Part of what makes podcasting so appealing and so popular is the fact that it can be done relatively simply with a user's existing computer and accessories. After the audio podcast file has been recorded, it is still a good idea to use sound editing software to remove any imperfections and insert some appropriate background music. Fortunately, plenty of quality shareware and freeware programs are available to help you do just that.
It is also important to note that most sound-editing software can also be used as a digital recorder. In fact, many podcasts are created with a microphone that came with the computer, inputting directly into a program like Audacity or GarageBand. Many sound-editing programs are available, and increasingly, a new type of all-in-one program is showing up. These programs, like iPodcast Producer and Sparks, allow the user to create a podcast from start to finish and even publish the podcast, all from one program!
In this section, I examine several quality sound-editing/recording programs for the Mac, Linux, and Windows environments. I include freeware, shareware, and commercial products, some of which are limited to sound recording and editing; others are one-stop options that allow you to create a podcast and publish it without ever leaving the program.
Audacity is the program of choice for many podcasters, in part because it is free, but mostly because it's a fantastic, powerful, easy-to-use program. Audacity can be used to record podcasts (with an attached microphone) or to edit existing sound files. Available for Mac computers, Windows PCs, and Linux PCs, Audacity is freeware and is so powerful that it most likely puts a dent in the sales figures of those programs that are for sale. You can download the program from http://audacity.sourceforge.net/download/ for each of the three operating systems ( Figure 3.22 ).
Figure 3.22 Audacity is available for most computer users, be they Mac OS, Linux, or Windows inspired.
As often occurs in the world of the Internet and computing, this freeware program is superior to some of the for-sale programs on the market. In the realm of podcasting, Audacity has quickly risen to be the top dog for audio mixing and recording (when recording directly on a PC or Mac).
The deep feature list for Audacity includes these items:
- Can record from microphone, line input, or other sources
- Can create multitrack recordings and dub over existing tracks
- Can record up to 16 channels at the same time (special hardware required)
- Can import WAV, AIFF, AU, and Ogg Vorbis files
- Can import and export MP3 files
- Easy editing using cut-and-paste methodology
- Volume fade in/out feature
- Built-in effects generator, including Echo and Phaser sounds
- Can record at up to 96 KHz (more than double a music CD's quality)
- Upgradable with plug-ins
Audacity, shown in action in Figure 3.23 , is such a complete and easy-to-use recording/editing tool that it is my first choice for all three platforms. There are lots of programs out there, but for someone who is just starting out on a tight budget, free is a great price to pay, and Audacity is also a fantastic piece of software.
Figure 3.23 Audacity is available for Mac, Windows PC, and Linux, and is very powerful.
BlogMatrix Sparks! 2.0
Sparks! 2.0 ( Figure 3.24 ) is an all-in-one solution for the Mac and the Windows PC, making it very simple to create a podcast and publish it without ever leaving the program. Sparks! 2.0 is a podcast aggregator as well as an audio recorder, editor, and podcast publisher. It's free for most of the features, but if you want to use the recording feature, you must pay a $10 fee (although the recording feature comes with a 30-day free trial).
Figure 3.24 Sparks! 2.0 has a built-in, multitrack audio recorder/editor.
Sparks! is truly a one-stop solution for podcasters and podcast listeners. The feature list for this software is very impressive and includes
- The ability to record and edit podcasts
- The ability to publish podcasts with ease
- Acts as a podcast aggregator (
Figure 3.25 Sparks! 2.0 acts as a very functional podcast aggregator if need be.
- Acts as an Internet radio portal
- Acts as a blog reader
- Allows the creation of podcasts from Internet radio and other sources
- Can use multiple tracks and import music to create podcasts
As a one-stop shop, Sparks! 2.0 is an impressive piece of software. For true podcasting aficionados, I suspect that Sparks! 2.0 won't satisfy completely, but for the casual podcaster or the podcaster who just wants to create occasional podcasts, Sparks! is an excellent solution.
Folks who own Macintosh computers likely have a copy of GarageBand ( Figure 3.26 ) already sitting on their hard drives. If for some reason GarageBand has eluded you, it is included with all new Macintosh computers and can be purchased with iLife '05 for $79.99. What makes GarageBand so appealing to Macintosh enthusiasts is the way in which it interacts with iTunes and Mac OS X. As with most Apple applications, GarageBand's ease of use is very impressive, allowing a first-time user to put together an impressive multitrack recording in only a few minutes.
Figure 3.26 If you own a Mac, there's a good chance that you already own GarageBand, the only sound recorder/editor you'll need.
GarageBand's ease of use comes from simple audio-track creation, drag-and-drop editing, and the ability to add music or other audio files simply by dragging them out of iTunes. Although GarageBand was designed specifically for the creation of music, it is still an elegant solution that works seamlessly with the rest of the software on your Macintosh when creating podcasts.
GarageBand's features include:
- Multitrack recording
- Point-and-click editing
- Compatibility with iTunes
- Multiple voice effects
- Complete control of all aspects of recording, including timing and pitch
iPodcast Producer (iPP; Figure 3.27 ) is a commercial product that runs $149.95 from Industrial Audio Software's Web site (www.industrialaudiosoftware.com). iPP is meant exclusively to be a tool for recording, editing, and then publishing podcasts. The product is not as slick as Audacity or GarageBand, but it does contain the features necessary to get the job done.
