Podcasting is a simple and effective way to use audio to tell news stories. The portability of personal music players—like the iPod, iPhone and a host of other portable .mp3 players—extends the reach of your multimedia reporting beyond the home desktop or laptop computer.
Podcasts use a publish and subscribe model that enables anyone who creates a podcast to build a loyal—and valuable—audience. Once a user subscribes to your podcast series, either through iTunes or your web site or blog, every new episode appears on the user’s computer or iPod without any additional interaction.
This tutorial will take you step-by-set through the process of creating your own podcast using a USB headset with a built-in microphone and GarageBand ’08. Please note this tutorial is Apple specific. If you need to create a podcast on a PC, the general workflow is the same. Windows-specific software tools are included in the resources section at the end of this tutorial.
GarageBand is an audio recording and editing program developed by Apple that is available on all Macs and is part of Apple’s iLife application suite. The complete package that includes the latest versions of iPhoto, iMovie, iWeb, iDVD and, of course, GarageBand retails for $79. While GarageBand is not the industry standard for audio editing and production, GarageBand is ideal for journalists who need a low-cost, easy-to-use tool for basic podcast and audio production.
The content and style of podcasts vary wildly. This tutorial shows you how to produce a simple podcast with a single recorded track that you can narrate. Most podcasters start with this basic format and incrementally add additional features and complexity.
In the relatively short history of podcasting some keys to success are clear. Pick a topic you are knowledgeable and care about. Know that you will need to make a long-term commitment to podcast production and to promotion of your podcast. Interaction with your podcasting audience is essential.
Before creating each podcast episode, start by writing a script or a set of detailed notes. Just like a good newspaper story, clarity and focus are key to a successful podcast. Writing a report for podcast listeners demands a direct writing style with simpler sentences than print. Print readers can go back and re-read a sentence or paragraph that didn’t make sense the first time. Podcast listeners do not replay confusing portions of a podcast. More than one confusing sentence almost certainly means your listener will “change channels.”
More resources on podcasting, including links to best practices and good examples, are available at the end of the tutorial.
This tutorial focuses on the basic GarageBand features that you will use for podcast production. GarageBand also has extensive tools for recording, composing and editing music that are beyond the scope of this tutorial.
This tutorial uses a Logitech USB headset that combines a microphone with headphones and plugs into the computer using a USB connection. Macintosh computers do not have a direct microphone input jack. Even though your computer may include a built-in microphone, using a dedicated microphone isolates your voice and reduce background noise and is really a requirement for a good podcast.
To begin using the headset with the Mac, first plug the headset into an available USB port on your computer. Do not use the slower USB connection on the keyboard.
Next, configure the sound preferences to enable the headset. Click the blue Apple icon at the top left corner of the screen. Then select System Preferences.
In the Hardware section, click Sound.
in the Sound Preference Pane (below) click Output. Choose the option that matches where you want to the sound playback, in this example the headphones on the Logitech USB Headset. Any sound will be heard through the headphones.
Next click Input and again choose Logitech USB Headset.
Now you can to speak into your microphone and see the sound Input Level in the Sound Preferences pane. You may need to return to this panel to configuring recording audio levels in GarageBand.
When you are finished monitoring your podcast recording through your headset, you will need to reset the output back to the internal speakers.
With the microphone input and headset monitoring properly set up, you can record and monitor podcast narration in a GarageBand track.
GarageBand Podcast Setup and Overview
Go to the Dock and click the GarageBand icon. If GarageBand is not in the Dock, go to the Applications folder and launch GarageBand.
You will see the GarageBand splash screen. Choose Create New Podcast Episode.
Name the episode and save it. Use a simple naming convention, for example “birds episode 1” for your first podcast episode on birds.
Overview of GarageBand
The GarageBand Window includes the Timeline of tracks; the Editor for detailed editing of individual tracks; the Track Info pane, where you can configure some details of individual tracks; and the Media Browser, which is used to find audio files and other media that you can import into your podcast. Some of these windows present different information based on what task you want to perform. For example, if you press the Eye icon, the Editor area will turn into the Apple Loop selector. In the Apple Loop selector you select music tracks and sound effects that you drag into a track.
