Socialize Your Feed with Automation

RSS feeds have long been a staple as a means of transportation with respect to syndicated content on the web. This week, I’m going to show you how you can automate the publishing of your blog and podcasts to various social media networks, all within FeedPress.

Supporting Facebook, Twitter, Buffer, and App.net, we cover most of your bases. In fact, if there’s something that needs to be posted elsewhere, you Buffer is a great solution for you, since they support posting to even more social networks. In addition to sending posts from my feed everywhere, I can control the presentation of the information that’s being sent out. For example, below are special variables FeedPress allows you to enter.

  • ${feed} –> contains the title of your feed.

  • ${title} –> contains the last entry title in your feed.

  • ${link} –> is the link to your last entry.

  • ${text} –> contains the content of your last entry.

  • ${excerpt} –> contains the excerpt of your last entry.

Let’s get started

First, we need to go into our dashboard under Social Networks and add a network we want to publish to. In the illustrated example below, I chose Twitter.

Add a network

Don’t forget to enter your login credentials and authorize FeedPress to publish to your chosen social network.

Authorize FeedPress

To customize how your posts go out, in the text box (illustrated below), you can simply copy/paste the variables in the order you want them to appear. For example, when posting to Facebook, I may want to use the full excerpt for a more content-rich appearance.

Customize variables

Shorten all the URLS!

Some say URL shorteners are a thing of the past, now that Twitter wraps all URLs in their own t.co shortener. We still believe in the value of a custom shortener, run on your own domain name. In fact, it’s not an uncommon thing for many brands out there. FeedPress supports both bit.ly as well as the open source YOURLS. Our personal favourite is YOURLS because you can host it yourself and run it on your own domain.

URL shortener

What’s your social strategy?

Now that you know how to automate your publishing, I would love to hear from you on what your social media strategy is. How often do you publish? What other tools do you use and what features would you like to see in FeedPress? Get in touch via email, or mention us on Twitter or Facebook.

Get Into The Groove: Podcast On A Regular Basis

Last Monday I talked to you about blogging and how newsletters can significantly help increase your readership. Today I want to switch gears and talk about podcasting and building an audience.

Let’s get one thing out of the way. When you create your first podcast, you’re going to make mistakes. One of those may be scheduling. A good rule that I and many others follow, is to work out a consistent recording and release schedule. If you have to record a podcast with one or more co-hosts, nailing down a day and time that you can all absolutely commit to is essential. From my own personal experiences and lots of experimentation, I’ve found that recording every week on a Wednesday for one of my podcasts has worked really well for all involved. It allows me to edit the show immediately after and have it ready to be released early the next morning.

If your podcast is not one that relies on timely news, you may want to consider recording more than one episode at a time, this way you can edit them and stagger the releases. Having a few podcasts ready to go can save you in dire situations, such as unexpected life events, which could introduce significant delays in getting the latest episode out. Building an audience that eagerly anticipates each episode is difficult and takes a long time. There is no easy solution. It would take an incredible stroke of luck for your podcast to explode overnight. In almost all cases, I recommend trying your best to stick to one episode per week.

FeedPress provides you with download analytics for your podcast. You can use the metrics provided to get a sense of what days your podcast is most popular on. Perhaps you’ve asked yourself: “should I release on weekdays or are weekends better? In your dashboard, you can use the data graph to see what days have the highest amount of downloads. In the screenshot below, note the date picker. You can select your own custom date range to pull up the download numbers for a particular range.

Podcast downloads graph

Getting into the groove of podcasting on a regular basis does more than create a predictable schedule for your listeners: it garners a sense of trust that you’ll be around for the long haul–especially if your podcast is good! A secondary benefit of releasing every week is that you’ll also build more self-confidence and will improve your techniques more rapidly. You should pay close attention to things like microphone technique as well as your own quirky speech patterns. With respect to speech, I strongly recommend listening to every recording you make. Listening to yourself will provide an opportunity for self critique, whereby you may catch things about the way you talk that you don’t like and wish to improve (excessive ums, uhs, you knows…)

In the coming weeks and months, I’ll be going more in-depth on some of the aforementioned tips and techniques. Stay tuned and subscribe to our blog and newsletter to get our latest articles. Checkout our podcast quick start guide for help in getting started with podcasting and FeedPress.

Grow Your Subscribers with Newsletters

Whether you’re a blogger or podcaster, if you aren’t publishing an email newsletter, you could be missing out on growing your readership or listenership. This week, I’m going to walk you through how you can quickly get setup with an email newsletter using FeedPress. If you’re not using it, you can enable this in your account at any time. Newsletters are free to use if you have 1,000 or fewer subscribers. We offer additional email sends at affordable flat rates–read more about that in our FAQ.

