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Wednesday, May 18, 2005

ePodcast Producer in the N.Y. Times

Now, Audio Blogs for Those Who Aspire to Be D.J.’s

Published: May 12, 2005

What do the pope and Paris Hilton have in common? They’re both podcasters - and you can be one too.

Ranging from the sublime to the ridiculous, podcasts are essentially do-it-yourself recorded radio programs posted online. Anyone can download them free, and, using special software, listeners can subscribe to favorite shows and even have them automatically downloaded to a portable digital music player.

Despite what the name suggests, podcasts can be played not just on iPods but on any device that has an MP3 player program, including PC’s and laptops.

Podcasts are the natural technological offspring of Web logs or blogs, those endlessly meandering personal Web musings that now seem to be everywhere online. Similarly, many podcasters have a diaristic bent, ranging from Mr. X, in upstate New York (ifthensoftware.blogspot.com), who has recorded his ruminations while driving to work, to Dan Klass, an underemployed actor in California whose podcast, “The Bitterest Pill” (www.thebitterestpill.com), has been known to feature invectives against Elmo.

There are celebrity podcasts like Paris Hilton’s (houseofwaxmovie .warnerbros.com), intended to promote movies. Another, more high-minded site, Catholic Insider (www.catholicinsider.com), links to podcasts of Pope Benedict XVI from Vatican Radio.

Many radio stations are embracing the technology. WGBH in Boston, Q107 in Toronto and BBC Radio are already offering regular podcasts. Tomorrow, Sirius Satellite Radio will begin broadcasting a best-of-podcasting program with the podfather of podcasting, Adam Curry, formerly of MTV, as host.

Taking the experiment a step further, Infinity Broadcasting plans to restart its San Francisco talk station KYCY-AM (1550) with an all-podcasting format beginning Monday. KYCY’s broadcasts will feature amateur programs from around the Web, but because of Federal Communications Commission regulations, each will be screened in advance.

Record companies are also beginning to use podcasts to fish for fans. “We think podcasts are a great way to form a relationship with our fans,” said Damian Kulash, the lead singer of the rock band OK Go, which has an album coming out this summer on Capitol Records. When the band is on tour, OK Go phones in its podcasts (www.okgo.net).

Finding and Listening

For those wanting to find a podcast, there are online directories that list thousands of them, including Podcast.net (www.podcast.net), Podcasting News (podcastingnews.com), Podcast Alley (www.podcastalley.com) and iPodder.org (www.ipodder.org).

Several free software programs - like Doppler (www.dopplerradio.net) and iPodder (www.ipodder.org) - help users subscribe to and download podcasts. IPodder comes in Windows and Mac versions. The program includes a directory of podcasts available for subscribing on a scheduled basis or for downloading at will. The Web address of a podcast that is not listed can be cut and pasted into iPodder to add it to a user’s roster of subscriptions.

Podcasts are usually indicated by an orange logo with the initials RSS (for really simple syndication) or XML (for extensible markup language), standing for the technologies that make such subscriptions possible.

IPod enthusiasts and Mac owners might also consider iPodderX (www.ipodderx.com), a $19.95 program that not only downloads programs but also puts them directly into the iTunes manager so that they can be automatically copied to a connected iPod player.

Unencumbered by professional standards or government broadcast rules, podcasts can devolve into fits of uncontrollable giggling and include more than their share of expletives. (Family Friendly Podcasts, at www.familyfriendlypodcasts.com, has some suggestions for those who prefer tamer shows.) Still, it is the freedom that has inspired many homegrown podcast producers.

“The whole beauty of it is that I don’t have to censor myself,” says Jason Evangelho, host of “Insomnia Radio,” which showcases independent radio (hardcoreinsomniaradio.blogspot.com). “And I can say ‘um.’ ”

Programs dedicated to music still dominate the podcast universe. Many offer an eclectic mix of underground music, but there are also classical music shows like “Your Daily Opera.” While most get only a handful of listeners, some programs have developed a devoted fan base.

“I’m averaging about 10,000 to 11,000 listeners per show,” says Brian Ibbott, whose “Coverville” (www.coverville.com) originates from his basement outside Denver. Mr. Ibbott’s podcasts feature rare and unusual cover songs. He has a sponsor to offset the $30 to $40 a month he says he pays his hosting service for the extra traffic that his listeners create downloading his shows.

Making and Distributing

In addition to the chance to be heard by millions of Internet users, the relative ease of producing a show has driven the popularity of podcasting. A group of college friends unable to get their film careers off the ground, for example, decided to tell their stories, which are a cross between Firesign Theater and Hunter S. Thompson, in a podcast at the Peanut Gallery (www.thepeanutgallery.info). Those looking for a similar creative outlet need only a computer with a connected microphone and Web access.

Stay-at-home disc jockeys can record tracks using the basic recording software included with the Mac and Windows operating systems. Free software like EasyPodcast (www.easypodcast.com) can help upload efforts to a Web site. Services like Liberated Syndication (www.libsyn.com) will provide Web hosting for as little as $5 a month.

Many podcasters end up creating digital studios, using more expensive microphones, mixers and audio editing software, like Adobe Audition ($299, www.adobe.com). Audition lets a podcaster carefully edit voiceovers, mix up to 128 stereo sound tracks and even correct the pitch of a recording. Unfortunately, Audition does not include the tools for uploading to the Web.

Consequently, a new class of software designed for podcasters is beginning to emerge. Two noteworthy examples are Propaganda ($49.95, www.makepropaganda.com) and ePodcast Producer ($149.95, www.industrialaudiosoftware.com). Both Windows applications enable producers to record, mix multiple tracks and automatically post shows to the Web.

Of course, unlike a live radio broadcast or streaming music online, podcasts are downloaded and stored in their entirety. So the programs have the potential to generate thousands of copies of songs, raising legal issues. “Podcasters, like the users of any other sound recordings, must obtain the appropriate licenses from the copyright owners, or their designees,” the Recording Industry Association of America said.

At “Insomnia Radio,” Mr. Evangelho plays only independent bands that own the rights to their own songs, and gets permission directly from the artists to play their music. At “Coverville,” to satisfy the royalties owed to songwriters and composers, Mr. Ibbott pays annual licensing fees totaling about $500 to Ascap and B.M.I. The R.I.A.A. has not specified if or how podcasters should pay the labels.

The programs are stored in the MP3 file format, and companies that use MP3 compression must pay a licensing fee to Thomson, a co-creator of the technology. But according to Rocky Caldwell at Thomson’s licensing unit, fees are not applicable unless users make at least $100,000 a year from their podcasts. Now that’s the kind of problem many podcasters wish they had.

Read the article, with links, at the New York Times site (requires registration).

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