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Creating MP3 files to get the maximum Podcast listenership

Author: Myles Wakeham


If you are a podcast host and you want to maximize your listenership, then you need to read this article!

Podcast hosts often forget how their listeners listen to their broadcasts. The fact is that MP3 files have been around for some time now, and there are thousands of different devices out there to listen to them on. People utilize their time to listen to content where they can, which is why the iPod device has been so popular as a portable media player. Whether you are working out at the gym, waiting at the airport for your flight, or driving home from work, the iPod is a great way to listen to podcasts.

However its not the only game in town. There are so many other portable media players out there from different companies that MP3 playing is becoming more and more available. There are even dedicated MP3 players for cars - I use one of these, an 'OmniFi' DMP unit that has a 20GB hard disk, and plays through my car stereo.

Of course the other most popular MP3 player is simply your computer. Windows operating systems include MP3 playing now as part of the Windows Media Player, which is bundled into the OS. But there are also plenty of 3rd party ones such as WinAmp, etc.

Bottomline: You have no idea what device or environment that your listener is wanting to hear your show in. Therefore you need to be as accessible to them as you possibly can be by correctly creating MP3 files that work for everyone. The more available you make your MP3 files in your Podcasts, the more likely people will listen to them.

This is all pretty much commonsense, right? I mean you wouldn't go to all the trouble to record your podcast episodes if you didn't want people to listen to them. Well if that is the case, why is it that the vast majority of Podcast hosts out there don't know the 'rules' with MP3 files. More than half of the Podcasts that I subscribe to incorrectly format their MP3 files making it almost impossible to catalog and organize the content. Hence they don't get listened to. I just wished Podcast hosts would pay attention to what its like to be a listener to a Podcast. They need to subscribe to a number of other podcasts out there and realize how difficult it can be to organize the content.

Here's the acid test: Subscribe to 5 different Podcasts. Build up at least 10 episodes on your iPod or other media player. Now imagine you are working out on a treadmill and want to hear some content. Just how difficult is it to navigate through the content and find the next show you want to listen to? Or imagine you are waiting at the traffic lights and want to play another episode of a podcast in your car. Can you easily and safely find the next show you want by artist, title, etc? You'll quickly start to realize just what your listeners have to go through to find and play your shows.

There are two main things that have to be considered when creating a MP3 file to get maximum exposure:

  1. Audio Properties
  2. ID3 tags

Audio properties simply refer to the quality of the sound, and the size of the file. MP3 files are 'compressed' audio files. The standard for compression takes what used to be a huge file in uncompressed audio, and reduces its size greatly so that it can be easily transported from host to listener. If you are willing to sacrifice audio quality, you can produce a very small file indeed. However the quality of sound is something we are all concerned about, so there has to be a reasonable expectation of sound quality vs. a reasonable file size.

The key here is the Sample Rate. Sample rate affects the quality of the audio, and I suggest to all podcast hosts that you want to record at 44.1khz sample rate. In the old days, we used to refer to this as 'CD Quality' as all commercial CDs were typically recorded at 44.1khz sample rate. If you encode your MP3 files at this rate, you'll get something similar to CD quality in your recordings. And with the availability of bandwidth, this typically means that a 30 minute podcast episode will store in about 20mb of file size, which is easily downloaded via a Podcast feed.

The one thing you DON'T want to do is stray from the sample rate. The reason is that the players that are out there will expect 44.1khz for MP3 files. Some web based players, such as those players that are embedded in websites and written in Flash, will attempt to convert your MP3 files to sample rate that is divisable by 11.025 and consequently those that record at some unusual rate such as 48khz, will find their audio sounding like the Chipmunks if played on a web page.

Again, I get back to the goal here. Make your audio as accessible to the largest audience by sticking to the standards.

Another important factor of the audio properties of a podcast is compression. Sound comes at us at different volume levels. But a long time ago, some bright spark invented a device that would reduce the volume of LOUD parts of sound, and increase the volume of SOFT parts of sound, making it more comfortable to listen to a longer broadcast. This is called a 'compressor'. In the past they were rack mounted hardware devices with meters, lights, etc. Today they are found in recording software as a 'Filter' or 'Tool' to be applied to the audio once its recorded.

Compression is 'normal' in the audio recording business, but often completely ignored by MP3 file creators for podcasts. You really need to run your audio through a digital compressor before releasing it, otherwise you will have a very unhappy listener on your hands when the volume of their iPod goes LOUD and then SOFT. Yes, the players try to accomodate these big drifts in volume levels, but its really the responsibility of the audio creator to properly use compression to ensure that their audio is professional in quality. Most recording programs that you are probably using have some sort of 'Compression Tool' that will do this for you. There really is no excuse not to use it. Check the software you use to record you audio and look for the compression facilities. If you don't have them, you'll probably need to run your audio files through an external program to apply compression to it. There are plenty out there and you'll find what you are looking for with a simple Google search.

Now once you have a good quality MP3 file recorded at the correct sample rates, and with compression, there's one more thing you need to do...

Since MP3 files are digital, they allow you to describe information into the files that can be used by the players to allow easy organization and navigation of content. This information is stored in what they call ID3 tags. For example, when you see the name of the artist, title and album appearing on a MP3 file on your iPod, its because the iPod read the ID3 tag information in your audio file and is displaying it to the listener.

The ID3 tag information is CRITICAL if you want to keep your listeners happy. If you neglect to include this, you will find that listeners will give up on your podcast. Why? Well its because with the constant ongoing downloads of episodes that they will get, they will get overwhelmed with trying to organize the MP3 files. You've probably heard friends bragging about just how many thousands and thousands of songs they have in their library. Well imagine trying to organize all of this without tagging information? It couldn't be done. At some point it becomes so prohibitive that audio files just get thrown away because its too overwhelming to try and organize them.

You can ensure that your content doesn't go the way of the trash can by including at a minimum ID3 tagging for the following:

  • Artist Name
  • Album
  • Title

Use your name as the Artist Name. Use the Podcast title as the Album. Then make each episode have a unique Title. And here's a tip.... Prefix the show title with a sortable date (such as YYYYMMDD or as an example 20071107 for Nov 7th, 2007). Why? Well some players are just not that good at organizing content and yet they will sort the titles in an order that makes the most sense (alpha sort). This way a listener can keep an archive of your past shows, but it makes it REALLY easy for them to find the latest show and listen to it.

Again if you make your shows easy to organize they will be found and you'll increase listenership. And I really mean this. You could get an extra 50% listenership of your shows if you just help out your listeners by correctly tagging them.

And don't change the Artist Name or Album. If you do, you'll force the listener to now have multiple copies of your shows spread throughout their collection - another surefire way to make sure you lose listeners.

I hope these tips and tricks will help you keep and grow your listenership. The last thing in the world we want to do is to turn off listeners from your show, and something as simple as correct sample rate and proper ID3 tagging of your MP3 files makes all the difference.


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