RSS is a technology that powers the backbone of blogs, news readers, and podcast players. While many subscribe to a blog with an RSS news reader, or subscribe to a podcast with a podcast player, there is still a large swath of people who like to receive updates via email. This may be a turn off to some tech nerds, but for many, email is still very much a part of their lives.

With FeedPress, you can add a simple signup form to your website, which will allow you to send any blog articles or podcasts to people who want to be notified. Remember, not everyone uses pays attention to social media notifications, but email, that’s something most of us still spend a lot of time with.

Getting started with newsletters

On your feed dashboard, first go to Newsletter > Signup Form and copy the snippet of HTML code we provide. The form contains some inline CSS styling, so if you’re comfortable that, you can style the form to your heart’s desire.

Signup Form

In the above screenshot, note I have the reCAPTCHA preference enabled. I recommend that you enable reCAPTCHA to mitigate robot spam signups.

Once you have copied your form code, you will need to add it to your website. You no doubt want to maximize the number of subscribers you can get, so ensuring its visibility is key. In this example, my signup form shows up at the bottom of every webpage, so I added it to the footer code. If you’re using WordPress, you can use the code editor to easily add the code, no FTP editor needed.

WordPress theme editor

Here’s a quick preview of what the signup form looks like on my website. As the aforementioned note states about the inline styling, feel free to whip up your own design to best match your website’s design.

Subscribe button preview

To test your form, enter your own email address and click the subscribe button to submit. A pop-up window will open, taking you to our signup form, which will ask the recipient to confirm they’re human (if you’re using reCAPTCHA). You can check your subscriber list by going to Newsletter > Subscribers.

FeedPress subscribe form

You’ll notice that we automatically pre-fill certain settings for you, such as the email subject line and confirmation message. You can customize these settings and more, including using your own email address as the sender and the HTML/TWIG template! Go to Newsletter > Send Settings to begin customization.

Send Settings

To stay informed of when you receive new subscribers, enable the notification preference on your subscriber page, as per the screenshot below. When starting out, this can be useful, but be cautious if you’re a high traffic website, as this will send you lots of emails.

Newsletter notifications

FeedPress supports importing and exporting subscribers. With an existing CSV file, you can import a mailing list and they will be automatically confirmed. We assume the list you have is already an opt-in list, so make sure you have one. We also support resending confirmation requests, for example: complying with recent Canadian anti spam laws.

Import subscribers

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Your analytics dashboard will always display both total number of RSS as well as newsletter subscribers. In the event that you only have newsletter subscribers, you will see your dashboard will look slightly different (we use colours on the graph to differentiate between RSS and newsletter subscribers).

Newsletter subscriber dashboard

You can monitor the status of your outbound emails by going to Newsletter > Delivery Logs. Note you will need to refresh this page to see the updates.

Delivery Logs

If you’re currently using RSS to email newsletters, how have they helped you grow your subscriber base? Still on the fence about switching from another provider or want to continue to use them? FeedPress has integrations for Mailchimp and Campaign Monitor. The integration is a two-way sync, which allows you to keep any subscribers you collect with a FeedPress signup form, in sync with a third-party. Check those out in your Newsletter menu.

Have feedback or feature requests? Get in touch with our team and share them with us!.

Owning Your RSS Feed And Intellectual Property

This week I would like to clear up some misconception that some have about how FeedPress works with respect to RSS feeds.

One of the reasons why we created FeedPress way back in 2012, was because of how unhappy we were with how Google was operating FeedBurner. Feature development had stagnated and there was next to no support, not to mention reliability issues from time to time. Another reason why we created FeedPress, was that we knew we could make a better analytics services and do right by customers by offering responsive support and frequent feature development.

During conceptualization, one deficiency of FeedBurner was the lack of ownership over one’s own intellectual property–namely the fact that your feed URL was something like feeds.feedburner.com/myfeed. FeedPress addresses this by offering what we call a Custom Hostname. With an easy CNAME addition on your domain, you can take control of your feed URL and have a completely whitelabelled RSS feed. A lot of bloggers and podcasters appreciate this, because once your own domain name is in use, you get full control over the feed paths you would like.

Here are some examples of how you can configure a Custom Hostname:

Custom Hostname config

In the above illustration, you can see I have numerous feeds as part of the subdomain I configured, called podcasts.hologramradio.org. I can assign any feed to a specific path, or I can even redirect a feed to anywhere I like.

Using FeedPress with WordPress

Another advantage of Custom Hostnames is should you ever feel like you want to leave FeedPress, nothing will break with your RSS feed because you own your own domain name–it’s the one constant that never changes, no matter what service you use for blog/podcast analytics or hosting.

