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We’ve long blamed carbs for making us fat. What if that's wrong?

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It’s one of the most hotly contested areas of dieting: How much do carbohydrates matter when it comes to weight loss?

If you ask a number of celebrities and authors of diet books, it’s pasta, bread, and cookies that stand between you and a svelte physique.

These low-carb proselytizers make very specific claims about the effect cutting carbs has on the body, suggesting that it can speed up fat loss and increase calorie burn. Indeed, many dieters have found at least short-term success following low-carb schemes like the Atkins or Dukan diet.

A group of researchers published the best test of those claims to date in the journal American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

They didn’t find evidence that carbs are the magic key to weight and fat loss. But the study demonstrates just how controversial and fraught the low-carb idea is, and how, despite all the magical claims, there’s a lot we still don’t understand about this diet.

The carbohydrate-insulin hypothesis

The main scientific model behind the low-carb approach is the "carbohydrate-insulin hypothesis," which journalist Gary Taubes, Harvard professor David Ludwig, University of California San Francisco's Robert Lustig, and others have extensively promoted, including in a New York Times piece by Taubes in July 2017. It suggests that a diet heavy in carbohydrates (especially refined grains and sugars) leads to weight gain because of a specific mechanism: Carbs drive up insulin in the body, causing the body to hold on to fat and suppress calorie burn.

According to this hypothesis, to lose weight you reduce the amount of carb calories you eat and replace them with fat calories. This is supposed to drive down insulin levels, boost calorie burn, and help fat melt away.

This method arose as an alternative to the classic approach to dieting, in which calories in general are restricted. So instead of just cutting calories, you’re supposed to change the kinds of calories in your diet to lose weight.

But what’s often lost in all the boosterism around the low-carb approach is that it is still an unproven hypothesis in science.

Most tests of low-carb diets have involved either measuring what people eat over long periods of time or assigning people to different diets, and then tracking their weight and health outcomes. But people can’t always stick to the diets they are assigned to for long periods. And when you measure what people are eating naturally, there’s always a chicken-and-egg problem, which is why many diet studies are marred by confounding factors and flaws. (We explained them here at Vox.)

A study tested the low-carb model — and found little success

The study, led by National Institutes of Health obesity researcher Kevin Hall, tried to address those limitations in an effort to see whether a very low-carb diet (and resulting drop in insulin) led to that often-touted increase in fat loss and calorie burn.

Hall and his colleagues confined 17 overweight and obese patients to the hospital for two months, where they measured their every movement and carefully controlled what they were eating. (Diet researchers call this the "gold standard," since it was an extremely well-controlled experiment, with all food provided, and it used the best technologies for measuring energy expenditure and body composition.)

For the first month of the study, participants were put on a baseline diet, which was designed to be similar to what they reported they were eating outside the hospital, including lots of sugary carbohydrates. For the second month, the participants got the same amount of calories and protein as they did in the first month of the study, but this time they ramped up the amount of fat in their food and got far fewer carbs.

 Javier Zarracina/Vox

Sample menus from the study’s low-carb and baseline diets.

The researchers were then able to measure what happened to the participants’ insulin production, and related energy burn and fat loss, when they ate fewer carbs.

The results weren’t nearly as dramatic as low-carb boosters claim. "In this case," Hall said, "we saw daily insulin secretion drop substantially within the first week and stay at a low level. But we only saw a small transient increase in energy expenditure during the first couple of weeks of the [low-carb] diet, and that essentially vanished by the end of the study."

That short-lived increase in calorie burn amounted to about 100 extra calories per day — less than the 300 to 600 calories promised by low-carb gurus. And compared with the baseline diet, the low-carb diet did not cause subjects to experience an increase in fat loss. To be more specific, it took the full 28 days on the low-carb diet for the subjects to lose the same amount of fat as they did in the last 15 days on the baseline (higher-carb) diet that wasn’t even designed to get them to lose weight.

In other words, the researchers did not find evidence of any dramatic effects after switching to a low-carb diet.

"According to the insulin-carbohydrate model, we should have seen an acceleration in the rate of body fat loss when insulin secretion was cut by 50 percent," Hall said. But they didn't, which he thinks suggests that the regulation of fat tissue storage in the body has to do with more than just insulin levels and their relationship with the carbs we eat.

The results of the study also echoed a previous paper on the insulin-carbohydrate model, where Hall found that when people who cut fat in their diets, they had slightly greater body fat loss than when they cut the same number of calories from carbs. (Here’s Hall’s new review of the literature on the carb-insulin model of obesity.)

