I talk about podcasting here quite frequently largely because it combines many of the elements of computing that I'm passionate about. I feel compelled to share my opinions about things I feel strongly about with people (hence my sharing opinions via newsletter and blog for the past 4+ years). I love music. And I'm fascinated by the process of recording, editing and distributing audio of all kinds via computer. Podcasting takes all three of these passions and combines them into a convenient mechanism of communication with a low barrier to entry.
Podcasting suffers from an odd problem. Audio editing on Windows and Mac machines is a fairly mature market at this point. I can remember seeing Cakewalk Pro Audio for the first time almost 10 years ago and getting Sound Forge on a single floppy bundled with Macromedia Director. Computer audio editing has been around even longer than that, but those are two examples of programs that ran on Windows 95 currently still evolving in the marketplace. Relatively speaking, audio editing is affordable for most people, with professional level editing applications selling in the $200 range. The podcasting "problem" comes from a whole bunch of people who know very little about audio recording wanting to create audio recordings without needing to be audio recording experts to be successful. In other words, the available tool sets are presented in a way that's confusing to non-audio geeks.
A few weeks ago, I had lunch with Dave Sampson of MixMeister, a company that makes a really amazing audio mixing program for creating things like pro-DJ dance and party mixes with beat matching and tempo shifting tools to keep an entire sequence of songs blending seamlessly together. MixMeister Express is a great example of an app that works well for people who want to do creative things but don't want to dive under the hood to tweak every setting known to man. At the time, MixMeister was thinking seriously about releasing a podcasting app designed to make it easier for people who don't want to know anything about the intricacies of podcasting to make great sounding audio tracks. While audio is one of those things at the mercy of the garbage-in-garbage-out principle, eliminating some of the complicated settings that overwhelm the average person greatly improves chances for success.
MixMeister just released their new podcasting app, Propaganda, with a set of features I consider almost perfect for the aspiring podcaster. Propaganda records spoken audio, integrates music and sound effects, layers audio tracks and outputs a professional mix of combined audio files without the overwhelming depth of features available in most two-track and mutli-track editing apps. Recording voice audio from a microphone connected to a PC is incredibly simple with Propaganda. It's got a setting that makes it difficult to distort audio. The three pane interface is great for maintaining a library of tracks, organizing a playlist of tracks and sounds to be used in a podcast, and making tweaks to the playlist through the use of the timeline. Volume adjustments are possible with a rubber band control, which is a great way to apply fades or bump up the volume in a segment of audio without impacting the entire track. If you've ever tweaked the audio in a video editing app, you know the rubber band method of volume control isn't nearly as daunting as manipulating a waveform displayed onscreen.
In short, Propaganda should appeal to two types of people. On one hand, Propaganda is very easy to use for recording voice audio and performing minor edits to those recordings. On the other hand, Propaganda offers a great set of features for combining multiple audio tracks into a comprehensive "show" of material, which is a direct result of the experience MixMeister has in the world of mixing.
Outputting a podcast from Propaganda is done one of two ways. You can export the audio as a MP3, WAV or WMA ready for upload to your favorite service or FTP site, which is fairly straightforward. The second alternative is to publish your podcast with an accompanying RSS and HTML page directly to an FTP server. This process automates the entire publishing point, other than integrating the link to the feed into an existing Web presence. Like other podcasting solutions, publishing remains the weak link of Propaganda. If you create an RSS 2.0 file for your podcast XML output, each subsequent podcast will overwrite this file rather than appending information to the file for each show. This is fine if you only want to let people access your most recent show when they subscribe, but doesn't work if you want to allow people access to past shows through the subscription mechanism. This isn't a deal breaker for me because there are more efficient ways of generating RSS feeds by using available blogging tools.
The company that ultimately wins my undying affection will figure out how to integrate a desktop recording app with the ability to make a blog entry in some of the more popular blogging tools like MovableType, Word Press, TypePad, Bloglines, etc. For instance, I personally want to publish my podcasts through MovableType. The ideal way for this to work is for me to create my audio file and step through a publishing wizard that asks for my MovableType information, creates a post to my MovableType blog based on some text I type in the wizard and automatically links my audio file to my post, ultimately generating the RSS feed with the enclosure through MovableType. Until someone creates my podcasting oasis, Propaganda is the best app I've seen for recording and creating a podcast with a group of audio files; it's the closest thing to perfect currently on the market.
The trial version of Propaganda is fully functional but inserts an audio watermark throughout published content, giving you the ability to test all the features on your own timeframe, but requiring purchase of the full version in order to publish something you'd want to share with the world.