Click the ruler at the top of the Timeline. You’ll see a triangular playhead with a red line that runs down through all tracks window. You place the playhead at the moment on the timeline that you want to play or record by either clicking the ruler where you want the playhead or by dragging the playhead to the desired location. If you want to the playhead tojump to the very beginning of the project, press the letter z key, or the Return key, or the Enter key any time. Press the Spacebar to start or stop the playhead.
Setting Audio Source and Sound Levels
After selecting a track to record narration by clicking the track name or track icon, choose the sound input source for that track.
Look at the Track Info pane at the bottom right of the GarageBand window. If you don’t see the Track Info pane, select your track and then choose Track>Show Track Info from the GarageBand menu at the top of the screen. You can also press the small i button as shown below.
With the the Real Instrument highlighted, click the Input Source option menu. Select your audio input—the Logitech USB Headset in this example. For simple narration from a single monaural mic input, choose Mono 1 rather than the default stereo option.
Below the Input Source selection are the Monitor options. Choose On with Feedback Protection. This allows you to hear your voice while you’re speaking. The sound is played with a split-second delay. If hearing your voice in the headphones with a split-second delay is too distracting, choose Monitor>Off—but be sure to keep an eye on the sound level of the track.
The “feedback protection” will pause your recording if GarageBand detects feedback from your headphones. If the feedback protection is too sensitive, your recording will repeatedly pause. Turn down your headphone volume using the standard Macintosh volume controls. If feedback protection is still is too sensitive, choose Monitor>On—but be sure your headphones aren’t so loud that the mic picks up the playback from your headphones.
Click the track name or track icon to select a track. Make sure the record button in the Track headis red (if the record button is not red, click the button). Speak into the microphone. The sound levels (simply called “levels”) move as you speak. The green level bars will move to the right as you speak louder.
Ideally, when you record, the levels will consistently register to the right of the midpoint but before the red volume indicator. When speaking in a normal voice, your sound levels should register in the green section about two-thirds of the way to the red. If the sound levels reach the red indicator, the sound volume is too high (or too “hot” as audio professionals say) and sound clipping will occur. Sound clipping makes that portion of the audio unusable.
Setting sound input correctly is extremely important. A typical problem is recording volume too low when speaking in a normal voice. If the sound is too soft listeners will struggle to hear, and you will lose them. Adjusting the input volume may require returning to the “Sound” System Preference.
Once your microphone, track, and levels are set, you are almost ready to record. Before you record, familiarize yourself with the script. Mark words that you want to emphasize (referred to as the “operative words”). Rehearse the script out loud a couple of times. Change words and phrases that don’t read smoothly.
Now that the setup is complete and the script is ready, make sure your narration track is selected by clicking the track name or track icon and verify the record button is red (simply click the button if it is not red).
Press the large red Record button to the left of the playback controls or use the keyboard shortcut: r. Start speaking. The Record button will glow red and you will see the sound waves of your voice appear, in red, on the selected track. Press the Spacebar to stop recording and stop the playhead.
If you are under a time deadline, you may only have time for one take. If you have time to clean up your narration, you have options.
If you don’t like a portion of your recording, you don’t have to start over from the beginning—you can simply move the playhead to where you would like to start re-recording and press the r key. The new recording will overwrite the old one on the same track.
You can also put the playhead at the end of the track and record an entire or partial second (or third) take. Then you can copy portions of the new take that are better and insert the new sections.
Basic editing is covered covered in the next section.
Save your project! Choose File>Save in the menu or press Command-s on the keyboard. Elementary editing techniques are covered next.
Basic audio editing follows the familiar text editing method. First select then apply some action (delete, cut, copy, move, or paste). GarageBand also has some new very userful methods for modifying audio segments.
GarageBand uses non-destructive editing. This means that after you save an audio recording (File>Save) you can always get back to the original saved audio file.
The basic methods for navigating within a track: click anywhere on the ruler to place the playhead at a specific moment. You can also drag the playhead to any point on the ruler. To jump to the beginning of the project, press the Return, Enter or z key any time. Press the Spacebar to start or stop the playhead.
