Preparing Podcasts for Listening

I listen to a lot of podcasts, and I do mean a lot. I have from time to time reported on which ones I listen to, such as this Hacker Public Radio episode. And when you listen to a lot of shows, it is important to be efficient. For me, that means I listen to them speeded up by approximately 80%. I could probably train myself to listen to them even faster, but this is comfortable for me. There are a number of ways you could do this. If you listen to podcasts on a smartphone, there are apps that will let you download your podcast episodes and the listen to them speeded up. That may be good for most people, but I have two issues with that. First, it will drain my battery even faster, and I prefer not to do that. Second, my phone is large enough to make this a bit unwieldy for how I like to listen. I like to put on my headphones and listen while doing things around the house, doing yard work, driving in my car, and so on. So what I like is a nice small MP3 player like a Sansa Clip. This is about 1 inch by 2 inches by .5 inch, and I can either put it in a shirt pocket or click it to a T-shirt collar, and it doesn’t get in my way.

But one consequence of this is that I need to have a software workflow to download and prepare my podcasts. My MP3 players are pretty no frills in comparison to smartphone apps, so I need to do some preparation work on my computer first. For downloading, I like to use gpodder. It works fine on my Kubuntu box, and once I enter a subscription it checks automatically multiple times per day and downloads and new episodes as they appear. So once I have finished listening to the episodes I have loaded on my MP3 player, I connect it to the computer, delete all of the old shows, and see what new shows are now available. Then I need to prepare them.

Preparing the shows is where I use Audacity, which I have done for years. Audacity can do anything I need done in preparing the shows, and it can do multiple things in a script. Audacity calls these scripts macros, and you can set one up by going to Tools–>Macros, and then clicking New. You give your macro a name, click OK, and then you will see in the right-hand window Steps that it has created a step called 01 End. Don’t worry, every macro has to have an end, and you can add other steps above it. I start mine by doing the speed up step. Go to Insert on the right, click that, and look for a procedure called Change Tempo. Note that there is also a procedure called Change Speed, but you don’t want to use that one because it will also change the pitch. Unless you really love listening to chipmunks, that is undesirable. Change Tempo will speed it up while keeping the pitch correct. Isn’t digital editing wonderful? Click on that, then click OK, and you will see it is now the very first step, and the one called End has now shifted down to 02. Then click on the Change Tempo step, click Edit, and set the percentage of speedup you want. Mine is set for 80, but if you have never done this before, I recommend starting at a lower level like 30 or 40. Once you get so that you never notice things being fast, you can increase it by another 10, until you get to the desired speed level. I know that many blind or sight-impaired users go a lot faster, but they have years of training themselves to do that.

You could stop at this point, but I don’t. I like to do a few more things, and Audacity Macros let me chain several procedures together, so why not do more? The next procedure I like to use is called Amplify, it increases the volume. I like things to be a bit louder than the raw files, so this lets me boost the volume just a little bit. My podcasts are pretty much all spoken word, and many times the volume is too low to be comfortable. I probably wouldn’t need this if I always listened to professionally produced podcasts like the TWIT network, but I don’t listen to TWIT any more. I click on Amplify, OK, and now that is at the top as step 01. I would rather have it follow the speed up, so I just Move Down to make it Step 02. Then click on Edit, and set the increase in decibels. Be careful here: decibels are a logarithmic scale in which an increase of one decibel means an increase of 10 times the power. That does not mean it will come across as ten times as loud for a variety of reasons, but I would start with maybe a 1 to 2 decibel increase and see how that goes.

The next thing I do is add a Normalize step. I leave the default settings alone on this one. Then the last step I add is to Export as an MP3 file. You have to Export your file as something, and this is the most practical for my MP3 player. So now I have a 5 step Macro:

  1. Change Tempo
  2. Amplify
  3. Normalize
  4. Export as MP3
  5. End

Great. I can click on OK and it is all saved. Now I have to use it. To use the Macro, got to Tools–>Macros, and click on the Macro you want to use. I have about a half-dozen Macros I have created for various purposes, so I can select the Macro SpeedUp80, which speed up my podcasts by 80%. Then I go to the bottom and click on Files…, and select the file or files I want to apply this macro to. You can apply the macro to any number of files as long as they are in one directory. Since gpodder puts each podcast in its own directory, I leave them there, so sometimes I am applying this macro to only one file at a time. Audacity will create a sub-directory called macro-output in which it will place the modified files, while leaving the original file in its original directory. I think this is a good thing since I sometimes want to refer back to the original file. As I run this macro on all of my new shows, I move the transformed files to a directory called Podcast Staging. I do this added step because sometimes I want to see more information about the shows I have on my MP3 player, and as I have mentioned my MP3 player is pretty bare-bones. After I am done, I probably have 15 or so MP3 files ready to go, and copy them onto my MP3 player. I listen to those shows, then start over by deleting the old shows, going back to gpodder, finding all of my new shows, running the Macro, and wash-rinse-repeat.

I hope this is helpful to some people.

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