Attack of the Pod Penguins: Not Why, Why Not?

We should start at the beginning. In order to provide you with a comprehensive series of articles on podcasting with open source tools, we need to first create that full-function toolkit.

In the big scheme, this toolkit will include both software and hardware. It will include your choice of Linux distribution, applications for capturing your audio, tweaking the sound, encoding to MP3, editing your RSS feed, pushing the finished file to a server, and many other small tasks. On the hardware side, I'll make some recommendations for system hardware, including RAM and sound cards, critical elements of any multimedia system. We'll look at microphones and mixers, the core tools for your podcast. And we'll take a look at some hardware items that you may find a bit more esoteric: units for compression, expansion, limiting, noise gating, and pre-amping and processing your voice. Along this twisted trail, you'll also pick up more than a few useful tidbits of information on the physics of sound and how to use them to your advantage. Your podcast, after all, can be your public face. Whether you choose a slick polished production, or a truly DIY sound, the right toolkit and the knowledge of audio principles will allow you to focus more of your efforts on the creative side.

Let's start with the software-the tools with which you'll have the most interaction in creating your podcast. For the purposes of this article, we'll start with three tools. These are at the heart of my own podcasting experience. We'll save in-depth discussions of the software for full articles on those tools. While I use some other packages in small roles, these are the principals.

Audacity

Available at audacity.sourceforge.net. We'll stick with the stable version of Audacity, which is version 1.2.4. The download is available in a variety of formats, including RPM, deb and source. If, like me, you're a Ubuntu user, you can apt-get Audacity from the Dapper Drake repositories. Audacity is licensed under the GNU General Public License (GPL).

Audacity will be your workhorse, providing most of the functionality you'll need to record, edit and process your podcast. Even after a year and a half of producing 3-4 podcasts a week with Audacity, it's sometimes hard to believe that it's actually free, open source software. The range of features available in the package is, simply, stunning. It easily rivals its proprietary counterparts on every level. It's also powerfully extensible, with a full range of free plugins available for the most obscure tasks. It's also scriptable. Using the Nyquist programming language, users can create custom plugins for nearly any task or effect. Depending on your version of GTK and your distribution, it may not be the prettiest audio tool around. But, it will handle anything you can throw at it with ease.

Despite the full range of features available in Audacity, we'll focus on only a few. The tools for editing, saving projects, compression, multitracking, analysis, and normalization will be the most useful to you, whether your podcast is based on music or talk. These features should be enough to set you down the path of practical discovery. We'll also talk quite a bit about the physics of sound when discussing Audacity. All in all, we'll take a couple of articles to walk through its most useful features.

lame

Like Audacity, lame is available on SourceForge. From SourceForge, lame is available only as a source package. However, it is available as a deb package for both Debian and Ubuntu. With a bit of research, you may find it in the rpm format, as well. lame is released under the GNU Lesser General Public License (LGPL). The LGPL is a variant of the GPL which allows linking of some libraries into non-free software.

lame also takes us into a bit of a gray area. The MP3 format is proprietary, with licensing simultaneously held by Thomson Multimedia and Fraunhofer. Enforcement of the license, especially to individuals, has been almost non-existent. The MP3 format has, in fact, become the standard for audio delivery in the past several years. While a podcast can be encoded in the free-as-in-freedom Ogg Vorbis format as easily as in the MP3 format, your reach will be very, very limited. For our purposes, we'll assume (based on history) that the risk of royalty demands on your podcast by the license holders will be zero, and will be far outweighed by the reach MP3 encoding will create.

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