How To: Super Quick DIY Podcasting for Museums & Other Nonprofits Closed by COVID-19
As a lot of museums and historic sites around the world close to help stop the spread of the coronavirus/COVID-19, a lot of staff are thinking about we can use digital tools to stay active and be there for our audiences. One of the reasons I generally believe podcasting is such a great medium for museums is that it extends the physical space and allows for intimate interactions between the museum and individual listeners. I think at this uncertain time, having the ability to reach audiences in that way is becoming even more valuable.
I will be the first to tell you that podcasting takes a lot of time. My typical best practice recommendations would be to plan on at least 10–20 hours per episode total if you are producing entirely in-house. So if you don’t already have a podcast to promote to your audience and you want to use this medium to reach people soon, while you are closed, here are some suggestions for really quick production so you can start releasing within a week or two.
Show Ideas for Rapid Production
In order to get a *good* podcast out quickly, you need to start with a concept that lends itself to the timeline. What stories does your team know well enough they could tell it without much prep? Do you have any exhibit content that already contains narrative text? Does the museum have any publications/past exhibit text/ blogs/ education material that would provide ready-made story scripts?
You may notice these ideas all reference stories and scripts. I won’t go into the whole story thing other than to say stories are more enjoyable and memorable and generally better than facts, and that’s a fact. Stories transport people, and provide escape. And that’s what folks need right now, not a textbook.
Scripted audio stories (fiction or nonfiction) will seriously cut down on the time needed to edit your podcast, and editing is by far the most time-consuming part of podcasting. If you are really good at speaking smoothly without ums and uhs and digression from an outline, go for it. But when it comes to audio, those things really stand out, so writing a nice little script will let you read in a way that avoids those bits so you don’t have to spend hours cutting them out in editing. One of my friends have created a show like this with just their laptop, a microphone, and basic editing software: Vikings are Gay!. Another example: The Object from the Minneapolis Institute of Art is also just scripted stories read out by the host.
How to do it: pull together stories you already have (see paragraph above) and convert that text into a script for an episode of 15–20 minutes long (short = less time for editing). You could also tell three small stories in each episode. Edit the existing text/material so that it reads like it’s being spoken, not read. What does that mean? Read it aloud as you write/edit and ignore grammar and punctuation rules. Use short sentences and the simplest vocabulary possible. You don’t want it to sound like it’s being read, and when we speak we ignore grammar rules and punctuation and we typically use simpler vocabulary.
Another idea is to ask your curators/tour guides/docents/whoever to tell you their favorite story from the museum/site. It should be something they know really well, so they don’t need to spend time prepping or writing anything down. Give them only 15 minutes. (Short = easier to edit). Then you can use a bit of scripting to introduce their story and bam, episode.
Think of the children! A lot of families will be home with kids to entertain. Do you have children’s programs that can be adapted to audio? Maybe you lead kids in a history themed exercise? Maybe you play “what’s making that noise?” Episodes for kids can be even shorter, so that means less editing (10–15 minutes is great).
This may be more time consuming on the prep-end, but can you ask your community to send in short audio recordings on a theme (history you lived through/favorite story from local history/favorite spot in our town or city)? You can then take one submission and script (or simply speaking from an outline if you can) an extra 10–15 minutes talking about the history behind the thing they talked about or an object in your collection that relates to their story. This can be a great way to engage your community even before the podcast comes out.
Be creative…these are just a few ideas, and there are so many more things you can do quickly. Do you have a diary in your collection you could read out? Does each room of your historic site hold a story? Does one of your staff members want to lead audio meditations from the garden? Think of anything you that requires minimal planning and editing but also is an interesting story.
Rapid Low Budget Recording
Ok now you have a concept, but how do you execute it quickly? Let’s talk equipment. Please, whatever you decide to use, do some tests to figure out what sounds best before you start producing anything for real. For any recording (except straight to phone without any add-ins), USE HEADPHONES so you can monitor what you are recording. Because I need to distract myself from the low-grade panic, I’m going to package you up some options as if they were menu items at a bougie urban burger joint.
