Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Podcast Your Sermons for Free

At River of Life we recently setup an audio podcast of our Sunday sermons on our website (see http://riveroflifemuncie.com/podcast). We have already received considerable positive feedback and a few inquiries regarding how we set up the podcast.

Our podcast was actually extremely easy to set up. And, best of all, it was completely free.

The following is an explanation regarding how we setup our sermon podcast along with some suggestions that may help others who desire to do the same.

Step 1: Record or Convert the Audio
The first thing you need is MP3 files of the sermons you want to podcast. If you are already digitally recording the sermons on a computer the work is done (or mostly done). You will simply need to export or convert the files to MP3 format (if they aren't already). Your recording software will likely be able to do this. If not, SUPER © is a good, free application to convert audio (and video) files from one format to another.

If you need software to digitally record the audio, Audacity is a popular, free recording/editing program with nice features yet simple to use. It has the ability to export into MP3 format if you download the Lame encoder. You can also use Audacity to edit the audio (cut, normalize, fade in/out, etc.) if you desire.

If you do not want to (or do not have the means to) digitally record on a computer, you can convert audio CDs of the sermons to MP3 files using free audio player software such as Windows Media Player, iTunes, or others.

Step 2: Upload the MP3 Files
After your MP3 files are ready to go, you will need to upload them to a server or online service so they are accessible to others. If your church already has a web site, you can put them in a folder on the server of your web hosting service. Many hosting services offer tons of disk space at a very low price (our site is hosted by Powweb, which includes 1,500 GB of disk space for only $7.77 a month). If you are going to use a hosting service, simply use an FTP client or the web interface provided by the hosting service to upload the files (refer to the hosting service for details).

If you don't have a web hosting service (or don't want to use it for podcasting), there are several free services available to host your MP3 files. For our podcast files, we use a free online library/archive called Internet Archive. There are also other services that provide storage space for free without the restrictions (and features) of a library/archive. Box.net, MoveDigital, DreamHost, and BlueHost are but a few such services. You will need to investigate these services to find out terms and conditions, instructions for uploading, and so forth.

Step 3: Create Your Feed
After you have successfully uploaded your MP3 files, you will need to create an XML feed so that the files can be podcasted. There are many options for doing this, but the most simple and easy way is to use a free online service. After exploring several options, we simply setup a free blog with Blogger, which automatically creates an atom/xml feed. Another good, free option that works somewhat similar (although not as full-featured) is Big Contact.

Both of these services actually provide you with a web page that your listeners can visit to browse your files (ours is http://rolpodcast.blogspot.com). This is especially helpful if you don't have a regular web site. [Note: if you use Blogger, make sure you go into the settings and enable "enclosures" which will be needed for podcasting. You will also want to link the title of each post to the MP3 URLs for easier downloads from your listeners.]

Step 4: Create and Configure a Feedburner Account
Feedburner is a free service that was recently acquired by Google. While this step is not absolutely necessary, using Feedburner is highly recommended because it will greatly assist you in optimizing and publicizing your podcast. For example, Feedburner will enable you to easily tweak your XML feed to make it more compatible with iTunes, provide you with free services for email and feed reader subscriptions for your listeners, and much more. Feedburner is pretty easy to use if you take a few moments to play with it. [Note: if you are using Blogger in conjunction with Feedburner make sure you go into the Blogger settings to redirect your feed to your Feedburner feed URL].

Step 5: Tweak Your Website or Blog
Again, while this step is not absolutely necessary it provides better service for your listeners. There are many things you can do to tweak your website (if you have one) or podcast blog (see "Step 3", above).

One thing you will definitely want to do is add a link for iTunes subscriptions. You can use tools in Feedburner to do this, or you can simply make your own link with this target: itpc://feeds.feedburner.com/rolpodcast (to use the example of our feed). The "itpc" URL type will cause web browsers to launch the iTunes application on subscribers' computers and automatically add your podcast to their podcast list. You can also add buttons or links to many other podcast players and feed reader services by using the tools in Feedburner (or in Big Contact, if you go that route).

Another thing to consider is embedding a flash based podcast player to your blog or website. We use the free Big Contact audio player, but there are many others to choose from. Feedburner has a tool that generates code for a player by SpringWidgets, for example. Here is a good link with other flash based podcast player options.

Happy podcasting!

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