Your Church Can Podcast – Part 2: Creating Your MP3 File

Posted by on February 18, 2007

In part one, we talked about recording the audio. Now that you recorded the content you want to include in your podcast, you’ll need to get it into an MP3 file – the audio file format used by podcasts. This can be very simple or very complex depending on the end result you’re looking for.

But first, let’s take a look at where we’re going. Here are the things that you’ll eventually need to get the podcast going.

  1. A digital audio recording of the content you want to be in your podcast
  2. A finished MP3 format file of the content
  3. A appropriate web hosting service with lots of space for your files (if you make a good choice here, the next steps are easier).
  4. Software to upload (FTP) your files to the web server.
  5. Software for podcasting (provided by some hosting options)
  6. Time to go and register your podcast with half a dozen podcast sites (including Apple’s iTunes)
  7. A dedicated volunteer (could be you) who will be willing to post your podcast episodes regularly. It takes a long time to build up subscribers, and you’ll lose them if you’re not consistent.

But now, we’re working on getting our MP3 file created.

Disclaimer – I’m using a Microsoft Windows-based PC. If you want to do this on a Mac, some of the tools may be different. (Check out Apple’s Garage Band, for example.) If you use a Mac, feel free to leave a comment with your recommendations.

From a CD

Since my church pulls our audio off of CDs, I’ll share how to do that first. I start with a copy of the last Sunday’s CD and a free program called WavePad. You can download WavePad from a number of sites.

I won’t go into the gory details of using WavePad – check out their docs for that – but you can pull tracks off of a CD with it. I then save them as a .WAV file. I do my real editing in a wonderful program called Audacity – see below.

Creating Your MP3 file

You can just post your MP3 file as is if you like. I wanted mine to sound s bit more professional than that so I bought a cheapo computer microphone from Radio Shack and had my wife Eleanor record introduction and sign-off messages. You can hear our current introduction and sign-off here if you like (they’re in WAV format). You can hear a finished product at www.trinitywestsac.org/podcast/archives/24.  Others use something more elaborate. If you have someone excited about the podcast ministry, they could do what Peace Presbyterian Church (another church in Sacramento Presbytery) does. Listen here to a sample here. This requires someone to record an introduction each week. Very cool, but it has to be a labor of love.

First, let’s download the free tool that you need – Audacity. Grab it from audacity.sourceforge.net (Don’t get the beta version – you want the latest stable release – version 1.2.6 as I’m writing). Follow the instructions to install it.

You’ll need one more piece. In order to convert files into the necessary MP3 file format, you’re doing to need another free tool called “LAME MP3 Encoder.” Audacity uses it to do the file encoding. You can get the instructions for that from audacity.sourceforge.net/help/faq?s=install&i=lame-mp3. (Leave a comment if these instructions aren’t enough.)

Editing Your File

You can plug in a microphone and use Audacity to record your introduction and sign-off. I recommend saving them as .WAV files and keeping them in a folder where they’ll be handy. You’ll use them often. (See the Audacity help for how to record an audio file. Leave a comment if you need help.)

Once you have an introduction, the main content for your first episode, and a sign-off message (optional), you can load them all into Audacity.

  1. Run Audacity
  2. Under the Project menu, click “Import audio…”
  3. Select your introduction file (if you have one)
  4. Now use “import audio” again to load your main content
  5. Finally, use “import audio” to bring in your sign-off.

Now we’ll need to arrange the files so that they’re sequential. You may need to zoom in a bit with the zoom tool (magnifying glass with a plus sign in it) to see where your introduction ends. Go ahead and do that. Then click the tool with a double-headed arrow in it (Audacity Slide Tool). Now slide the content audio so that the end of the introduction lines up with the beginning of your content. Then line up the sign off with the end of the content.

Audacity has all kinds of tools for adjusting volume levels, editing your files, etc. But I’ll leave that to your exploration.

What we need to do now is save an MP3 file. First let me suggest some options for you. I suggest that you capture and save your audio at a frequency of 22.05 kHz. That’s about half the sample rate (and quality) of a CD. You don’t want to pick arbitrary numbers here. If it’s not half or a quarter of the CD sample rate, some players throw up and you sound like the munchkins in The Wizard of Oz. Not pretty. You can set this for recording by going to Preferences (under the Edit menu) and choosing 22050 Hz under “Default Sample Rate” in the Quality tab. You’ll also want to set your MP3 quality under the file formats tab. I use a bit rate of 128 – it seems to be a good compromise between quality and file size. (Note: If you don’t see the MP3 Export Setup section under the “File Formats” tab or it’s grayed out, you still need to install “Lame MP3 Encoder” see Audacity’s page on that at audacity.sourceforge.net/help/faq?s=install&i=lame-mp3.) Or click “Find Library” and browse to the location where you unzipped the Lame MP3 Encoder.

Saving the MP3

Now you’re ready to create your MP3 file. Go to the file menu and click “Export as MP3.” You’ll need to choose a file name and folder. I recommend creating a separate folder for your podcasts and naming your files with the date in this format: 2007-02-18-Worst-Military-Strategy.mp3. The date will make sure that the files are always listed sequentially, which becomes important when you have a large number of files. I then use a shortened version of my sermon titles for the remainder of the filename.

Audacity ID3 dialog exampleAudacity will ask you for some information on the file using a system called ID3 that embeds information about your podcast in the MP3 file. It helps people to manage files on their computers and MP3 players so I recommend that you use it. See below for an example. (“Grace in the West” is the title of our podcast.)

Once you have clicked OK, you’ll have to wait for some time as the computer encodes your file. But that’s it! Go ahead and listen to it to see what you think. You can always edit it in Audacity.

I personally like to save an uncompressed version as a .WAV file in case I want to make some editing changes later. The compression that helps to make MP3 files small also loses some of the details in your sound. You don’t want to go keep editing a file and saving it as MP3 again and again. Eventually, the sound quality will degrade noticeably.

Next time, we’ll look at setting up web hosting for your podcast.

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