Get Podcasting!

The Science Communication Conference last week afforded me and a panel of podcasting peers the opportunity to talk about science podcasting – but I feel that there were a lot of key things I didn’t really get across. I thought I’d distil some of those into this blogpost, around my rules of DIY podcasting, namely†:

1) Make a podcast
2) Make it good

which are slightly extended from my rules of doing anything for yourself, namely

1) Do it
2) Do it well

This will seem trivial to a lot of readers, so let’s tackle this in a bit more detail.

1) Make a podcast
The key is not the rule but the order. There is plenty to say about how to make a podcast good – all of which is completely irrelevant unless you go out and do it. Too many public engagement stories start with “we applied for a £20k Wellcome Trust grant…”*. How about one which starts with “we thought of an idea for a podcast and decided not to wait for anyone’s permission – we just did it”. In fact, I would say do it even if you don’t have an idea – if your idea is “me talking about science” – do it, and let listeners decide for themselves whether they like it.

Proceed to step 2 ONLY IF you’ve completed step one. There are plenty of things to say here, but don’t read everything on the net about it and think it’s all terribly complex. It’s not. This is something you can do in your spare time for minimal cost. It doesn’t have to be hi-fidelity, it does not have to appeal to the broadest possible audience, you do not have to have prior technical or presenting experience. Just do the show you want to do how you want to do it, make it as good as you can, and LEARN BY DOING. And if you don’t like the fruits of your labours, change the format; add a guest presenter; pitch the material to a different audience; there is nothing which says any of these are set in stone, and being prepared to change things which don’t work as you go along will make a better podcast.

Don’t be afraid to fail, or you’ll be afraid to try. This isn’t a £20,000 Wellcome Trust grant – if this all goes horribly wrong, you’ll have wasted nothing apart from your time. So what if you waste a little time? Creativity is inefficient, and you won’t know until you’ve started.

Also, bad podcasts don’t get listened to. There is no judgemental audience waiting to mock low-quality podcasts – so don’t be afraid to make mistakes. The Internet only pays attention to good stuff and will not waste its time ridiculing you. That gives you the freedom to try stuff out and do things badly until you figure out how to do it well.

This is why you should make a podcast, but how should you do it? In terms of absolute basics, this is what I would do:

a) I would want access to a computer and a quiet space for recording. I’m a mac user, so I would use GarageBand (FREE) but I think PC users use Audacity (FREE). Record your episode using the built-in microphone on your computer (if it has one) or an inexpensive/borrowed one you’ve plugged in.**

b) Edit the audio to a decent length and bounce it to an mp3.

c) Sign up to a service like Libsyn or Podbean. The basic Podbean package is free, Libsyn starts at $5/month.

d) Upload your episode and fill in the info about the show and the episode through the handy services these websites provide.

e) Submit your feed to iTunes (again, this looks complicated but isn’t).

Congratulations. You have a podcast. Now you need to think about making it good – the best you can – and you may want people to listen to it. There are a lot of questions about audio quality, music, who it’s aimed at, how often you should do it, and all that jazz. I’ll talk about all that in the next post, but until then:

Commit to making your podcast – don’t be discouraged, it’s not that hard
Do it as well as you can – of course
Learn as you go
Don’t be afraid to change things
Don’t be afraid to get things “wrong”

†my version of the “here is a chord – here is another chord – now write a song” of punk folklore

*There are a lot of great projects that couldn’t happen without larger-scale funding – but why not learn on a project with very little inherent risk first?

**Obviously there are ways you can make the audio better, but more on that in part 2

8 thoughts on “Get Podcasting!

  1. Great post Martin. I like the no-nonsense approach…! I’ll be putting my podcast thoughts together soon in a how-to, but I like your take on things… Ooh and thanks for the link.

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