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Quick and easy podcasting with an iPhone 3GS, GarageBand, and Posterous

I love podcasting.

My first podcasts weren't really podcasts, just recordings that I made and uploaded to a website in the late 90's so that other people could listen to them. Unlike the podcasts we know and love today, there was no way to subscribe to all of the episodes that I recorded. When podcasting as we know it hit the world in 2004, I started hosting podcasts through one of my companies.

Despite creating two long-running podcasts between 2004 and 2007, I finally gave up because of the time involved. Part of the problem was due to me being a stickler for perfection in my podcasts, while the rest was due to the fact that I was stuck with podcasting when I was near my iMac and could edit and update a feed file on a regular basis.

Earlier this month, I decided that I wanted to start up a personal podcast again. Yeah, I talk about tech, but for the most part I wanted this to be a free-form podcast that could talk about photography one day, music the next, and the joys of being a cat owner the third. Since my calendar is already pretty well jammed, the only way I was going to be able to commit to doing a podcast every day was to get the podcast workflow down to as little time as possible.
I started experimenting with fast and furious podcasting. I wanted to be able to podcast if I just had a few spare minutes, which meant that I generally wouldn't be near my computer for most of the process. That meant that I was going to need to use my iPhone 3GS as a recorder. I wanted to do the show in one shot with as little editing as possible, so I was going to have to use a script as often as I could. I wanted to let users subscribe to the podcast through iTunes, which meant that it had to have a compatible feed file available. And frankly, I wanted to do this without spending money.

This took a few easy steps. I set up a blog on Posterous. It's free, I could use an existing domain name that I had registered, and I can email my blog entries and podcast audio files to an email address to post them. Posterous sends out a Tweet when I make a blog posting, so listeners are automatically alerted to jump on the latest episode. Podcasts need a really good feed file -- better than the one that is provided by Posterous -- so I set up a FeedBurner account to grab the RSS feed from the blog and add the other tags that are required or helpful for listing in iTunes. I checked the RSS feed for errors using FeedValidator. Finally, I submitted the new podcast to iTunes and waited for the news that it was accepted.

I call the result "guerilla podcasting," since it's a small team (me and my iPhone) taking on the world with short and hopefully sweet podcasts. Follow along for my process for doing fast and dirty podcasting with a minimum of cost and equipment:
  1. Write your script. Each typed page of script is several minutes of podcast. Don't spend more than a half-hour writing up the podcast, and make sure that you don't sound like you're reading the script when you are recording. The reason I like a script is that I have a bad tendency to put a lot of "uhs" in my speech if I'm ad-libbing. I tend to type very quickly and I can also come up with a script without much forethought, so a half hour of writing can give me 2-3 pages, or a 10 to 15 minute podcast. If I'm going to be running out somewhere and not next to my computer, I save the script to my Dropbox and open it on the iPhone when I'm ready to record. Yes, you can record memos on an iPhone and move to another app!
  2. On the iPhone (the 3G or 3GS have the Voice Memo app), open up Voice Memos, attach your headset to the phone, and start recording. Write down the approximate times of any edit points. The edit points are when I really goof up, have too many pauses or "uhms" in my speech, or when I sneeze or cough.
  3. When the recording is finished, sync to your Mac. The M4A audio file appears in the Voice Memos in iTunes.
  4. Open up GarageBand and create a new Podcast. If you have a male voice, delete the female voice track, or vice versa.
  5. Drag the M4A file to the podcast timeline and drop it.
  6. Do any necessary editing to get rid of major issues. I used to be completely picky about editing; now, for the sake of brevity, I do as little editing as I can.
  7. Add the intro and outro music to the Jingles track in GarageBand. Pick something short for the intro music -- mine is one of the standard GarageBand tunes, and it lasts about 7 seconds at the beginning. The outro music should be longer so that it can play in the background while you're closing things up.
  8. Listen to the transitions and levels to make sure that everything sounds OK. Increase voice volume if necessary. Make sure that ducking (voice is louder than the music when both are playing) is working properly.
  9. Add the episode artwork (an icon) and any tags. I came up with a simple podcast graphic and I'm sticking with it. If the podcast becomes popular enough, I'll probably hire a designer to come up with a REAL graphic I can use.
  10. Share the podcast with iTunes, edit the tags (Command-I) in iTunes, and change the equalizer settings to voice and spoken word.
  11. Email the file along with your post to post@posterous.com. This creates a blog entry with an audio player in it. Since there is an RSS feed for the Posterous blog, that is picked up by Feedburner and tags are added so that the final feed is acceptable to iTunes.
  12. When I receive notification that the podcast is in Posterous, I go to the podcast and make sure it's looking (and sounding) good.
So, how are the results? Pretty good. I actually like the sound that I get from the Voice Memo app using my iPhone headset as it is less nasal-sounding than what I get using a Logitech USB headset and recording straight to my Mac. I can record pretty much from any location, and that's something that can make the difference for me between doing a podcast on a particular day or not. In my first week, I actually recorded a podcast while sitting in my car between client visits! I wish that it was possible to send large podcast files directly to Posterous using email on my iPhone, but there's a size limit and many of my files are too big.

One hint for good sound is to make sure that you're not wearing a shirt or jacket with a zipper on it, as the microphone can bang against that and make a clicking noise. I learned that lesson the hard way.

You don't need to use Posterous, by the way. If you are blogging with iWeb, you can use Send Podcast to iWeb in GarageBand to eliminate the tag editing in iTunes and emailing steps. You also don't need to follow this process for good podcasting -- it just works very well for me and your mileage may definitely vary. If you're always going to be recording from your Mac, there's no need to use an iPhone to record a voice memo.

If you're more into short blasts of audio information than long, thought-out podcasts, you may want to try iPhone apps such as WorldVoice Radio [iTunes Link] or AudioBoo [iTunes Link]. AudioBoo lets you record podcasts up to 5 minutes long, which might be just long enough for most people. WorldVoice Radio gives you less time to record, and only sends a tweet to warn people of your podcast. I tried using AudioBoo's integration with Posterous and it worked very well to send the podcast directly to my blog and eventually have it end up in my feed file. There's only one problem; it's impossible, at least at this point, to add the intro / outro music to a podcast recorded with AudioBoo.

Now that I'm having fun with podcasting again, I'll probably keep changing my process until it works exactly the way I want it to, and I'll probably also benefit from new and useful podcasting tools that I'm sure someone will develop for the iPhone. Let me and other TUAW readers know through the comments if you do a podcast, and what tools you use for quick podcasting.

For the podcasting tools you might want if you plan to go beyond the phone-to-Posterous workflow, take a look at Dan Benjamin's low-medium-hifi gear suggestions.


I love podcasting. My first podcasts weren't really podcasts, just recordings that I made and uploaded to a website in the late 90's so...