The Bare Minimum: iPhones have great built-in mics. If you can’t buy any equipment to get started, you can get a pretty decent sound on a iPhone (or test out your other smart phone…I’m an Apple person, so I can’t speak on others smartphones). Use an app like Ferrite (free) or Hindenburg Field Recorder ($29.99); these will let you see when you are recording at the right volume with a nice red to green bar. If it’s too loud, move the phone further away from your mouth and vice versa. I think slightly bent arm’s length is a good place to start. You can also set the phone on a small stack of books on the table in front of you with the mic facing towards you to record yourself or you and another person.
Let’s talk about Anchor.fm. This app/online platform is a one-stop shop for recording, editing, and publishing your show. I’ve never used it, and I’ve heard mixed reviews. But I do know it’s easy to use, fast, and FREE. I normally don’t recommend it, but for this post we’re all about speed so I’m going to break my rule and suggest giving it a look if you feel intimidated by the rest of the info in this post.
The One Mic Stand: You can also plug a microphone directly into your laptop or iPhone/iPad. Let’s start with the laptop.
You may already have a USB microphone laying around. Great, use it! If not, you can order a really decent one off Amazon or from your local electronics store that will serve you well now and later when you want to step your production up. The ATR2100 from Audio Technica is one of my all-time favorites. I used this mic to record the entire first season of Museums in Strange Places. It costs under $100, and you’ll need a small stand. You’ll plug that into your laptop and record directly into your editing software (we’ll get to that in a second). But really any USB microphone will work for this.
My friend Ian Elsner uses the Shure MV5 microphone ($99) to record the narration for Museum Archipelago. It will plug into your computer via USB OR into your iPhone or iPad via lighting port.
This leads me to the mic + iPhone/Pad combo. This is a great way to improve your sound without buying a ton of gear. You can use that Shure MV5 or if you want to be able to move around without being tethered to your laptop, you could grab the Shure MV88 ($150), which will plug right into your lighting port. Ian uses that to record interviews in person for Museum Archipelago.
The Handy Option: If you want to/can’t use an iPhone/iPad but still want to be mobile, you can use the setup I used to record all the interviews for the second season of Museums in Strange Places (and also which I taught The National Archives’ staff to use for On the Record).
That is the Zoom H4n Pro Handy Recorder ($200ish)+ an XLR cable ($10) + a reporter style mic (price varies). I’m a big fan of the RODE Reporter ($130), but any similar reporter style mic will do. The MOVO HM-M2 is a great cheaper version at $50. There are lots of great tutorials on YouTube for how to use the Zoom H4n OR you can also find a “just what you need to know” tutorial in my book, Your Museum Needs a Podcast (there’s an e-book and audio version so you don’t have to wait for shipping).
I also have more tips on recording and interviewing in my book. But for the sake of speed, I do recommend scripting something (if only loosely) instead, as it will save you a lot of time.
Remote Recording: You may want to interview or collaborate with people who are not near you. This is always a challenge in podcasting and now even more so. Once again I’m going to tell you something I learned from Ian at Museum Archipelago: The Double Ender Method. Simply set up a Zoom/Skype call with the person you want to talk to. Have them wear headphones and call via their computer. You can use Zoom to automatically record that conversation, but you’ll only use that audio as backup since it’s going to be bad quality. Instead, you will each record yourselves independently using a iPhone (same instructions as above) or a simple USB mic. If the other person isn’t tech savvy, they should still be able to figure out how to open up their voice memo app on their phone and hit record. They will then email you that file once you are done, and you can line it up with your own file in your editing software. We used this method for most of the interviews for the The Vagina Museum Podcast.
Rapid Low Budget Editing
Ok so now that you have recorded some audio, you need to edit it!
