Three times a week, Brian Ibbott sits in his converted basement in his Denver house and plays his favourite cover songs. He explains their origins, reveals little-known musical trivia and indulges in the light banter of a polished radio host.
Then he quietly posts these half-hour radio shows online and 40 000 listeners download them and listen either on their computers or iPods.
Ibbott’s Coverville (www.coverville.com) is one of the earliest and most popular podcasts in a new genre that is sweeping the world. Ibbott plays mostly cover songs of classics, but occasionally features indie artists and what he calls the “undiscovered gem of the week”.
Now anyone can have their own radio station and “broadcast” it through the internet. Podcasting has become as much a part of the internet as e-mailing.
Ibbott was always fascinated by radio and wanted to be a DJ, he told the Mail & Guardian in an e-mail interview, and heard about the pioneering work done by former radio DJ Adam Curry before the phenomenon even got its “podcasting” name.
He turned his passion for “rare and unusual cover versions of songs” into a themed show and “it all fell together nicely!”
Starting your own podcast requires a computer, an external microphone and a set of headphones. Although Windows software is available, the easiest computer to do this on is an iMac or MacBook laptop, which come with Apple’s music-making GarageBand package.
The latest version of the software lets you set up a podcast as you open it, and effectively takes care of the technical details by allowing you to drag and drop a variety of background sound effects into different “channels”. When the software picks up your voice it cleverly softens these backing tracks — of which there are 10 000 pre-recorded tunes and jingles, says Apple’s marketing manager Steven Davis.
Using an iMac’s built-in mic, it took Davis and me less than 10 minutes to create a podcast with a professional sounding feel, using these aural themes. We were even able to manipulate our voices using a number of templates that mimic the sound of say, an older blues-sounding woman.
Ibbott uses a Mac, with software enigmatically called Audio Hijack Pro and WireTap. “Very easy and cheap stuff!” he says, but has added “some very nice Shure headphones, a Shure SM-58 microphone and a Phonic mixer, which simply boosts the power of the microphones and lets me set the tone”.
But, he says, “starting out, I think it’s more important that they do things as cheaply as possible. There have been too many shows that have disappeared because the hosts just didn’t want to do it any more, and to spend the money on expensive gear would be silly. Once you’ve done a few episodes, and you’re sure you want to keep doing it, then you invest in better equipment, and your sound quality (and your listeners) will go up!”
Ibbott’s recommendation to would-be podcasters is simple: “The best advice is to just do it!
“Pick a topic that you really love, and can talk about for hours on end, and then listen to what’s out there to make sure it’s somewhat unique. Enjoy the show, and the audience will find you. There’s no surefire way to draw an audience to your show, except to make sure that the show is something that you would listen to.”
About 40 000 thrice-weekly listeners certainly agree.