"These studies represent the first rigorous scientific tests of the carb-insulin model in humans," Hall added. "The public needs to understand that this [insulin-carbohydrate] model now has pretty strong evidence against it."

Can pasta and bread lovers now rejoice?

breasd DeAgostini/Getty Images

All the delicious bread.

The study is a real blow to the low-carb camp, said Richard Bazinet, a professor of nutritional sciences at the University of Toronto. "For the [insulin-carbohydrate] hypothesis to be true, you’d expect they’d lose more weight, and have increased energy expenditure in the low-carb group. But the researchers just didn’t see that."

But before we throw out the low-carb approach to weight loss and load up on a bowl of linguini, let’s be clear: This study had some important limitations, leading some researchers to react more cautiously. It lacked a control for comparison, and while the baseline diet was designed to keep participants at about the same levels of energy burn they experienced outside of the study, the participants started to lose weight on that diet too. So they were already slimming down by the time they started their low-carb month.

And while the study was designed to overcome some of the limitations of real-world diet studies, a highly controlled setting that amounts to confining people to a hospital and lab isn’t exactly representative of how people actually live and eat.

"These points, along with the small sample size and short-term follow-up, prevent the ability to draw conclusions about the effects of a very low-carbohydrate versus usual carbohydrate diet," said Deirdre Tobias, an associate epidemiologist at Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women's Hospital.

What’s more, one of the promises of the low-carb, high-fat diet is that when people start eating this way, they naturally cut back on calories because they’re more satiated (from the protein and fat in their diet). This study didn’t measure that either, since the participants were forced to stick to strictly measured menus.

But as Bazinet points out, "The study ... doesn’t see any [relationship between a decrease in insulin and an increase in fat loss]. Show me a better study that supports this."

There isn’t any, he added.

Other big studies comparing popular diets of different macronutrient compositions also suggest that the low-carb approach probably isn’t a sustainable solution for weight loss. While low-carb diets seem to outperform their higher-carb counterparts in the short term, that effect goes away after about one year.

A 2015 review of the research on different types of diets in the Lancet found that low-carb diets outperform low-fat diets. But as a related commentary (also authored by Hall) pointed out, the difference in weight loss among groups of dieters was tiny: "Participants prescribed low-carbohydrate diets lost only about 1 kg of additional weight after 1 year compared with those advised to consume low-fat diets."

In a high-quality randomized control trial, published in JAMA in 2018, study participants following low-carb and low-fat diets once again lost about the same amount of weight after a year: 13 pounds in the low-carb group versus 12 pounds in the low-fat group. And when the participants' individual weight loss was charted by the researchers, they found the exact same variation between the two groups:

Tobias urged dieters not to lose sight of the bigger picture. "Low-carb versus low-fat should not be the focus for people selecting a weight loss diet." The focus, she said, should be on improving the quality of food that people eat instead.

Why you shouldn't exercise to lose weight

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“I am half agony, half hope”: Jane Austen’s most romantic love scene

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When it comes to Jane Austen’s love scenes, there is the letter scene in Persuasion, and then there is everything else.

Persuasion may not have the sparkling charm of Pride and Prejudice or the satirical bite of Emma, but it is Austen’s most deeply felt, melancholy, and beautiful novel. It is the last novel she completed before her death, and it’s written in a different mode than the rest of her books: It’s more lyrical than the rest, and a little sadder and less aggressively witty.

It also has an older heroine. Persuasion’s Anne Elliot is 27 and unmarried, making her by Regency-era standards a spinster — and as we are told in the book’s opening pages that “her bloom had vanished early,” her prospects look dim. She seems doomed to spend her life waiting on her buffoonish, appearance-obsessed father and spendthrift elder (and also unmarried) sister, with perhaps the occasional dubious reprieve in the form of a visit to her married younger sister’s home to look after her nieces and nephews.

Anne was engaged once, to a man named Frederick Wentworth when she was 19, but her well-meaning friends and family convinced her to break off the engagement: Wentworth had no money and few prospects, and everyone was convinced that a pretty and wealthy young heiress like Anne could do better. Eight years later, Wentworth has joined the navy and made his fortune. When he sees Anne for the first time since the end of their engagement, he declares her — in perhaps the most blisteringly painful insult of any Austen novel — “so altered that he should not have known her again.”

Over the course of the book, Anne and Wentworth come back together, culminating in the much-celebrated scene in which Anne stands in a pub talking with a friend as Wentworth, at the next table, writes her a love letter. It’s perhaps the most swooningly romantic moment in all of Austen’s novels, and it works so well in part because of its impeccable structure, and in part because it fits so nicely into Anne’s larger character arc.