THE VERY FIRST THING I want you to do with any audio you record or collect is to run it through Auphonic. This website will basically take care of all your sound-engineering: leveling, normalizing, filtering, and noise and hum reduction. You just upload each audio file, tick “noise reduction” and the default setting should be good otherwise. Here’s what it should look like before you hit go:
Then take those files and import them into any audio editor. If there’s a platform you already use, great use that. It’s best to go with whatever will be easiest because time is of the essence! Audacity is a great free editor, and there are thousands of YouTube videos showing your how to get started. GarageBand on Apple computers is also free. I personally use Hindenburg Journalist ($90 but you can get a free 30 days trial). It’s super simple to use, and they have an excellent set of tutorials.
You may want to add some music or sound effects to spice things up. I’ve written a whole separate post about that here. At a minimum it might be nice to have a chill song to play for your intro/outro.
When you are done editing your audio (cutting out mistakes, weird noises, putting together multiple recordings, etc.) then export it as an MP3.
Publishing Your Podcast
Now you need to publish. First you should create a cover image and write up a great description that entices people to listen (less than 500 characters). Your cover image should be exactly 1400 by 1400 px. If you are even 1400 x 1401 it could get rejected by Apple Podcasts so that’s important. You’ll want something that looks good as a thumbnail and grabs people’s attention. Your show title should be short, original, and interesting. Put it on a nice background for a great cover image. If you aren’t good with Photoshop, use Canva.
Now you’ll need to choose a podcast hosting platform in order to distribute your show to podcatchers (all the apps that people use to listen). Anchor is free, Libsyn is my favorite, and Podbean and Blubrry are also popular. They all basically do the same thing. They will have instruction for how to set up your show. Once you upload and publish the first file, they will create an RSS feed for your show. They will also give you options for pushing that feed to Google Podcasts, Spotify, and other platforms. You want your podcast on as many apps as possible! The big three are Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, and Spotify. Apple requires you to submit your RSS feed manually. You just need to copy your RSS feed (should look like an URL with /rss in it) from your hosting platform dashboard and submit it at Apple Podcasts Connect (you’ll need an Apple id). Manually submit it to Stitcher as well.
The first time you publish, it may take a few days for it to show up on all the platforms. So you may want to post a little teaser or trailer first to test it all out. Once it does, you can find all your links in one place at Pod.Link. If you don’t have a place on your website to list your podcast and share each episode, you can use your Pod.Link page instead. RadioPublic also can turn your RSS feed into a great little website with their Podsites product.
If you can include a transcript with each episode, I highly recommend doing so, as many deaf and hard-of-hearing people enjoy podcast content.
If you want to save even more time, you can hire an editor to do your editing for you. Lots of freelancers are looking for new work right now. You can find freelance audio editors by posting a call for help on your social media pages, searching on Upwork, or just having a Google. You can find folks who edit for as low as $35 an hour.
Remember this is not the time to be a perfectionist or to dream big. This is the time to get stories out there to reach your audience when they need you and to keep your connections to your audience active during the months you are closed. Do the best you can in the time you have budgeted, and then get it out there. Even when time isn’t as critical, I advise folks to aim for “good” not “perfect” and take an extra 20 minutes on each episode to improve one aspect. A podcast that comes out regularly and keeps getting better is far more effective and impactful than one that releases one great episode and never is heard from again.
There’s a lot more I can say, but podcasting stops for no virus and I have a lot of work to do. You can get more info on all these steps and more in my book, Your Museum Needs a Podcast: A Step-By-Step Guide to Podcasting on a Budget for Museums, History Organizations, and Cultural Nonprofits. It’s available on all Amazon sites as a paperback, e-book, and Audible audiobook. It’s 100 pages written pretty much like this post. If you are a museum, GLAM org, or other cultural nonprofit and you would like a bit of additional advice, feel free to shoot me an email, and if I have time I would be happy to chat with you on the phone for about half an hour to help get your started.
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Better Lemon Creative Audio is the production company of Hannah Hethmon. We specialize in all things podcasting and creative audio for museums, history organizations, and other cultural nonprofits. At Better Lemon, you’ll get personal, tailored services and advice from folks who understand the challenges facing GLAM organizations.