Sermon Podcasting Guide

Chapter 1:  What is a Podcast?

There’s an old Chinese proverb that goes:  He who defines the terms wins the argument.  I’m not sure who is arguing with who in this case, but the principle is still a good one:  let’s be clear on our terms before we continue.  There is a lot of internet jargon out there that gets bandied about, and most people only barely have a clue what they’re talking about.  The more you understand the fundamentals of building a podcast, the better you’ll be able to keep yours running smoothly and solve problems as they come up.  So, without further ado:

Podcast:

I hope you don’t skip this section.  The fact is, lots of people use the term podcast and don’t even know what it means.  It’s a fashionable, sexy word.  It makes you sound cool and knowledgeable about the “information superhighway.”  It drives girls crazy.  So lots of people talk about podcasts but have no idea what it means.  Let’s fix that.

A podcast is like a magazine subscription.  It’s a way of subscribing to a source of audio content that you like, making sure that you get new episodes whenever they become available.  In your case, that’s sermons.  Lots of people think that just having audio files on their website means that they have a podcast.  They don’t.  Having audio content is an indispensable part of having a podcast, but it’s not the same. 

For example, if you upload your church’s sermons to your website that’s great, but it’s not a podcast.  If your church members like downloading the sermons, they will have to come back each week, or every couple days, to check if there is a new message available.  If there is, they need to download it manually each time.  If you had a podcast, you would still upload your sermons to your website, but your website users could now ‘subscribe’ to your podcast.  This means that a program on their computer (often a free media player like Apple’s iTunes) would be ‘hooked up’ to your website, and would automatically check for new episodes every day (or more or less often, depending on the user’s preferences) and when a new sermon is available, automatically download it. 

Having a podcast makes it much, much easier for people to download your church’s sermons.  If they are using iTunes and have an iPod (as untold billions now do) then your churches sermons will be automatically downloaded and moved to the iPod whenever it is synced with the computer.  The end result is more people downloading and benefiting from your church’s sermons.  A church that I set up a couple podcasts for recently doubled the amount of sermons being downloaded in less than a month after starting a couple of podcasts.

MP3

An MP3 is a digital audio file.  There are lots of ways to store audio digitally -- sort of analogous to the way you can store analog audio in many forms: record, tape, 8-track, etc.   You’ve probably heard of many of the file types, although maybe you’ve never registered exactly what they were—MP3, AAC, WAV, WMA, OGG, etc.  These are all just different formats for encoding audio digitally. 

Note:  please slap yourself before reading this paragraph.  Done?  Good. Listen closely: many people make the mistake of using a file format OTHER than MP3.  Don’t do it!  I see lots of church websites that use .WMA or other file formats, and they don’t realize they are making it much more difficult for their listeners to hear the sermons.  You want to use MP3 files exclusively.  Trust me.  MP3’s aren’t necessarily the best file format, but that doesn’t matter.  The important thing is, they are 100% universal.  Every computer, every operating system, and every program can open an MP3.  A pregnant walrus in the arctic circle could open an MP3 if he wanted to.  That’s not true of any other file format.  AAC’s (popularized by Apple and the iTunes store) can only be opened by Apple computers or Windows machines running iTunes.  WMA’s can only be opened by Windows machines.  All the other file formats will ensure that a percentage of your congregation will not be able to hear your sermons.  That’s bad. 

MP3’s can be encoded at many different quality settings, so it’s possible to have large MP3’s that sound as good as a CD, or to have them compressed so small that they sound horrible.  In a later section I’m going to teach you exactly how to compress your MP3’s so that they sound near-CD quality and still have extremely small file sizes--very important for files that are downloaded from the internet.  This is another area where many, many churches make mistakes.  I’ve seen lots of churches whose sermon MP3’s are 50+ megabytes.  Bad news.  Nobody wants to download a file that huge – it takes too long.  Plus, it can cost you money if you exceed your allowed bandwidth with your web hosting provider.  I’ll help you get those file sizes down to around 7-9 megabytes for a 30 minute sermon.  I’ve been tinkering with many programs and many different advanced compression settings for several years, trying to find the perfect balance between size and quality.  In chapter 4 I’ll share my secret recipe with you. 

XML

We’ll be talking a lot about XML files as we progress.  XML stands for eXtensible Markup Language.  If that means nothing to you, don’t worry.  At the heart of every podcast is an XML file.  It’s basically a little text file (you can create one in Notepad or TextEdit – free programs included with most computers) that tells people about your sermons.  XML is a coding language.  If you’ve never learned a computer language before, don’t worry, you won’t have to start now.  I’ve included a starter XML file and all you have do is learn how to modify a few lines of it each time you add a new sermon.  It takes about 60 seconds, and I could teach a 5th grader to do it in about 5 minutes – so you should have it mastered in an hour or two.  Seriously, it’s very easy. 

RSS Aggregator

This is just a fancy term for a program that subscribes to a podcast.  iTunes is probably the most popular RSS Aggregator (actually it’s a fully-functional media player that also functions as a podcast RSS Aggregator) although there are many others like Juice, and Doppler.  This is the (almost always free) program that lives on the computer of your congregation member and makes the podcast magic happen.  It checks your podcast regularly looking for new sermons.  When it finds a new sermon on your website, it licks its chops and downloads it automatically, then patiently waits for your congregation member to listen to it at their convenience.

 

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