Make Great Podcasts with Free Open Source Software

Your customers and potential customers hunger for information, but they don’t always want to deal with salespeople. That’s why podcasts and videos make such great promotional tools for your small business. You can showcase your products, demonstrate how to use them, and serve up ingenious tips and tricks.

I encourage you to invest some serious energy into creating short, focused how-tos, because your customers don’t know your product line like you do; even long-time customers will be surprised at what your products can do. They buy your wares to do something, not to have something, so the more you can show them cool things to do the more you’ll sell.

You must pay attention to production values; you don’t have to be Hollywood, but you do need clear, well-lit videos and pleasant, easy-on-the-ears audio. Maybe you’re more forgiving than I am, but when I listen to a podcast or a video with a poorly-produced soundtrack I cringe and think uncomplimentary thoughts. Sometimes I even stop listening.

Create Audacious Podcasts

I’m going to teach you how to produce excellent audio in a few simple steps using Audacity, the wonderful, free, open source audio recorder and editor. It’s a free download, and it runs on Mac OS X, Windows, and Linux. Go ahead and install it, and we’ll get this show on the road.

Audacity is a mature, reliable open source program that you can use for both simple and complex recordings. It supports all major audio file formats, records as many channels at once as your computer can handle, and it offers powerful editing tools such as clips, loops, overdubbing and all kinds of special effects. In this how-to, I’ll review the basic steps for creating a simple, pleasing voice recording for podcasts and video soundtracks.

Required Audio Hardware

Any decent computer that’s less than four years old comes with an adequate sound card; in fact today’s low-end sound cards have better specifications than professional recording equipment of the 1960s. The most essential piece of audio hardware you need is a high-quality microphone. You don’t have to spend a huge amount of money, but do get something better than those little cheapo “computer” microphones.

I recommend a higher-end USB headset, for example Logitech and Plantronics make great USB headsets for less than $100. A headset lets you hear yourself better, and you don’t have to think about where your microphone is. A USB headset is the most portable. Headsets that plug directly into your sound cards with the little mini-plugs are good too, if you have audio ports on the front of your computer.

Practice speaking into a mic, even if you’re experienced, and listen to yourself critically. Listen for annoying verbal tics, weird breathing or nose sounds, background noise, and plosives. Most people speak too quickly, so slow down and lower the pitch of your voice. Relax; you are the face of your business, and this is a great way to connect with customers.

Setting the Recording Level

Now we get to the fun part—recording and listening to yourself. Audacity has a little quirk; it does not dynamically detect your audio device. Make sure that you plug in your headset before you open Audacity. When you open Audacity, look for the recording monitor  and turn it on.

Now speak into your microphone, and you will see the red volume bars in the recording monitor (Figure 2). Aim for -12 to -6. Don’t go over zero, or you’ll hear distortion.

Now click the red Record button and start talking. Behold! A new stereo track appears with blue waveforms.

Click the Stop button, and then click Play to hear yourself. The playback monitor automatically displays green volume bars.

Saving Your Work

You save your project by selecting File > Save Project As from the menu. The default save format is an Audacity project folder full of files with an .aup extension. Note that this is not a playable audio file, but rather a special Audacity format.

You’ll save all your recording and editing as an Audacity project, and then when you’re finished you’ll export it to your desired audio file format, which we’ll get to presently. Audacity has an excellent auto-recovery feature if you have a power interruption or system crash, but you should still remember to save your work periodically.

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