Figure 3.27 iPodcast Producer is a competent piece of software but a little pricey when one considers what is available for free.
iPP contains a sound/music recorder with two tracks (one for voice and one for music), a fader, and the ability to add up to 12 music or sound effects to keys F1 through F12 on the keyboard. After you assign a sound to one of these keys, you can insert that sound into a recording dynamically by pressing the key that activates it. The recorder also allows for other audio sources in .WAV or MP3 file formats to be imported.
After recording, you can access the iPP Editor ( Figure 3.28 ) and edit or modify the sound files with digital effects. You can apply 19 different effects to recordings during this process. When the file is complete, IPP allows the newly created podcast to be syndicated right from the program ( Figure 3.29 ). If you don't already have a spot to save your file for the RSS feed, Industrial Audio Software can sell you space starting at $49.95 per month.
Figure 3.28 The iPP Editor allows you to tweak the sound files.
Figure 3.29 You can publish your podcast directly from within iPP.
Adobe Audition 1.5
Adobe Audition ( Figure 3.30 ) is a high-end professional sound editing/ recording suite that offers advanced audio editing, mixing, and sound processing capabilities. This software is aimed mainly at professionals, but at $299, it is not priced outside the range of a serious podcaster. It certainly isn't hyperbole to say that Adobe Audition contains myriad features that a podcaster is likely never to use, but for those mavens who want every possible capability at their fingertips, this software is a great value for the money.
Figure 3.30 Adobe Audition is one of the best choices for those who want high-end sound editing when creating a podcast.
Audition's feature list is so long that it might take up several pages in this book, so I'll stick to the highlights as they pertain to the realm of podcasting:
- All-in-one application for mixing, creating, editing, and adding audio effects
- Can be used to edit video soundtracks
- More than 50 digital signal processing tools and effects
- Up to 128 stereo tracks
- Up to 32 inputs with an equalizer on every track
- Record, edit, and mix high-resolution 32-bit files at sample rates up to 192 KHz (double the quality of DVD audio)
- Audio restoration features that allow you to clean up poor recordings
- Multichannel encoder for creating 5.1 surround sound (six speakers: center, left and right front, left and right rear, and subwoofer)
Although it clearly isn't for the weekend podcaster who wants to create relatively simple programs, Adobe Audition 1.5 is inexpensive enough that hard-core podcasters can enjoy its massive suite of features. You can download a trial version at www.adobe.com.
Like iPodcast Producer, Propaganda (www.makepropaganda.com; Figure 3.31 ) is designed to be a one-stop podcast creation station, allowing the user to create, edit, and publish podcasts with relative ease. Propaganda has a free 14-day trial; the cost to keep using it after that is $49.95.
Figure 3.31 Propaganda is a one-stop podcast creation package for Windows computers.
The feature list of Propaganda includes:
- One-touch recording
- Recording from microphone or portable digital recorders
- On-screen VU meters
- Ability to rearrange clips in any order
- Ability to add background music and sounds
- Fade in/out transitions
- Ability to publish completed podcasts directly to a Web site
Propaganda allows you to record a podcast from a microphone and to organize and edit the voice file while adding background music and audio effects. When the podcast is complete, Propaganda allows you to upload the show to an RSS feed for distribution on the World Wide Web. If a one-stop piece of software appeals to you, Propaganda is an acceptable alternative for creating and publishing podcasts.
Sound Byte ( Figure 3.32 ) is a bit of a different animal from the other software discussed in this section, because it does not directly help you create podcasts or publish them; instead, it works as a computerized cart machine. In radio stations of the past, a cart machine was a device that held a large number of cartridges with short audio blurbs, commercials, sounds, and other such material. When the DJ needed a particular sound, he or she could press a button, and that sound would come off the cartridge and get played on the air. This was a way for radio stations to add unique sounds to broadcasts, and it worked pretty well.
Figure 3.32 Sound Byte allows you to create a palette of sounds that you can access with a click of the mouse.
Sound Byte, from Black Cat Systems (www.blackcatsystems.com), costs $24 (after a free trial) and effectively duplicates those old radio cartridge systems with the digital equivalent. The palette comes with 75 slots, each of which is capable of holding a distinct sound byte, piece of music, or sound effect (or whatever you want). When you're recording a podcast, you can simply click one of the sound effects to insert that effect into the background.
For podcasters who like to fly by the seat of their pants and add sound effects as needed, Sound Byte is an outstanding tool. Sound Byte is available only for the Macintosh at this point, but it is a valuable tool that certain podcasters appreciate and use.
There are many freeware, shareware, donationware, and commercial sound recorders on the market, but Windows users need not go any farther than their Start menu to find an audio recorder that can do the job. In Windows XP, you can find Sound Recorder ( Figure 3.33 ) in this path: Start/Programs/Accessories/Entertainment/Sound Recorder.
Figure 3.33 Sound Recorder is free, and it's sitting right there in Windows.
Sound Recorder is limited in that it records only in mono, in 8 bits at 22 kHz, but for some podcasts, that level of quality is enough to get by. Amazingly, this little utility contains an effects menu that allows you to increase or decrease the clip's speed, add an echo to the clip ( Figure 3.34 ), or even reverse the clip's direction. This may be your chance to resurrect the "Paul is dead" controversy!
Figure 3.34 Surprisingly, this little utility has a few tricks up its sleeve.