Anne Elliot’s personal storyline is about learning that she is allowed to feel feelings

Anne is an odd creature for an Austen heroine: She is not sparklingly witty, like Pride and Prejudice’s Lizzie Bennet; nor is she acerbically rational like Sense and Sensibility’s Elinor Dashwood, endearingly silly like Northanger Abbey’s Catherine Morland, or brashly confident like Emma’s Emma Woodhouse. Her closest cousin might be Mansfield Park’s fading and timid Fanny Price (nobody’s favorite Austen character), but Anne has more backbone than Fanny does, and her narration is more thoughtful. She is quiet and self-contained; she would easily fade into the background if not for the exquisite craftsmanship of her inner monologue.

Anne sees the world with as much intelligence and insight as Lizzie Bennet does, but where Lizzie is by turns delighted and outraged by her neighbors’ foibles, Anne is either gently amused or gently saddened. She is too tired and too worn down by life to express her emotions as vividly and passionately as Lizzie does; she has learned instead to react to the world by shrugging.

That’s part of what makes the emotional arc of Persuasion so effective: Over the course of the book, you watch Anne slowly learn how to express her feelings once again — at first painfully, with her profound mortification over Wentworth’s return, and then more happily, as she and Wentworth gradually fall back in love with each other. And that arc reaches its culmination in the letter scene.

Persuasion’s letter scene builds its tension slowly, piece by piece

In Persuasion’s penultimate chapter, Anne and Wentworth find themselves in the same room of a pub together, Anne to meet a friend and Wentworth to write a letter. The scene that ensues is a master class in slowly building romantic tension and the catharsis of relief, and in how to marry a romantic arc to a character arc.

As soon as she sees Wentworth, Anne is at once overwhelmed with emotions so intense and so confused and inexpressible that they are almost claustrophobic: She is “outwardly composed” but inwardly “deep in the happiness of such misery, or the misery of such happiness.” She cannot describe what she is feeling even to the reader; she certainly cannot express it to Wentworth. Wentworth, meanwhile, is engrossed by his writing, and a whole flock of other characters sit around gossiping.

The tension mounts slowly at first. Anne continues to sit perfectly still and silently in a torrent of feelings, and Wentworth continues to write, and neither of them so much as glances at the other until the conversation turns to the topic of engagements, and how important it is that children listen to their parents’ advice in such matters. Then:

Anne found an unexpected interest here. She felt its application to herself, felt it in a nervous thrill all over her, and at the same moment that her eyes instinctively glanced towards the distant table, Captain Wentworth’s pen ceased to move, his head was raised, pausing, listening, and he turned round the next instant to give a look — one quick, conscious look at her.

For Austen, who tends to keep her characters restrained even during their most passionate speeches — and for Persuasion, which has been starving Anne Elliot for genuine emotional contact for hundreds of pages by this point — that “quick, conscious look” is the equivalent of a gunshot.

The tension is high now. Anne can no longer hear the conversation — “it was only a buzz of words in her ear, her mind was in confusion.”

As Anne struggles to maintain her composure, Wentworth’s friend Captain Harville draws her into conversation, and they begin to discuss the different ways in which men and women fall in love. Women, Anne explains, “live at home, quiet, confined, and our feelings prey on us,” which makes it almost impossible for them to fall out of love. But men “have always a profession, pursuits, business of some sort or other, to take you back into the world immediately,” which allows them to easily forget a relationship as soon as it ends.

It’s a quietly radical defense of female emotions in a world that dismisses them as so much hysteria, and — more pertinently to this scene — an indirect avowal of Anne’s own emotions. After spending an entire novel trying to present herself as someone who feels nothing and is bothered by nothing, she’s at last beginning to lay claim to the idea that she is allowed to feel things.

The speech stops Wentworth cold. He goes so far as to drop his pen, which in this refined and elegant world is more or less the same thing as climbing on top of the table and screaming. And as he finishes his letter, he is in “great haste,” his papers “scattered” and his attitude “forgetful” and “agitated.” It’s in a positive torrent of emotion, with the scene at its most tense, that he at last slips the letter to Anne, “with eyes of glowing entreaty fixed on her.”

The tension is unbearable, both for the reader and for Anne, newly awakened to her own emotions. “Anything was possible,” she thinks feverishly, “anything might be defied rather than suspense.” When she opens the letter, she is not doing anything so passive and so ladylike as reading; instead, “her eyes devoured” its contents:

I can no longer listen in silence. I must speak to you by such means as are within my reach. You pierce my soul. I am half agony, half hope. Tell me that I am not too late, that such precious feelings are gone forever. I offer myself to you with a heart even more your own than when you broke it almost eight years and a half ago. …

The letter is such an effective climax — both to this particular scene and to the novel itself — that it almost doesn’t matter that Anne and Wentworth have not, technically, spoken to each other, or that their true reunion won’t come for another scene. The reunion scene is beside the point; it’s denouement. It’s the letter scene that matters.

