Don’t Hide Your Podcasting Light Under a Bushel – Part 2

People create best acim podcast website because they want to be heard. Businesses, in particular, podcast as part of their marketing, PR, or investor relations programs. Yet a surprising number of podcasts are hard to find, hard to listen to, or hard to identify once you’ve put them on your MP3 player. Here at the Podcast Asylum, we call the two most common barriers podcasters erect between themselves and listeners Podcastus Inhospitus (the unfriendly podcast) and Podcastus Incognitus (the unidentified podcast). We addressed Podcastus Inhospitus in Part 1 of this article. Let’s take a look at the symptoms, causes, and treatment of Podcastus Incognitus.

Podcastus Incognitus may or may not accompany Podcastus Inhospitus. It’s found quite often on its own, and frequently appears in podcasts which are repurposed from other content, such as teleseminars and radio programs. These are the podcasts that you download, copy to your MP3 player, and then never seem to be able to find, because whether you sort by Album, Artist, or Title, nothing comes up but “Unknown.” You might just be able to figure out what the show is by looking at the file name, but otherwise, the only way to find out what’s on it is to listen. And unless the listener is very curious, that unknown podcast will be the last one s/he listens to.

So what makes these podcasts effectively invisible when others broadcast their identity? Their ID3 tags are all blank. For an MP3 file, that’s the equivalent of wearing a paper bag over your head. It’s terrible marketing, and it makes things hard on the listener. You can read the technical definition of an ID3 tag over at Wikipedia, but the important thing to know is that ID3 tags are the place you get to tell listeners everything you want them to know about your podcast. This is the information that gets displayed on the screen of your portable media player or in the “Now Playing” window in iTunes and Windows Media Player.

Many kinds of electronic documents actually let you fill in title, author, keywords, and so forth, but most people either don’t know this or don’t bother to do it. It’s not surprising if someone who doesn’t fill out these fields under “Properties” in Word or PDF files has no idea they exist in sound files. It’s pretty counter-intuitive to think you can include words in your audio files. Even people who are used to working with audio files and recording to CD usually add the text during the CD-burning process and not to the file itself.

This is one of those places where reading the podcasting books help, because all of the how-to-create-a-podcast books explain ID3 tags and how to fill them in. But I’ll give you a short course on ID3 tags for podcasts right here. The down side to ID3 tags is that they were designed for music, so they use terminology like “artist,” “album,” “track,” and “lyrics.” Those aren’t words that apply very well to most podcasts, but podcasters quickly adopted fairly standard conventions for using them:

The software you use for recording and mixing your podcast should also allow you to edit the ID3 tags. (In Audacity, “Edit ID3 Tags” is under the “Project” menu, but only provides the basic fields.) For editing tags on MP3 files created elsewhere (in Skylook, for instance, or by a teleseminar recording service, or from a podcaster who hasn’t filled them in) I like the free AudioShell plugin for Windows, but you can edit ID3 tags in most media players. (In iTunes, it’s “Get Info” under the “File” menu; in Windows Media Player, right-click on the item in your Library and select “Advanced Tag Editor.”)

Some podcasters do provide ID3 tags for their shows, but they change them with every episode. This happens most often because the show host puts the guest’s name in the “Artist” field. It’s a well-meant gesture, but the result is confusion if the listener is sorting podcasts by artist.

Another common mistake is alternating between “&” and “and,” or other small inconsistencies that make media players think files belong to different albums or artists when they’re really the same. Any human could figure out easily that the two are the same, but software has no brain, and computers take everything very, very literally. So decide what you’re going to put into each field, write it down, and post it where you can see it when preparing your next episode.

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