If you’re using WordPress and have our plugin installed, you also have another advanced option at your disposal. Say you don’t want to use a Custom Hostname because you rather your feed not be on a subdomain; you can enable transparent mode in the Advanced Options settings of the plugin. Transparent mode, as illustrated below, allows you to send subscriber data to FeedPress so you can still have analytics, but keeps your original feed URL in tact without any redirection.

transparent mode

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As we are bloggers and podcasters ourselves, we intimately understand how crucial branding is and that you retain control over your intellectual property. Hopefully by now, those of you who were unsure about how FeedPress worked with respect to RSS feed control, will now have a clear understanding.

To learn about how to setup your Custom Hostname today, please follow the steps in our in-depth tutorial below. Should you have any questions, please reach out to support via our contact page.

Loudness Compliance And Podcasts

Fader

At FeedPress we use and rely on our own product every day to host our podcasts and provide analytics. For those unaware, I run my own podcast network called Hologram Radio. If you’ve been following my tweets lately, it’s no secret that I’ve been very vocal about the general lack of consistency and just plain bad mastering going on with a bulk of the podcasts I review. In this article, I’m going to enumerate on some of my observations and provide good and bad examples of podcast audio.

Spoken word characteristics

There are lows and peaks of varying degrees in human speech. Let’s start with the most egregious of issues I see in podcasts—clipped audio. In the analogue realm, there can be headroom above 0 dB (dB = decibels, how we measure sound level). In the digital realm, there is zero headroom above 0 dB. The absolute max peak you should ever reach before clipping is -0.1 dB, though you should target a lower true peak value for additional headroom when exporting to a lossy format like MP3 (somewhere between -1 and -3 dB).

There can be clipped audio that you aren’t even aware of when looking at a waveform or just by looking at a meter. Say you’re hitting 0 dB and you think you’re fine—until you check the true peak or have a true peak programme meter, you could be sending out bad audio with audible distortion.

What is Loudness Compliance?

Loudness compliance means mastering your audio to a set of establish standards for audio loudness. This is something that’s now being addressed in broadcasting, TV, and film. This has now expanded into the medium of podcasting. There is a subset of the ITU BS.1770-3 standard that many adhere to, including NPR, for podcasting. I’ll enumerate the details. You’ve likely found yourself in situations many times where you’re constantly adjusting the volume of your speakers or headphones. Be it in the car listening to the radio, watching TV, or listening to music and podcasts. This is what compliance aims to achieve—a more consistent and comfortable listening session for the end user.

The current recommended target for integrated loudness (the averaged and measured perceived loudness of the entire file) in podcasts or anything mobile audio (meaning, consumed on a mobile device, so that includes YouTube) is -16 LUFS for stereo files, -19 for mono files.

What the heck are LUFS?

LUFS= Loudness Units Relative to Full Scale, where 1 LU (Loudness Unit) equals 1 dB. If you’re wondering why mono has a different target, it’s because a -3 dB offset is applied because of the perceptible difference in volume of a mono audio source, panned centre.

There are numerous third party plugins that can analyze your audio and help you output a compliant audio file, ready for podcast consumption. These plugins are not cheap. You can find them by Zotope, Nugen Audio, TC Electronic, and Waves Audio. They range anywhere from $200-$500 each. Auphonic makes an affordable desktop client for Mac/Windows that can process a compliant audio file for you. Another less expensive option is to use Adobe Audition CC.

Adobe was nice enough to licence a scaled down version of TC Electronic’s LM2 meter plugin. The loudness meter is useful to add into your master bus to see what the average perceived loudness of your project is. I recommend Audition to many podcasters on a budget, since you can pay the monthly subscription feed and have access to a powerful editing tool.

Here’s a couple of screenshots of how I’ve configured Adobe’s loudness meter. Note the “Peak” box at the top right. This will light up if the meter detects that any portion of the audio has gone over the max true peak you defined in its settings.

loudness meter 1

loudness meter 2

How do you fix the problem?

An engineers goal should be to optimally set input gain to avoid overloading an A/D (analog to digital ) converter. If there are further issues after the recording, then processing must be applied to properly prepare the audio file before any loudness normalization occurs.What processing am I talking about? Namely, compression.

Compression

Compression was originally invented as a means to more efficiently control the overall level of a recorded source. Back in the day, engineers would have to ride the fader on their mixing consoles, in real-time, to prevent unnecessarily loud audio from being recorded. Compression solves this problem by attenuating the audio across the board, creating a more uniform sounding recording.

The loudest parts of the audio no longer will sound completely out of place in comparison to the softest parts. Compression, when used properly, is an incredibly useful and must-have tool.

Here’s an example of a typical single band compressor (read below the image for an explanation of settings):

Compression

Threshold: The point at which the compressor actually starts working. I have mine set fairly low at -25 dB. Compression is largely subjective and setting a lower threshold, as in the illustrated example I provided, can add some desirable characters to your sound (you have to experiment with this, depending on the compressor you’re using).

