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Why We Shouldn't Cast Away Podcasting

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It's funny how things fall together.

I found out that Julie Burstein, the author of Spark - How Creativity Works and creator of the radio program Studio 360 with Kurt Andersen for Public Radio International, was going to be a speaker at this past year's TED conference. I usually choose a handful of speakers or guests to try to connect with prior to boarding my flight to Long Beach. Having pre-set meetings and meal buddies makes it easier to connect with people and network (especially for someone as introverted as me). Julie was kind enough to make some time for me at the end of third day. We wound up having a wonderful conversation about the power of creativity and where it comes from (we actually recorded the conversation and you can hear it all right here: Episode #297 of Six Pixels of Separation Podcast with Julie Burstein) and agreed to try to stay connected.

Does anybody still care about podcasting?

Having recently celebrated the three hundredth episode of my weekly podcast, Six Pixels of Separation, I half jokingly tell people that it's the most selfish act of social media ever. I use the show as an excuse to corner interesting people and pry the answers to questions that are challenging me in business out of them. The only non-selfish act is the fact that I publish it for free for the world to listen in. It turns out that podcasting (and, audio podcasting, in general) never gained the traction of say blogging, online social networks or even online video. It's a shame. Audio (be it a podcast or radio) is true theater for the mind. Personally, I like nothing more than either plugging in some ear buds and listening to some killer content or cranking them through the audio system as I make my daily commute to the office. I especially love listening to audio podcasts on long haul flights. iTunes is an amazing repository of audio podcasts that enable each and every one of us to become the eclectic, program directors of our own radio stations (the only difference with podcasts when compared to radio is that you can pause, fast forward, rewind, stop, delete and share them... on your own time). It's the cheapest way to learn that you can find.

Good morning, Chelsea.

It turns out that few weeks after the TED conference, I was asked to speak at a private Google event in New York City. Julie had mentioned that I should ping her should I ever be in the area, and I had a breakfast opening. We wound up meeting for breakfast in Chelsea at The Grey Dog (in case you were wondering, the baked oatmeal is to die for) to chat about all things audio. Post success of her bestselling book, Spark, Julie was thinking of starting an audio podcast to continue to interview creative types. The name of her new audio podcast is called, Pursuit of Spark, but she had some technical and philosophical questions about how podcasting can (and should) be different from radio. In short, podcasting shouldn't be a mirror of radio. The opportunity we have is to experiment and come up with new and different ways to create audio programming. In the same breathe, there is tons of knowledge that Julie has about radio, so it became this strange conversation about sharing tips and tricks to chart this new course for audio.

Tools of the trade.

One of the biggest challenges is capturing the audio in the best possible light. Most podcasters (myself included) don't have access to a world-class studio or the ability to have our subjects show up to a specific location for a conversation (my studio is a MacBook Air with the Audacity freeware). We have to be more mobile and agile. The challenge with that is recording phone calls is not only hard to do, but the sound quality is brutal. Over the years, I've found that the audio quality of Skype trumps phones (so long as the Skype call is clean and free of distortion). I record those Skype chats using Audio Hijack Pro and the results have been quite good. While on the go, I've transitioned over the years from a small Sony tape recorder, to a digital recorder to the M-Audio MicroTrack portable digital studio to the HT Professional Recorder app for the iPhone. I was telling Julie all about my nerdware when she asked if I had heard about the Hindenburg Field Recorder. The app costs $29.99 and is worth each and every penny. It's almost astounding to see both the functionality (on-the-fly editing, you can set cue points during an interview, add notes and much more) and the overall audio quality. Without sounding too much like a commercial for Hindenburg, you can feel the future of audio reporting by just playing with it. It's like GarageBand for news and podcast producing junkies.

The power of audio.

There's still something to be said about the beauty of well-produced audio. Yes, there are a bunch of very indie podcasts out there and there are a host of professionally produced shows that are simply distributed through podcasting as well, but the tools are now readily available to make each and every one of us a producer of quality audio content. As businesses and brands clamor for friends, followers, likes, retweets and pins, start tinkering with audio podcasting. You may not only enjoy it, but be able to find some highly qualified new business leads and a burgeoning and loyal community along the way.