The letter scene keeps plot mechanics and character arcs moving in perfect harmony

Part of what makes Persuasion’s letter scene so swooningly romantic is that it’s structured like the revelation scene in a murder mystery, where the detective lines up all of the suspects and explains exactly who the killer is and how they did it.

We have a problem — in this case, not a dead body with no clear killer, but two people who clearly should be together but are not. We know what the solution should be. In a murder mystery, it’s for the killer to be revealed and face punishment; here, it’s for the two lovers to recognize that they are both in love and reunite.

And the scene keeps inching us toward that end, only to frustrate everything: There are Anne and Wentworth in the same room, but unable to speak to each other because Wentworth is writing a letter. There are Anne and Wentworth recognizing the significance of their past relationship, but unable to speak of it explicitly while in front of other people. There is Anne at last recognizing the strength of her feelings out loud — but can Wentworth hear her? What is he writing? The frustration mounts and mounts until Anne can finally, at last, open the letter, and the reader gets the same satisfaction as knowing whodunit in a murder mystery: At last, all is revealed.

But what really elevates Persuasion’s letter scene, beyond its mastery of plot mechanics, is how carefully it marries Anne’s character arc to the love story of Anne and Wentworth. Anne’s quiet repression is the great problem of Persuasion, her willingness to put her own feelings aside for the convenience of others. It’s that repression that leads her to break off her first engagement to Wentworth at her family’s urging, and that, in the novel’s opening pages, seems to have committed her to a life of self-effacement, of uncomplainingly doing nothing but what is best for other people.

The great relief of the letter scene is that, for the first time, Anne is allowed to recognize that she has emotions, that they are real and strong and valid. That personal breakthrough enables the romantic breakthrough, and creates the immense catharsis of not only the romantic resolution but also the resolution of Anne’s personal arc. She has, at last, solved the novel’s problem and come into her own.

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Deep Space Nine Is TV’s Most Revolutionary Depiction of Black Fatherhood


As long as there’s been TV, the family has been one of its favorite go-tos. All week long, Vulture is exploring how it’s been represented on our screens.The arc of American history is undergirded by a continuous, pointed degradation of the black family.The crux of this is the pervasive mythology ... More »
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Cinema's Greatest Scene ↦

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On the occasion of the 75th anniversary of the release of “Casablanca”, here’s a 2015 essay by David Youngblood about the amazing “La Marseillaise” scene:

When I think of the film, the first thing that comes to my mind isn’t “Here’s looking at you, kid,” or “We’ll always have Paris,” or the song “As Time Goes By,” or any of the other often best-remembered parts. For me, it’s always “La Marseillaise” — the dueling anthems between French refugees and their German occupants singing “Die Wacht am Rhein.” I’ve never found a movie scene yet that can match it. So now, at a time when people are once again turning to “La Marseillaise” for comfort in the face of adversity, I wanted to revisit what makes this scene so powerful.

The most amazing thing? The scene was filmed with actual French refugees. Not people who were refugees—this was shot during the war. They were actual French people who had fled the Nazi takeover of their country. Singing their national anthem.

[Read on Six Colors.]

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The 35 best science-fiction movies since Blade Runner

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The most widely admired science-fiction film to come out of the 1980s, Blade Runner reimagined the nocturnal, seductive, and pessimistic qualities of film noir and its ’70s derivative, neo-noir, for the paranoid cityscape of the future: a dark, rainy, multi-lingual Los Angeles where a detective in a trench coat trails…


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How to Start Your Own Podcast

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The podcast craze of the past several years shows no signs of slowing down, and while every armchair broadcaster with a voice recorder app is eager to get in the game, creating a professional-sounding podcast isn’t as simple as it might seem. Here’s how to create, record, and publish your own basic podcast—and get people to listen.

*This story originally ran in June, 2015, and was updated in August 2017 with additional reporting from Patrick Austin.*

Before You Start, Be Ready to Commit

Before you rush into things, it’s important to keep in mind that podcasts take a lot of effort to get going. They’re not just recordings of people talking (not the good ones, anyway). Pat Flynn, host of the Smart Passive Income podcast, recommends you treat podcasting the same way you would any other big project:

Podcasting is extremely fun and exciting, but there is one thing you must do before you start podcasting: Commit. You must internally commit to podcasting, as you must do with anything that is potentially beneficial but takes some time and effort to do.