Selecting a segment
If you click once on an audio segment in the Timeline, you will highlight it (it will be a darker color when you click it, or purple in this case below).
If you click and hold, you can drag the segment left and right along the timeline. You can also drag the selected segment up or down to other tracks.
Split or join
Move the playhead to a point where you want to split an existing single segment into two segments. Then select the segment. The segment will turn blue as in the image below.
From the GarageBand menu select Edit>Split or use the keyboard shortcut Command-T. This splits the segment into two pieces, and renames the segments in their upper left corners, in this case, “test track” becomes “test track.1” and “test track.2”.
Click off of the segments to deselect both, and then click to highlight one segment.That section can be moved or deleted independent of the other section.
Segments can also be joined together. Highlight two or more consecutive segments by holding Shift while clicking each consecutive segment. Then choose Edit>Join from the menu or use the keyboard shortcut Command-J to combine the selected segments.
Undo an edit
To undo this, or any other edit, simply press Command-Z or choose Edit>Undo in the menu (Command-Z is usually much faster, so remember this shortcut). Again, remember to save your project periodically (Command-s).
Shorten or Lengthen an Audio Segment
You can shorten or lengthen a segment by hovering the cursor over the bottom left or right corners of the segment until a cursor symbol with triangles on either side pops up. When that cursor appears, click and hold the mouse button and drag the segment boundary to lengthen or shorten the segment.
Using the Editor Window
If you prefer, you can also modify an audio segment by double clicking it to open the audio waveform in the Editor at the bottom of the screen, or pressing the button with the scissors icon.
In the Editor view, you can click and drag to highlight specific sections of audio, which you can then cut, copy, and paste (Command-X, Command-C, and Command-V, respectively) or delete (simply press Delete).
In the editor the waveform of the audio is visibly larger, allowing for more fine tuning.
Note that in the bottom left corners of both the Editor pane and the GarageBand Window, there is a white slider. This is the Zoom Slider, and it allows you to zoom in and out on the soundwaves for even finer editing.
Adding Other Sound
You can import sound, such as other interviews, music, and sound effects, to your podcast. Apple provides some music and effects in the Apple Loop menu. Or you can use your own audio. If you want to use your own sound files, you have two options.
1) Navigate to the file via the Media Browser. Important: to do this, you must first load your audio files into iTunes on the same computer.
If you don’t see the Media browser, choose Control:Show Media Browser from the top menu, or press the Media Browser button, next to the Track Info button.
You will have to navigate to the sound file through iTunes in the Media Browser.
2) Drag a file into GarageBand. If you open a Finder window to the proper folder, you can drag a file directly into a GarageBand track.
Using the Apple Loop
GarageBand gives you the option of including built-in sound effects and music. Press the eye button in the lower left of the Timeline window. This takes you to the Apple Loop menu. You can navigate through different categories to find sound effects or music that are appropriate for your podcast. To add them to the mix, simply click and drag the file name to the timeline, and you can add it to an existing track or into a new track.
To return to the Editor view from the Apple Loop, press the button with the scissors on it, located next to the Loop Browser button with the eye icon.
Keep Tracks Organized
When you begin to add elements like these, organization is key.
Typically, your narration track should be kept at or near the top of the mix. Below that, keep any interview tracks. And below that keep the tracks with music and/or sound effects. The default tracks in GarageBand follow this pattern, with the music at the bottom and voices above that. At the top, Apple has placed the “Podcast” track, which contains the photos and video used in enhanced podcasts.
You can change the order of any track, except the Podcast track, by clicking and dragging the track head up or down.
Now that you have a narration track, you might want to start the podcast with a little theme music. Go ahead and drag a jingle from the Apple Loop into the Jingle Track.
If both of the tracks start at the beginning of the timeline, it probably won’t sound right. Instead, we will show how to start the podcast with music, play that for a few seconds, then fade it out and continue fading as your narration starts. Fades are key in creating smooth transitions between different audio segments.
