Producing a Weekly Church Podcast

I’ve been involved impossible assembling up the weekly podcast at Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Phoenix for the last couple of years and I thought it might be useful for others thinking of doing this to see what we do.

We look to publish only the sermon since that avoids all the issues involved with rights for music. As well, it’s a lot tougher to properly record music as opposed to spoken words.

The sermon is recorded off the church’s standard audio output. We now have a dedicated digital audio recorder but until recently we were just taking a plain audio out line to a laptop computer with Audacity handling the recording itself. The old method actually worked surprisingly well though the unshielded output does pick up buzzes from time to time. But that problem is relatively easily fixed in final production.

The first step in final production is to clean up the audio. I use a combination of the open source Audacity editor, the Conversations Network’s Levelator and the commercial program SoundSoap 2 for noise removal. Audacity actually can handle noise removal on its own and while I have a slight preference for Sound Soap’s quality, if I didn’t need it for other nonchurch work I’d likely stick with Audacity alone.

The raw recording is first cut to include only the sermon using Audacity. I then export to a WAV file and give it to the Levelator. That program helps assure we get a more consistent volume throughout the sermon, even if the speaker doesn’t keep a constant distance from the mike.

Once the levels are set, I think run the file through SoundSource to eliminate relatively constant background noise. It gives a bit of “cleaner” sound to the resulting audio.

We have a standard intro and closing that we have already recorded for each podcast, and those exist as an Audacity “project” file we use as the starting point for each Sunday’s podcast. We have the intro and closings as separate tracks in Audacity and they can be moved independently–useful since no two sermons are exactly the same length.

I then use the import function in Audacity to bring the sermon into the week’s project file. At that point it’s simply a matter of moving the segments into proper position. Once that is done we are ready to export to MP3.

One additional piece of software has to be obtained to export to MP3 from Audacity–but it’s free. You need to get the Lame MP3 encoder and then tell Audacity in its preferences where the file is located (it’s a licensing issue, which is why Audacity can’t ship with it). We export our MP3 at 64Kbps mono, which will give the same sound quality as 128K stereo (what became the defacto standard for music until recently).

The completed file is brought into iTunes to add a graphic that appears on iPods, and you can insert the other information (name of the week’s podcast, name of the podcast, the speaker’s name, etc.) in iTunes as well. You do that by simply starting to play the file in iTunes, stop the play and then hit either Control-i (Windows) or Command-i (OSX). You can then add the appropriate “extra” information.

We use Liberated Syndication to host our podcast. They offer relatively low cost plans that don’t have a bandwidth cap (a key advantage if one podcast episode suddenly get linked to by a popular site). Their $5 per month plan is more than sufficient for a weekly sermon. The cap they do impose is on data stored for the current month–outside one month, even the storage is unlimited.

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