It’s easy to assume that podcasts are easy to produce because they’re audio only, but don’t be fooled. They can take up a lot of time to put together, especially at first. Also, podcasts do best when they’re released consistently. If you’re interested in developing any kind of listener base, you have to be ready to release episodes on a regular basis. All in all, podcasting can be fun work, but it’s still work and should be treated as such.


You also shouldn’t expect to get rich from podcasting either. It’s certainly possible to generate income from podcasting, but that usually requires advertisements and sponsorships—both of which you’ll get after you’ve built up a listenership big enough to make it worthwhile to advertisers. If you’re not interested in starting a podcast for the fun of it or to have your voice heard, you might not get much out of it unless you already have an audience.

What You’ll Need

You can’t start a podcast without equipment, and good equipment will go a long way. Here’s what you’ll need:

  • Microphone(s): Any microphone will work for recording your podcast, but listeners can usually tell the difference between low and high quality microphones. If you’re not sure what to look for, our list of the five best desktop microphones is a great place to start (I use four analog Audio-Technica AT2020s for my own podcast). As you shop around, you’ll also need to decide whether you want to use a USB or analog (XLR) microphone. USB mics convert analog sound into digital so you can plug a USB mic directly into any computer and start recording without much hassle, but you could potentially get lower audio quality compared to analog. Considering you don’t need any extra tools or devices to record with a USB mic, they can be a little cheaper in the long run. Analog microphones use XLR connectors, which means you need another device to get your audio onto your computer, but you can get higher audio quality and can use them with other sound equipment (if you had a PA system or wanted to play live music, for example). Of course, if you have a gaming headset or other basic microphone around, you can easily use that too.
  • Portable XLR Recorder (optional): If you plan on using analog microphones for your podcast, you’ll need something that captures your analog audio and converts it to digital. Portable XLR recorders can capture multiple microphone channels and allow you to do basic sound level adjusting and muting on the fly. Audio files automatically get organized and stored on a memory card that you can insert into a card reader or slot in your computer. These are amazing tools, but they can be expensive. You can find them for anywhere between $100 and $500, depending on how many channels and options you need (I use a $400 Zoom H6 Handy Recorder with four available analog channels).
  • Audio Interface (optional): If you want to record directly to your computer with your analog microphones, you’ll need an audio interface. These devices allow you to plug in one or more analog microphones and will convert the analog audio to digital. Most audio interfaces will connect to your computer via USB or Firewire. Audio interfaces can cost as little as $30 and go as high as $300, depending on what you need. (You can see why a USB microphone is a cheaper option.)
  • A Computer: Any Windows computer or Mac should work fine to record, edit, and upload your podcast. Thankfully, editing audio doesn’t take a ton of computing power. Additionally, depending on how you choose to record—directly to the computer or onto a dedicated recording device—your computer will also need the right ports. USB microphones, for example, will obviously need an open USB port. If you’re using analog microphones with a portable XLR recorder or audio interface device, you’ll need either a 3.5 mm audio-in jack, a USB port, or in some cases, a Firewire port. So before you spend any money on equipment, make sure you have a computer that can support it.
  • Audio Editing Software: For the actual recording and editing, you’ll need a Digital Audio Workstation (or DAW), there are a lot of good options out there, but the licenses for some of them can cost a pretty penny, though. Licenses for professional level DAWs like Reason or Pro Tools can cost anywhere between $300 and $900. Apps like Hindenburg offer simpler audio editing software for under $100, Reaper is a fully loaded audio production app for $60, and Adobe’s audio editing software Audition CC is available with a $19.99 monthly subscription, but you probably shouldn’t start dumping money into podcasting software if you’re just starting out. Because of that, most people will recommend free open source programs like Audacity when you’re just getting started, and that’s what we’ll use an example throughout this how-to guide.
  • Pop Filters (optional): The clearer your audio can sound, the better. Pop filters, while not required, are fairly cheap and can keep your plosives from making a nasty sound on your recording. If you don’t want to buy any, though, you can make some of your own.

You might be thinking that all this equipment is pretty expensive, and you’re not wrong. However keep in mind that decent audio equipment will last forever if you take care of it. It may be expensive to get started, but after the initial purchase, you’re set.

Step One: Narrow Your Topic and Find Your Niche

Just like blogs, there are a ton of podcasts out there. That means that you can probably find a podcast about everything under the sun already. Don’t get discouraged! While just about every broad topic is already covered, you just have to find your spin on things to make an old idea something new..

