How to Enhance Podcasts with ChapterToolMe

Podcasting, the audio offshoot of the weblogging craze, is already a household word for the tech-savvy crowd. Although this concept is but one year out of the gate, many in radio and television are already taking note and “podcast” was added to The Merriam Webster English Dictionary in 2005. As with any other new technology, the race is already on to innovate and make the most of the existing infrastructure within the podcasting world. Enter the enhanced podcast, equipped with chapters, pictures and links to the world wide web. Including all of these bells and whistles into a podcast might seem daunting, but thanks to handy shareware applications like ChapterToolMe, creating an enhanced podcast requires no more particular expertise than those necessary to create a plain old podcast in the first place.

At present, the necessary software to create enhanced podcasts is mac-only. Given the relative affordability of the mac mini, the excellent creative software available on that platform, and the likely arrival of a PC-based alternative soon, this should not be a problem for long. This article will assume that the reader has access to a mac running OS 10.3 or higher and QuickTime 7. ChapterToolMe is available for free download at http://www.rbsoftware.net and installs easily by following the usual prompts. Tip: Nothing special is necessary when recording and editing a podcast for enhancement.

Step #1: Once an .mp3 of your podcast is ready, open it in QuickTime. From the File Menu in QuickTime, “select Export…” (Apple-E) and select the option called “movie to mpeg4” from the export pull down menu at the bottom of the window. You may change the name of the file in the “save as” field at the top of the window. In this field, also change the file extension from “.mp4” to “.m4a” and hit the save button in the bottom right or just hit return. Exporting the file may take a few moments, depending on the size of the .mp3 file. Tip: It is usually a good idea to save your exported file to the desktop, since you’ll need it handy for the next step.

Step #2: Open ChapterToolMe. Drag your .m4a file to the center of the ChapterToolMe window, where it says “Drag the AAC file here” beneath the image of the iTunes logo. The name of your file should now be visible at the beneath the logo.
Step #3: Click on the “Toggle info view” button on the top right of the ChapterToolMe window to bring up the fields in which you will enter the chapter data on the side of the main window, if they are not already present. The first field on the side data window says “Drag picture below” with an image well and four text fields beneath it. The text fields are the fields for Title, Link Name, Link Address, and Start Time. Tip: Chapters within a podcast are like tracks on a CD. Each one begins and ends at a particular time and listeners can easily skip around between them. Each chapter can have an image and a link visible to the listener while that chapter plays.

Step #4: You are ready to make your first chapter. Click the “Add a Chapter” button on the top left. It’s the “+” in the green circle. Drag the first picture you want to be displayed into the image well. It can be a .jpg or a .gif and have any size or shape. ChapterToolMe will scale the image to fit the available space. It should now be visible in the image well.

Step #5: Enter the desired title, link name, link address and start time in their respective fields. The title will be what the chapter is called, similar to the track name on a music CD, most often the name of the song contained on that track. If you wish to include a link, the link name will be visible at the bottom of the picture you have selected when the listener hears that section of the podcast. The link address is the address of the website you want the listener’s computer to load if they click on the link name, something like http://www.associatedcontent.com, for example. If you want the first chapter to begin at start of your podcast, you can leave the start time set at 00:00:00. As you enter this data on the side window, it should become visible in the main window under the appropriate chapter and field.

Step #6: Repeat this process for other chapters. The end time for your previous chapter will be as soon as your next one starts, so you never need to include an end time, even for the last chapter. That will end automatically when the listener has reached the end of the audio file. Tip: If you are not sure exactly what time you want particular chapter to start, you can hear your podcast, second by second, right in ChapterToolMe, by pressing the play button, the white triangle inside the green circle on the left side of the main window about halfway down, next to the red pause button. If you make a mistake, you can use the “Remove the chapter” button, the letter x in the red circle next to the “Add a Chapter” button on the top left corner of the main window.

Step #7: Once you have all of your chapters ready, click on the “Create the chaptered file” button, the one with the musical note, on the top right of the main window, next to the “Toggle info view” button. Title the file and click “save” or hit return. Tip: The produced file should have the extension “.m4a” In finder, change the extension to “.m4b” You will trigger a prompt asking if you are sure that you want to switch the extension from a to b. Click “use .m4b” and the file extension should change. This final change allows some listeners using older software to take advantage of the chapters you have added, without detracting from the functionality for any listeners with the most current software.

Step #8: Spend a minute or two looking at and listening to your “.m4b” file in iTunes, QuickTime or any other .mp3 player that supports chapters. Make sure the times are correct and that the links go to valid webpages. You are now ready to upload your enhanced podcast file to your server or publishing service as usual.

There are many great podcasts out there. Enhancement is just one more way to improve your own. While no substitute for charm, humor, insight or some catchy tunes, including links and images makes for a richer podcast listening experience. Well planned chapter breaks allow listeners to access particular content from your podcast on demand. Rich, on demand media, that’s what podcasting is all about.

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