Podcasts have been grabbing the headlines lately, with some presenters earning six- or seven-figure incomes from their disembodied voices. While arguably podcasting in the commercial space has reached saturation point, there’s still one key area where it’s not yet gained significant momentum: academia.
In this week’s Thing, we investigate podcasting. First, we’ll discuss why it’s an important activity in our world, before looking at some ways of finding the best academic podcasts. Finally, there’s advice and links for anyone who wants to give it a try.
Of course, there’s already plenty of academic material online. So what’s the advantage of podcasts over other media? Well, a major factor is convenience. It’s easy to listen to audio recordings on your commute, at the gym, and in odd moments – and they’re a great distraction from tedious tasks, such as housework. You can also give your eyes a welcome break from staring at the screen. Podcasts feel more personal than text, too.
Now that it’s quick, easy, and cheap to publish podcasts, more academics are using this platform to share their ideas, providing a rich new source of information and experiences.
Where are the academic podcasts?
Although not many academics have joined the podcasting vanguard, there are already some useful resources out there. A good place to start is Pod Academy, a not-for-profit site that organises recordings in four categories: Arts and Culture, Business & Economics, Humanities & Social Sciences, and Science & Environment. It’s also well worth taking a look at H-Podcast. Alongside a directory of resources, there’s also a hosted discussion of podcasting as a form.
One particularly interesting podcast series is The Anatomy of a Book, in which Dr Katie Linder shares her experience of planning and writing an academic book. She talks listeners through the whole process, including the sticky weeks where everything goes wrong. This is both an innovative use of podcasting and an incredibly helpful resource for understanding the writing cycle.
If you need a break from academic stuff, have a rummage on LibriVox, a library of free audio recordings of texts in the public domain. It includes everything from Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management to the 9/11 Commission Report. Appropriately enough, Moby-Dick has been turned into a whale-sized podcast of 136 episodes, narrated by actors including Tilda Swinton.
Subscribing to podcasts
In most cases, you can either download individual podcast episodes or stream them from the creator’s website. With a phone app like Stitcher, you can actually subscribe to a podcast. Episodes are then automatically delivered to your device, and you can organise them by creating categories and playlists. You can also subscribe to many podcasts through iTunes and Spotify.
What about creating your own podcast?
It takes a lot of hard work and dedication to produce a podcast series, so that’s not a realistic option for busy researchers. But if you’re already thinking big, take a look at Pat Flynn’s free online course on How to Start a Podcast. He earns around $2m a year, so definitely knows what he’s talking about.
For most people, it’s better to start small with a one-off recording. Here’s what you’d need to do:
- Plan – What are you going to talk about? You could read a conference paper, interview another researcher, or just do a round-up of what’s happening in your field.
- Record – If you have a decent smartphone, you already have a mini recording studio. Use an app like Audio Recorder (Android) or Voice Recorder (iPhone) and export the file in MP3 format. Improve the sound quality by shutting yourself in a quiet room, away from buzzing equipment.
- Edit – Most informal podcasts aren’t polished, so don’t worry about getting everything perfect. You might just need to trim the beginning and the end, increase the volume, and reduce any background noise. This can be easily achieved with free software such as Audacity (often available on university PCs).
- Publish – One of the simplest ways to share your recording is through SoundCloud. They’ll host up to 3 hours’ podcasting for free. You can then embed your podcast on your blog, if you have one, or share it on Twitter. Just paste the SoundCloud URL in a tweet and it instantly becomes a mini media player.
Alternatively, you could submit your recording to a site like Pod Academy. They offer lots of advice on creating an effective podcast.
Even if you decide against casting your own pod, you could still benefit from the ever-expanding library of recordings. And don’t rule out experimenting with audio. As this is still a peripheral academic activity, it’s a good way of standing out.
Here are some activities to try this week:
- Find some podcasts through H-Net or Pod Academy, then subscribe to them through Stitcher.
- Experiment with recording a conference paper (or reading a chapter from your favourite book).
- Edit your podcast with Audacity and upload it to SoundCloud.
- BONUS: Embed your podcast in a tweet.