The Podcasting Moment

Coffee cup and smartphone playing a podcast

Podcasting is big right now as seen by the big media companies moving into the podcasting space now. The Boston Globe writes about the podcasting explosion locally and nationally, including Spotify’s acquisition of Gimlet Media and Anchor and how heavily invested in it that public radio entities are getting.

Podcasting is still not easy (yet) and there’s a significant learning curve if you want to do it right. It’s also difficult to stand out from the pack of all the other podcasts out there. In some ways, it’s like the days when blogging was transitioning from a hobby that a few people were turning into careers into professional advertiser-supported media platforms.

The article talks about the distributed nature of podcasting and how it would be a shame if one company became the gatekeeper and arbiter of podcasting, by which they seem to mean Apple, which had the first major podcast directory (and named podcasts after the iPod) but has not yet tried to control or monetize it. And while I’d guess that most people still find podcasts through Apple, there is a lot of competition in directories by Google Play, Stitcher, TuneIn, podcast apps, and newcomers top the space like Spotify and Pandora.

But podcasts still have the problem that they’re hard for average people to find and consume. They have to download apps and subscribe to feeds, if they can find them, or listen to shows in open web browsers. It’s not like saying, “Watch that new show on Netflix or Hulu or Amazon Prime.”

But it’s getting easier. If you have an Amazon Echo or a Google Home, you can say, “Alex/OK Google, play [Podcast Name] podcast,” and as you include the word “podcast” at the end, it should play it with no further fuss.

Of course, I have a vested interest in this whole conversation as the head of a small Catholic non-profit podcast network. I certainly wouldn’t be averse to some big player wanting to donate/invest money in our operation to help us keep going and reach more people.

My Podcasting Workflow: Hardware Setup

Dom sitting at his desk with his computer gear

I’m sometimes asked about my podcasting workflow, how SQPN goes about recording, editing, distributing, and promoting our shows. Right now, for the most part, this is a one-man operation. However, we’re growing to the point where I’m going to need to start bringing on some help and handing off some of these elements to other people. So what follows is a series of posts that explain the multiple steps that take me from the beginning to the end of the process for each show we produce. The first step involves the hardware setup.

My office at home is where I do my podcasting. I have a big Ikea desk on which sits my computer and a second monitor and microphone. Actually “sit” isn’t technically true. Both the 27″ iMac and the 27″ secondary display are on separate swing arms that allow me to move and reposition them independently as needed. On a small rolling cart to my right sits my Mackie ProFX8 mixer. It’s a bit overkill for a single microphone setup, but I anticipate doing multiple microphone recordings in my office in the future and this will work well for that. The Mackie is connected to my Mac via USB.

My microphone, an Audio-Technica ATR2100, is connected via XLR to the mixer through a Cloudlifter CL-1 microphone pre-amplifier. The microphone hangs off of a Rode PSA1 boom arm and a shock mount along with a pop filter.

Hanging from an Elevation Lab AnchorPro headphone hook under my desk is my Audio-Technica ATH-M50x headphones which are directly connected to my iMac’s audio-out port.
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Podcasting Equipment For Beginners

As someone who has been involved in podcasting for almost a decade and who podcasts as a full-time job now, I often get asked for recommendations for podcasting equipment for beginners. I wish I had a good quick answer for that, but I don’t. That’s because there is a lot to consider first.1 But before we get into the equipment, first dispose of any ideas that podcasting is like what you see on TV shows like God Friended Me. Just no.

What kind of podcast?

Is this going to be informal for a few friends? Are you going for a wide audience? Are you planning on commercializing it? Are you podcasting for your business or organization?

Where will you record it?

At your desk? In the car? On the go? Coffee shops? At a podium or lectern? In a lot of different places?

Who will you record it with?

Are you making a solo podcast? Are you doing a podcast with a co-host? A group of people? The same people or a changing panel?

How will you record it with them?

If you’re recording with other people, will they be joining you in your office? Via Skype or other remote service? In a car? Outside? On the road?

How much is your budget?

You can spend almost nothing up to thousands of dollars, although a decent setup that can last you through several advances in expertise can be had for a couple hundred dollars.

How long do you think you’ll be doing this?

Are you not sure if you want to make a commitment? Are you looking to experiment? Or do you plan on doing this years with a regularly scheduled show?

Starting small

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Jimmy Akin’s Mysterious World

Mysterious World

There’s yet another new SQPN podcast I’m contributing to that I want to share with you: Jimmy Akin’s Mysterious World. As the title states, the show features Jimmy Akin, the Catholic apologist, author, and national radio host1, and me discussing the weird, the strange, the unusual, the unexplained from the twin perspectives of faith and reason. Whether it’s paranormal activity, government conspiracies, natural oddities, miraculous events, or something else out of the norm, we’ll be discussing it on the show.

If you’re over a certain age, think of it like Leonard Nimoy’s “In Search Of” or “Unsolved Mysteries,” starring Robert Stack, but from two Catholic guys.