Your first step is to drag your narration several seconds down the timeline so that the song will play first, then the narration will start. Simply select the audio segment and drag it to the right. If you have several segments in the same track, be sure to select all of them by pressing the Shift button as you click each one or press the track head once.
Next, you should change the audio levels of the music so that it starts at a normal level and then fades away as the narration begins. There are two methods to do this in GarageBand. One is using a method called “ducking” that makes the process somewhat automatic. We don’t recommend this because it is awkward and difficult to control. Instead, you should directly manipulate the volume of each track, controlling the timing and volume as you prefer.
To do this, click on the little inverted triangle button in your track header, just below the name of your track. Another “volume track” called “Track Volume” will appear below the track you’re working with. This shows your volume level for the duration of the track.
Right now, the volume is the same from beginning to end, so the volume line is a straight line. But if you click once on that line, a little marker will appear.
Click again to make another marker. Then click and drag that marker up or down. If you pull that second marker all the way down, you’ve created a basic fade.
You can drag the markers left or right to adjust the timing, up and down to adjust the volume. And you can add as many markers as you’d like, if, say, you wanted a sudden fade from loud to soft. One caution about markers: some users have noticed that adding too many markers can hurt the sound quality. So use only as many markers as are necessary to achieve your fade effect.
To delete a marker, simply click once on the marker, then press the Delete button.
Here is an example of how you might fade the music (the blue track) into the background as the narration (the purple track) begins. Notice how the volume level of the music track decreases from normal level to silence.
Now, if you press Return to go to the beginning of the Timeline and then press Spacebar to begin playing, you should hear the music play normally and then fade out as the narration begins. You can fine tune the volume markers as needed. As you gain more experience and ambition, you can begin to work with more and more tracks.
Working with Individual Tracks
If at some point you have several tracks but only want to work with one or a few, press the little headphones button in the head of the track(s) you want to work with. That will mute all other tracks. In the example below, the Jingle track’s yellow headphone icon is lit up. The Test Track is grayed out, and would not be heard if you played the project.
Once you’re done editing, be sure to listen to your entire mix all the way through so that it sounds the way you want it. This is especially important if you produce a long podcast, in which mistakes can easily be buried throughout the recording.
You can control the master volume of the entire project using the slider at the bottom right section of the GarageBand Window. And be sure to keep an eye on the master sound levels, located just above that volume slider. Make sure that the levels are neither too low nor too high, and make adjustments as necessary.
Don’t forget to save your project!
Export Your Podcast
Once you’ve created your mix, you need to export it into a format that anyone can play. But before you do that, you can use GarageBand to automatically optimize the audio level of the project. To do so, go to the top menu and choose GarageBand:Preferences. Click the Advanced panel and make sure that Auto Normalize is checked. This will help ensure your podcast is set at a good audio level. Also, below that is the Audio Resolution menu. It defaults to Good, but you can increase quality to Better or Best. Keep in mind that this will increase the file size.
While you’re in the Preferences panel, click My Info. Here you can fill in some general info about your podcast, tags that will show up in iTunes. These include the name of the GarageBand project playlist in your personal iTunes, your name as artist and composer, and the “album name,” which would also be the general name of your podcast in the iTunes podcast directory.
Close the panel. Back in the GarageBand Window, click that very top Podcast default track. If it’s not there, go to the top menu and choose Track: Show Podcast Track. In the Track Info panel in the lower right corner, you can fill out information specific to this podcast episode, such as title, parental advisory, and description. This info will be embedded in your final podcast file.
Also, when the Podcast track is selected, a window will be visible in the lower left corner of the Editor. If you want to add an image to represent your podcast, you can drag an image file into the box.
To export, go to the top menu again and choose Share:Export Song to Disk… Choose the file format you prefer: MP3 or AAC. AAC is the default audio format of many Apple applications like iTunes. But MP3 tends to be the default format for most audio downloads and can be read by many more programs and personal music devices.
When you click Export, you can name the file. Be sure to use a name that makes sense.
Distribute Your Podcast
You can publish your audio file by linking to it in your blog. For the purposes of this lesson, we’ll use a WordPress blog to upload the podcast.