For example, if you wanted to make a podcast about music, ask yourself if there’s an audience out there for what you want to talk about. Maybe you narrow your idea down from music in general to bluegrass specifically. Now your coverage is specific: the music, people, and culture of bluegrass. Once you have your topic narrowed down, it helps to add a spin to it. Maybe you talk about bluegrass music and culture while sipping moonshine with your co-hosts. It’s kind of true that everything has been done before, but it hasn’t all been done the way you would do it. So find an angle that’s personally interesting and you’ll be better off.

Step Two: Download, Install, and Set Up Audacity

As mentioned earlier, Audacity is a great DAW for podcasting beginners. It’s open source, free to use as long as you like, and is available for Windows, OS X, and Linux. Before you can jump into recording, however, there are a few tricks to getting it all set up properly:

  1. Download Audacity 2.1.3 at audacityteam.org and install it.
  2. Connect your microphone and open Audacity.
  3. See if your microphone is being recognized by Audacity by checking the drop-down menu next to the small microphone icon. If you see your mic, go ahead and select it.
  4. In the top-left corner, you should see the pause, play, stop, skip back, skip forward, and record buttons. Click the record button and talk into your mic to make sure it’s working properly.
  5. Stop recording and playback what you just recorded to make sure everything sounds okay.
  6. You’ll want to export your audio in the MP3 format later on. In order to do that, you’ll need to download and install the Lame MP3 encoder for either Windows or Mac.
  7. Once that’s installed, close and reopen Audacity. Record yourself talking for a few seconds like before, then go to File, then Export Audio, and select MP3 Files in the ‘Save as type’ dropdown menu. Name your file something simple like “test1” and save it to your desktop.
  8. Find the MP3 file on your desktop and try playing it in your MP3 player of choice, just to make sure everything is working properly.

If the audio in your MP3 test file sounds okay, you’re ready to start recording your podcast in Audacity.

Step Three: Record and Edit Your Podcast In Audacity

Recording is pretty straightforward in Audacity, but there are a few things you should do before you jump into your first show:

  1. Connect your microphone and make a quick recording the same way as before to check your audio levels.
  2. You can adjust your recording volume with the slider right above the drop-down menu where you selected your recording device.
  3. When you’ve found a good level, go ahead and remove your recording test by clicking the small X at the top left of the track. You don’t need it anymore.
  4. Make sure your recording space is silent and record around 5 seconds of “silence.” This is called room tone and you can use this to cut out things like swearing or even cover up some background noise that happens while you’re recording. You can mute this track for now by clicking the mute toggle button on the left side of the track. You can also minimize it by clicking the arrow at the bottom-left of the track.
  5. Go to File, then Save Project As, and choose a name for your project. Keep in mind that this doesn’t export any audio, just saves your progress.

Now you’re ready to actually record the main part of your podcast. Just hit the record button and Audacity will start capturing your audio in a new track. When you’re done recording, hit the stop button. It’s as simple as that. Before you continue be sure to save your work. Now it’s time to add music and make any necessary edits:

  1. Go to File, then Import, and then Audio. Locate the music you chose earlier (or your own if you made some), and click Open. The music will get dropped into Audacity as its own separate track.
  2. Now find the Selection Tool in the Audacity toolbar. It will look like a typing cursor.
  3. Drag the Selection Tool over the section of music you’d like to use for your intro and outro music.
  4. With that section of music currently selected, find the Trim Audio button on the Audacity toolbar and click it. You should be left with only the section of music you chose.
  5. While that section of music is still selected, find the Copy button on the toolbar and click it (you can also use CTRL+C or Command+C).
  6. On the same music track, click anywhere to the right of that music section. Then find the Paste button on the toolbar and click it (or CTRL+V or Command+V). You now have your intro and outro music, but it’s still not quite ready.
  7. With the Selection Tool, select one of the music copies. Then go to Effect at the top and choose Fade Out. Do the same for the other music copy, but choose Fade In instead. You’re intro and outro music is now ready to go.

If you need to cut something out of your podcast—like swearing if you’re trying to keep clean, or information that shouldn’t be made public—it’s easy to fix:

  1. Find the section of audio that needs to be cut out.
  2. Use the Selection Tool to select the entire section that needs to be removed.
  3. Find the Cut button on the toolbar and click. Boom, it’s gone. Alternatively, you could also use the Silence button.
  4. Now, remember the room tone you recorded earlier? You can copy a section of that and overlap it with the cut out portion so you have a less jarring silence.