In contrast to other similar shows, we are neither completely skeptical nor completely credulous and we always include our Catholic worldview. And if you know Jimmy at all, you know that he excels at rational, logical explorations and explanations and brings his encyclopedic knowledge to bear on whatever subject he’s discussing.

The first episode is about ghosts and you might be surprised at our conclusions. Over the next several weeks, we’ll be talking about transhumanism, Bigfoot, and Area 51, just to get started.

Please give it a listen, let us know what you think, subscribe to the feed, and share it with friends and family. Plus like, share, comment, retweet, and/or give it an iTunes review! We appreciate all your help in spreading the news of our podcasts.

As a reminder, since earlier this year I am the CEO and executive director of the StarQuest Production Network, a non-profit apostolate that explores the intersection of faith and pop culture through the medium of podcasts. You can find all our shows at SQPN.com.

Subscribe to Jimmy Akin's Mysterious World

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Keep in mind that it costs nothing to subscribe to SQPN’s podcasts. If you are unfamiliar with how to listen to a podcast, you can learn how at SQPN.com/listen.
  1. He also co-hosts the Secrets of Doctor Who and the upcoming Secrets of Star Trek podcasts with me and Fr. Cory Sticha

Hi, I’m a Podcaster

Well, I’m moving on again. For the past two years, I’ve been Director of Community Engagement for Massachusetts Citizens for Life, an organization doing important work holding the line on assisted suicide against well-funded opposition and helping lower the abortion rate in Massachusetts. But as of today, Tuesday, May 1, I will be leaving that job to take on the full-time position of Chief Executive Officer of the StarQuest Podcast Network (SQPN).

Those of you with a memory for minutiae may recall that I have been Executive Director of SQPN since November 2015 in a part-time capacity. Last January, however, the former CEO and co-founder of SQPN Fr. Roderick Vonhogen left SQPN to focus on his Dutch-based media organization Trideo. After much consultation and consideration of SQPN’s future, the board of directors has decided to rebuild SQPN with an exciting lineup of current and new podcast shows. Part of that rebuilding has been a recognition of the need for someone working full-time to manage everything, to be a primary host of most shows, to schedule panelists, do the audio editing, manage the web servers, and so on. That someone is me.

So now as of May, I can say with all sincerity to the question, “What do you do?”: “I am a podcaster.”

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What Am I Listening To & Watching in 2017?

Occasionally, I get asked what podcasts I’m listening to these days, especially since people know I’m very much involved with Catholic podcasting, as the executive director of SQPN. And so here’s a list of podcasts I’m listening to and watching. That’s right, I’m including both audio and video shows that I regularly enjoy, including some YouTube shows.

I should start by discussing how I consume these shows. For audio, I still use Overcast, which I’ve discussed before and which has had a biggish update lately. It’s still my number one audio podcast app and I listen to podcasts exclusively on my iPhone, most often during my commute, but also sometimes while sitting at my desk or working in the yard or taking a walk.

My video consumption is split between two devices. For video podcasts, i.e. those to which I subscribe such that they show up automatically in a watch playlist on my iPad, I continue to use Downcast. Those I generally watch in the morning as I’m getting ready. I have an iPad wall mount in the bathroom over the sink and then I sit it on my desk as I get dressed. For YouTube channels, right now it’s just watching them in my web browser, usually at the end of the work day to unwind a bit.

I will also note right up front that I participate in a number of podcasts, including Secrets of Star Wars and Secrets of Doctor Who, as well as other occasional episodes of other podcasts, on Trideo. I’ve also recently started an independent podcast with my friend Fr. Chip Hines called The Fathers, and we talk about guy stuff and sports and beer and movies and faith and whatever else. We’re still in single digit number of episodes at this point, but we hope you’ll join us.

All shows are listed alphabetically. Links take you to their web sites, where most have links to subscribe in iTunes or Google Play

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This is Your Brain on Podcasts

Scientists studying how the brain reacts to storytelling have found that listening to podcasts, especially ones that tell stories, can make time pass much quicker than music can.

“Consider the case of just the word ‘dog,’” Dr. Gallant said. “Hearing that is going to make you think about how a dog looks, how it smells, how the fur feels, the dog you had as a kid, a dog that bit you on your paper route. It’s going to activate the entire network for ‘dog.’”

And so it goes, for each word and concept as it is added to the narrative flow, as the brain adds and alters layers of networks: A living internal reality takes over the brain. That kaleidoscope of activation certainly feels intuitively right to anyone who’s been utterly lost listening to a good yarn.

I know that podcasts have been indispensable to my commute for years, never more so than now as my commute has lengthened to 2-1/2 to 3 hours per day.

Secrets of Star Trek

In our latest episode of “Movies, Games, and Television Secrets”, Fr. Roderick and I discuss the news and rumors around the new Star Trek movie coming this summer, “Star trek: Beyond”, and the untitled TV series coming next January. We also discuss our hopes and fears, what we like about what has happened with Star Trek and what we don’t like. I reveal my favorite Star Trek captain, while Fr. Roderick has a surprise guess at who the ultimate villain in the ST universe is. And we also discuss my Star Trek fan fiction.

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