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The Importance of Adding Metadata to Your Podcasts

if_5_1697130Many people are producing and distributing audio podcasts, both musical and informational. This is a great way of getting your content to people because podcasts can be played almost anywhere, including in situations where reading isn’t a good option. There is one important finishing touch that is often forgotten when creating podcasts. Podcast producers sometimes fail to add the metadata that describes their content to search engines, media players, and the people who ultimately listen to their work. Even the Macintosh Spotlight and Windows Explorer search functions will use this data when searching for audio on your computer. Without this metadata, media players often have to make guesses about the artist’s name and title of the track based on the filename of the episode. These guesses are often incorrect or unhelpful, leading to difficulty in finding a particular episode that one wants to listen to.

Most audio software that creates MP3 formatted files also supports adding metadata in the form of ID3 tags. ID3 is a standard, flexible format for placing information about the content of the audio in the MP3 file itself. Media players, such as iTunes, WinAmp, Windows Media Player, and all of the various portable MP3 players like iPods and smartphones know how to read the ID3 tags in order to display, among other things, the artist, title, and album of the track. Search engines can also use these fields for locating relevant audio files.

How do you go about adding the metadata tags to your MP3 files? The best time is when you are actually producing the file. The open source audio editor Audacity, for example, has an option to fill in the important ID3 fields as part of the step that saves MP3S. But if you have already saved your MP3 file, there are ways of going back to add the information later. Most media players, such as iTunes and WinAmp, have options to view and edit the properties of an MP3 file. This is where you will find the metadata. For example, in iTunes, choosing the “Get Info” option on an MP3 will bring up a dialog box that shows the existing metadata information and will allow you to edit it. Windows Explorer also has an option to do this by right clicking on the file and choosing “Properties”. The MP3 tags are editable on the Advanced tab of that dialog box.

One note of caution: there are four versions of the ID3 standard in use today, 2.1 through 2.4. If your audio software gives you the option of which version to use you may wish to stick with 2.3 as it is currently the most widely supported version. Not all media players are using version 2.4 yet even though that standard was finalized in late 2000.

What information should you provide for your listeners in the MP3 tags? At a minimum you should fill in the Title and Artist fields with the name of the podcast episode and your name, respectively. If needed, multiple names can be included in the Artist field. In the Title field, don’t put the generic name of the podcast itself, that would be better off in the Album field. For example, if your podcast series is titled “Rebecca’s Weekly Tech Tips” then that name would go in the Album field. The Title field should vary every episode depending on the topic. You may also wish to include the date in the Title field, such as “August 5th, 2010: How to Add Memory to Your PC.”

Some of the other important fields you may want to consider filling in are:

  • Track Number: This can be used as an episode number which increases with each podcast, so that your listeners can listen in order. If your podcast uses the concept of volumes, like journals often do, you may wish to make use of the Disc Number field to track this. Otherwise, the Disc number can be left blank.
  • Genre: This is a general categorization for your podcast. Many people simply put “Podcast” here. However, you can put whatever you want to that best describes your topic. Most audio programs will have a standard list of genres that you can pick from but you don’t need to stick to this list. A cooking podcast might be labelled “Cooking” while a religious one could use a genre such as “Religious”, “Spiritual”, or “Wiccan”.
  • Comments: This can be used to put in a short description of what the current episode is about. In some media players this will be visible to the user, but it will be most important to search engines.

There are many other fields available for use. Don’t be afraid to fill in anything that might seem relevant. There is no such thing as providing too much information when helping people find and use your work.

Getting your words or music into a MP3 audio file for a podcast is the most important production step but leaving out the metadata will make it difficult for searchers to find your content on the web, their computers, and their MP3 players. Taking a few minutes to add the metadata describing your work will greatly enhance its usability.

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