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Amrita V Nair | Updated on March 08, 2019 Published on March 08, 2019

Streaming sound: Despite being around for over 15 years, podcasts have become popular and mainstream only over the last few years   -  ISTOCK.COM

Tired of video streaming? Beginning this week, a new monthly series looks at the fascinating universe of podcasts

In 2003, when documentarian Matt Schichter launched a weekly interview show called Backstage Pass, which was recorded and transmitted live over the internet, there wasn’t a word to describe what he was doing. A year later, journalist Ben Hammersley suggested podcasting (from “iPod” and “broadcast”) as a possible name for this new form of radio.

Despite being around for over a decade and a half, it is only in the past few years that podcasting has become popular and mainstream. In India, however, the medium is still in its early days though it is slowly gaining traction. “[Podcasting is] growing steadily and there is a lot of curiosity around the space as this medium is considered new real estate for anyone looking for refreshing ways to communicate and cultivate new and loyal audiences,” says Mae Mariyam Thomas, host of Maed in India, one of the top Indian podcasts on iTunes in 2018. Thomas started her show in 2016 after working in radio and realising that there were very few FM stations in India giving independent music the attention it deserved. This, she tells BLink, inspired her to create a show where independent artists could share their music and stories about their journeys as musicians. Today, three years and 150 episodes later, the show has become an important platform for independent music in India.

At the same time, lack of awareness is a challenge that Indian podcasters have to confront. As Thomas explains, “The medium has a severe dearth of exposure and though there is a significant growth in listenership month on month, there are still people who have no idea what a podcast is or how to listen to one.” If you are one of them, BLink’s new series on podcasts is here to help. In each article in the series, I will share with you my favourite podcasts in genres ranging from science to self-improvement. I hope that these recommendations will serve as a starting point for readers to navigate the wonderful world of podcasts. Before we get started, however, here are some answers to frequently asked questions.

I hate to ask at this point in the conversation. But what exactly is a podcast?

Podcasts are essentially radio shows on the internet. They vary greatly in content, style and quality. There are amateur podcasts with casual and conversational styles and elaborate productions with spectacular audio effects and production-value. They also span several genres as there are podcasts dedicated to the most niche hobbies and interests. Super Marcato Bros., for instance, is a podcast dedicated to the appreciation and analysis of video game music.

Great, I am sold! Where do I listen to these podcasts?

If you are listening on a PC, many podcasts have websites from which you can stream directly. Some websites will allow you to download episodes and listen offline by playing the files on your media player (such as Winamp or iTunes). If you want to listen on the go, there are apps on both Android and iOS that you can use for streaming and downloading. These apps will allow you to subscribe to your favourite podcasts which means that they will update automatically whenever a new episode is released. Personally, I am a fan of Podcast Addict for Android and the native Podcasts app for iOS.

How do I start my own podcast?

Before you start, it is important to have a clear vision of what you want your podcast to be. Will it be scripted or unscripted? How frequent will it be? How much time/money do you want to invest in your podcast? The answers to these questions will depend on how elaborate and professional you want the podcast to be. After you have decided these things, you have the fun task of coming up with a catchy name for the podcast. You can then design or commission artwork to serve as the ‘album art’ for your podcast. This is important to help build recognition for your work. There are online freelance platforms where you can commission artists who can bring your ideas to life.

As audio quality can make or break a podcast, it is important to find a recording studio that you can rent to record your episodes. Alternatively, there are several tutorials online on cheap soundproofing hacks for an at-home podcasting studio. A good microphone and an inexpensive pop filter can greatly boost the professionalism of your podcast. For sound editing, open source software Audacity or GarageBand (Mac only) are excellent (and free) choices. Once you have recorded the first episode, you can host your podcast on SoundCloud or through a dedicated website powered by a content management system such as Podcast Generator (free and open source). SoundCloud and Podcast Generator also provide options to distribute your podcast through platforms such as iTunes and Podcast Addict.

The most important consideration before you start, however, is to make sure that you will be talking about something that is likely to find an audience, even a niche one. Thomas, who dons a second hat as the founder of a podcast production company (also called Maed in India), has this advice for budding podcasters, “Before you record anything, before you switch on your mic, make sure you have a great idea. Also, always do a test pilot of your show. It helps you understand what your show will sound like and troubleshoot all your problems. So, when you start production on your show, you have made your mistakes, solved them and created a formula for your show to follow.”

Amrita V Nair is a freelance writer, public policy specialist and podcast enthusiast

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Published on March 08, 2019
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