically considered a blogging tool, WordPress also lets users distribute audio content via RSS 2.0 or Atom. This option is good for beginners who are already familiar with blogging. Just upload an MP3 file into a blog entry and WordPress will do the rest.

LoudBlog -- This content management system is designed specifically for podcasting in a blog-like environment. Once you record your media content, use LoudBlog to automatically generate an RSS feed and customizable Web site. Though it does have basic blogging tools, LoudBlog is primarily designed to handle audio and media files, not large blocks of written text, nor a combination of both.

Of course, posting podcasts in a blog is not the only -- or even necessarily the best -- way to distribute them. PodAdmin is a barebones Web-based podcast manager mainly used for uploading recordings to iTunes and other hosting services. This PHP/MySQL software can be used alone or with any content management system.

Though podcasting tools for Linux aren't quite as prevalent or accessible yet as blogging platforms, it's a method of outreach that continues to grow in popularity. In fact, according to a study released last year by media research company Arbitron, 53% of Americans under the age of 35 have listened to at least one podcast.

While that's great news for bloggers interested in using the method to drive traffic to a Web site, podcasting is also a more time-consuming way to reach an audience. Recording, editing, compressing, uploading, and tagging an audio file takes far longer than simply typing out one's thoughts.

If you've got the time or inclination to learn the podcasting ropes, however, the possibilities of what you can do with it aren't just limited to rhapsodizing about your favorite passtime or hobby. Here are just a few of the many ways to put podcasts to work for you:

  • Record documentation or man pages for easier installation of computer software and hardware.
  • Publish audio files of weekly sermons or homilies to your religious group's Web site.
  • Record training seminars in the workplace.
  • Record yourself reading copyright-free children's stories and upload them to iTunes or a similar service.

If you're considering learning a bit more about podcasting, don't delay. While the blogging trend has lasted several years, podcasting is already giving way to other mutlimedia experiences, such as talk-casting and video blogging ("vlogging"). But as long as good tools for free or low-cost podcasting continue to spring up -- including the newest twist on the idea, phonecasting -- podcasting should remain in use.


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