With your music ready to go and your necessary edits made, you can now line everything up with the Time Shift Tool (two arrows connected by a thin line). Just slide each piece of audio in its respective track until you’re happy with how all of the audio lines up. You might need to play around with it a little to find the sweet spot.

If you feel like your voice audio isn’t sounding as good as you’d like, there are few things you can tweak. Adam Dachis, former Lifehacker writer and host of the Supercharged podcast, suggests using compression and EQ settings to get things sounding closer to radio quality. The best ways to use compression and equalizer settings could be multiple articles on their own, but the video above, from the HowToMakePodcasts YouTube channel, gives a quick overview of how to use them well in Audacity. When you get everything sounding the way you want, save your work (and probably save your progress as you work as well).

Optional: Recording with Multiple Microphones (or Skype)

As powerful as Audacity is, using multiple microphones requires some extra work and money. Why would you want to record with multiple mics? Well it makes it a lot easier to fix someone’s audio, either on the spot by adjusting their mic level or later on if you have multiple audio tracks recording at once.


Even with multiple USB microphones, however, Audacity can only recognize one audio input for recording at a time. The Audacity team does, however, suggest a couple ways to sneak around this limitation:

  • Windows: For using multiple USB microphones on Windows, you can aggregate them all into a single recording device using software like Voice Meeter (free) or Virtual Audio Cable (trial version supports up to three devices). The audio from each mic will get picked up just fine, but all level adjustments have to be made through the software. In Audacity, you’ll still only see a single recording track to edit.
  • OS X: In OS X 10.7 and later you can set up aggregate devices without any additional software. Check Apple’s official instructions to aggregate devices here.

If you’re using multiple analog microphones, there are two ways you can go about it:

  1. Use an audio interface device or mixer that connects to your computer
  2. Record everything on a portable XLR recorder and upload the files onto your computer

To use analog microphones you’ll need one of those devices anyway, but if you get one that supports multiple microphones, you’re all set.


If your co-host isn’t nearby and you want to use Skype, Google Hangouts, or other internet calling services, it can be tough. Audacity doesn’t support Skype recording directly, but the Audacity team has some ways you might be able to sneak around it for both Windows and Mac. Otherwise, you’ll have to use additional software like MP3 Skype Recorder or Pamela and import the call audio into Audacity the same way you would bring in music or other audio files. Once it’s in Audacity, you can adjust levels and make sure everything sounds okay. As powerful as Audacity is—especially being free—it certainly has it’s limitations, so if you really enjoy podcasting, it could be worth it to spring for a better DAW down the line.

Step Four: Tag and Export Your MP3 File In Audacity

Exporting your podcast as an MP3 file should be easy now because you set up MP3 exporting before you started recording. There’s still some important things to do when you export, though. To make sure your file is ready to be uploaded somewhere, you need to edit the file’s metadata (also known as “tagging”). Metadata is information that displays no matter what the filename is and includes things like title, track number, album, and the name of the artist.


Fortunately, Audacity lets you do that when you export your audio as an MP3. Here’s how to do that:

  • Go to File, then Export Audio.
  • Select MP3 Files in the ‘Save as type’ drop-down menu. Then name the file (your podcast name and the number of the episode, for example). Click Save.
  • Now you’ll see the Edit Metadata window. Enter all of the necessary information (will go over that shortly). You can also add and remove sections as you see fit here.
  • Go down to the Template section and click Save. Save this template for future episodes so you don’t have to fill out most of this information ever again.
  • Click OK. Your MP3 should export and be ready for uploading.

If you’re not sure how you should fill out the metadata template, Daniel J. Lewis at The Audacity to Podcast has some suggestions:

  • Track: your episode number. This will help sort episodes chronologically if a player doesn’t read the published or modified dates.
  • Title: your episode number and title, just like your blog post. For example, “AYJW027: Courageous (2011).”
  • Artist: the name(s) of the episode host(s) or name of your network.
  • Album: the title of your podcast (remember, this is your whole show, not just an individual episode).
  • Year: the year of release.
  • Genre: pick what is most appropriate or “Podcast.”
  • Comment: a short summary of your episode. This could be the same as your WordPress excerpt, or simply the web address to your show notes.
  • Copyright: your copyright information. I recommend writing it like, “© 2011 D.Joseph Design”—note that “by” is not necessary, and the symbol should always precede the year. Not all tagging programs have this.
  • URL: your shownotes web address. Not all tagging programs have this.
  • Cover / picture / album art: your podcast cover art...

Metadata is important when you want to list your podcast in a directory later on, so take the time to make sure everything you have as much information as possible.