Gain: Often referred to as make-up gain or just as “output.” This is additional gain applied after compression, to make up for the overall attenuation of the recorded audio. If you’re using heavy compression and your processed audio is significantly quieter, you may need to apply some make-up gain.

Ratio: The amount of gain reduction you wish to have. In this example, I have things set to 2:1, which means for every 2 dB, we only allow 1 dB through. The higher the ratio, the more gain reduction is applied. Sometimes additional gain reduction is needed, depending on the programme material. For example, a news or sports announcer may talk considerably louder than someone who’s carrying a conversation in a podcast, so you may set the ratio to something like 6:1. Since this is a podcast I’m dealing with and it’s two people talking at typical speech volume when in close proximity to each other, I opted for a 2:1 ratio since I only need a little gain reduction to smooth things out.

Attack: Is the amount of time it takes for the compressor to reach 100% attenuation (gain reduction). I recommend a relatively quick attack for vocals. Be careful about setting it too quick or too slow, as that could negatively impact the natural transients in your voice that you would want to keep (you know, those natural peaks in your voice, as spoken word is highly dynamic audio).

Release: Is the amount of time it takes for the attenuation (gain reduction) to cease with the signal returning to its original level. You can play around with the release, which is typically in ms (milliseconds).

Loudness normalization and compliance

After your file has been properly processed with compression, it’s ready for loudness normalization. There are various things that happen during this stage: your entire audio file is analyzed and the integrated loudness, which describes the overall program material average–from the softest part to the loudest part, is a value that any loudness tool will provide.

Since loudness measuring is based on an algorithm that builds on a study of subjective perception, in theory, program material that complies with the determined LRA and Program Loudness of a certain broadcast standard can in fact overload if normalized the traditional way (quasi-peak or sample-peak). Therefore, normalization is also part of many broadcast standards, and to comply, broadcasters must use a true-peak meter. — TC Electronic

In Adobe Audition, a true peak value can be specified. I have mine set to -2 (others set it anywhere from -1 to -3 dB), which gives me ample headroom for exporting to a lossy format such as MP3. The reason why we need addition headroom when exporting to MP3, is because intersample peaks may be introduced during the encoding.

Adobe Audition Match Loudness

What happens to the final product to bring it up to spec depends on the state of the original file. If your bounced track is below or above the integrated -16 LUFS target for your programme material, a gain subtraction or addition may need to be applied during normalization to ensure it’s brought up to the level that it should be.

Note: Be careful about your source audio and any noise levels present in the background. If your source material has a lot of background noise and it’s quieter than the targeted loudness, when gain is added, you’ll only amplify that noise. Care must be taken during recording to eliminate background noise!

With respect to my own podcasts, I’ve been focusing my efforts on creating a unified audio standard across my podcast network. I think it’s crucial to ensure listeners receive the most intelligible podcast we can possibly produce, at the same bit rates, and at the same loudness. I’ve opted for 192 kbps stereo MP3, 16 bit/44.1 kHz. Too often I see podcast networks that fail to accomplish this. Some episodes are stereo, others are mono. Some podcasts are 96 kbps, others 64 kbps. This is no good.

Examples of popular poorly mastered podcasts

Below is an example of two poorly mastered podcasts from a very popular podcast network. I’m not going to mention the name because it’s not important. I wanted to point out what the issues are and make note that even people who have been podcasting for a long time have a lot to learn about the final mastered product they send out into the world.

5by5-1

5by5-2

These two examples are poorly optimized, and as far as I’m concerned, completely unacceptable to be released into the world. Earlier in this post, I mentioned how there’s zero headroom above 0 dB in the digital realm. These are prime examples of excessively loud audio with many unreasonably loud peaks that are creating distortion (clipped audio). You can clearly tell here where the problems are. The clipped audio peaks can be very clearly identified if you look at where 0 dB is in the waveform. All of those sudden spikes in loudness are touching or exceeding where 0 dB is.

As for the integrated target, which previously mentioned for podcasts is -16 LUFS, I’ll give them a pass for being only slightly off the mark.

Example of an optimized podcast

Below is an example an optimized podcast. If you compare the waveform to one of the previous two examples, you can see there’s a clear and very stark contrast between them. The overall level of this waveform is far more tame and more uniform, with zero clipped audio and meets our ideal integrated loudness target (-16 LUFS).

Optimized Podcast

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I’m passionate about helping others improve the quality of their podcasts. Even with inexpensive gear, it’s still possible to produce well optimized audio with no perceptible distortion, that’s highly intelligible and comfortable to listen to. If you want to learn more, stay tuned as we’re going to be releasing a series of tutorials on how to produce podcasts.

Acknowledgements

Big thank you to Paul Figgiani from producenewmedia.com for reviewing this article for technical accuracy. You can follow Paul on Twitter @ProduceNewMedia.