Sign into your WordPress blog. When you create a new post or edit a post, you will see an “Add media” menu above the composition window. Click the icon for uploading audio, which is a pair of music notes.
A window will open asking you to select and upload the podcast file. If you click Upload from Browser, you can navigate to the file. If you have already uploaded the podcast onto a web server and know its URL, you can fill in the From URL field instead.
Once the podcast is uploaded, be sure to add a title and description. When you’re done, click Insert into Post. This will add a link to your post. You can add any other text or materials to your post.
When published, the post will include a link with the title of the podcast.
Anyone who clicks on the link will go directly to the podcast file, which will play in most browsers. (If you are hosting your own copy of WordPress–that is, not a wordpress.com blog–you can install plug-ins that allow you to add an audio player directly within the blog post. One of the most common and reliable plugins available is simply called the “Audio Player plugin.”)
WordPress also has a Podcasting page that gives some insight into how you can distribute podcasts. It explains the steps needed to create a secondary RSS feed dedicated to your podcast. Perhaps most helpfully, it includes descriptions and links to specific WordPress plugins that will help you feed, tag, and, in some cases, add podcasts to the iTunes Podcast Directory.
By publishing the podcast file on your blog, you can also configure a service like Feedburner (which is free) and its Smartcaster feature, to help you distribute your podcast to blog subscribers. FeedBurner will also convert it to an RSS enclosure, which can then be read by programs like iTunes. You can view a video of how to set up a FeedBurner feed. With the podcast RSS feed set up, you can go to the main Podcast Directory page in iTunes and ask iTunes to list your podcast.
This tutorial is based on GarageBand’s informational materials. To view and download the official guides and Q&A regarding GarageBand, visit its support page here.
Specific instructions on creating podcasts with GarageBand can be found at Apple’s iLife support section here. The end of that tutorial includes initial instructions on how to begin working with iTunes to broadcast your podcast.
“Take Control of Podcasting on the Mac,” is a $10 e-book that is a great resource for producing and distributing podcasts using GarageBand and several other audio programs.
For extremely detailed, programmer-oriented instructions on uploading podcasts to iTunes, see Apple’s Technical Specifications for podcasts.
If you are using WordPress, the WordPress Podcasting page is a good guide to plugins that can help you distribute your podcast.
You can find original podcasts from O’Reilly Media, one of the most authoritative sources for information on equipment and software on the net, here. In the right column, there is a “Podcasting Resources” box with links to stories you might find useful, though they tend to be a few years old.
Examples of Podcasts
Any quick browse through the iTunes Podcast Directory shows that there are easily thousands of podcasts available for subscription. Unsurpringly, many of the top podcasts at iTunes are produced by radio programs. Those podcasts produced by news organizations vary in content, quality and format. A few notable examples of podcasts that feature journalism include the following:
This American Life is a consistently popular podcast that is the same as the highly-produced radio show.
Planet Money is a daily podcast begun in September 2008 specifically to address the global financial crisis as it unfolds. It combines a relatively informal format with interviews and analysis in a show that varies between 10 and 30 minutes in length.
RadioLab is a radio program on science and ideas. But it also publishes a separate podcast that truly takes advantage of the format. Some podcast episodes include excerpts of future programs, others describe how they produce the program behind-the-scenes, and still others include audio that might not be a part of the show, but is related to it, such as the commencement speech one host recently delivered.
Playback is a monthly, semi-orgiginal podcast from National Public Radio. It’s semi-original because a host, Kerry Thompson, narrates the show. But most of the material is prerecorded, archival material from decades ago. NPR engineers mix the old footage with Thompson’s new commentary. Playback is a good example of what you can do using the podcast building methods in this tutorial.
About this Tutorial
This tutorial was written by Timothy Lesle and Jerry Monti with help from Abbie Swanson and Shilanda Woolridge.
This content may not be republished in print or digital form without express written permission from Berkeley Advanced Media Institute. Please see our Content Redistribution Policy at multimedia.journalism.berkeley.edu/content_redistribution/.