Optional: Find Some Theme Music

Writing and recording your own theme music is incredibly difficult if you don’t know what you’re doing (and it probably won’t sound very good). Leave it up to the pros and find free tunes at places like the Free Music Archive and Vimeo’s Music Store:

  1. Go to web site that offers music under an Attribution International License or Attribution-NonCommercial International License like freemusicarchive.org.
  2. Browse the music there by genre or via search.
  3. Find a track that you like and click the down arrow to download it.

It might take a while to find exactly what you want, but when you do, all you have to do is credit the creator in your podcast description.

Optional: Add podcast chapters

Podcast chapters are a great way to grant users more control over their listening experience. Your podcast might cover a wide variety of topics, you may want to give your listeners easy access to your segments, or you might want to save listeners from potential spoilers. It’s not a requirement, and very few podcasts use the feature, but if you’re trying to present a more polished piece of work, podcast chapters certainly help.


They work like chapters in a book and let you “skip” segments of the episode like the introduction, or skip past segments you’re uninterested in. You can even add images to your podcast sections, tying the picture in with the discussion or using it to present even more information about a topic. Unfortunately, adding them manually can be complicated and time-consuming. To spare you the trouble, use chapter adding software:

Windows: The freeware app Chapter and Verse lets you add podcast chapters as well as other pieces of metadata like images and chapter notes.

The $24.45 app Podreel performs the same task but uses a cleaner interface. You can use the trial version, which lets you add up to 5 chapter markers to your podcast, but adds a promotional message at the end of your file.


OS X: Chapters on the Mac ($19.99) makes adding chapters on the Mac pretty simple. You can save podcast presets if you’re working on more than one podcast, adjust playback speed to help you locate your segment markers faster, and add images. You can see a YouTube video of Chapters in action below:

Step Five: Pick a Strong Name and Create a Cover Art Image

When it comes to people finding your podcast, the name you choose for it is important. John Lee Dumas, the host of the Entrepreneur on Fire podcast, suggests you pick a name that communicates to your audience exactly what your podcast will be about. If we return to the bluegrass and moonshine example, it could be something straightforward, like ”Bluegrass n’ Moonshine,” or something less obvious, but still gets the point across, like “Sippin’ and Singin’: The Bluegrass Podcast.” The title gives you an idea of what the show is about, but more importantly, your show would likely pop up in someone’s search for podcasts about bluegrass music.


You’ll also need an image for your podcast. This is the first thing people will see when they come across your show, so it should look good. An image is also required in order to list your podcast in directories like iTunes, Stitcher, and BluBrry, as well as podcast managers like Pocket Casts and DoggCatcher.

Cover art can be a photo or piece of custom artwork, depending on how you want to represent your show. If the show is about you, you can even use a good photo of yourself. You can use a simple logo if you like, as long as it has something to do with what you talk about on the podcast. You want to make sure your image conveys what your show is really about as best it can. No matter what you choose to use for cover art, make sure the show’s title is on the image. If you’re not comfortable making the image yourself, don’t be afraid to hire a designer to do it for you. Web sites like Fiverr and 99designs lets you talk with and hire designers for cheap.

Podcast images need to be certain sizes as well, otherwise your artwork won’t look as good when it’s shrunken down. In fact, some directories won’t even accept podcast feeds if your art isn’t sized appropriately. Here’s are the essentials you want to shoot for:

  • Image must be 1400 x 1400 pixels at minimum
  • Image must be in .jpg or .png format (.jpg preferred)
  • Image should look good—and readable—at 300 x 300 pixels

A good rule of thumb is to optimize your image for 150 x 150 pixels. If it looks good that small, you know you won’t run into any problems. Daniel J. Lewis at The Audacity to Podcast also recommends that you treat certain types of images differently so they always look their best:

  • For photo/image-based artwork, acquire the largest version possible and design within its dimensions.
  • For color- or illustration-based artwork, design in a vector editor (like Adobe Illustrator) to make artwork that can scale to any size without losing quality.

You can do most of your image editing in Photoshop—or alternatives like GIMP and Pixelmatorwith ease. When you have a good name and some decent art representing your show, you’re just about ready to start recording.

Step Six: Find a Place to Host Your Podcast

When you’ve finished tagging and exporting your podcast, it’s time to find a place to host the MP3 file. Getting your podcast hosted is essential so you can start distributing your show to podcast directories and apps via RSS feed. Here are some of the best options for beginners:

  • SoundCloud: SoundCloud offers free podcast hosting (in addition to two competitive paid options for when you get a little more serious), and lets you distribute your podcast via RSS. Your podcasts can also instantly publish to SoundCloud itself, which makes it really easy to share your podcast on social media, blogs, and other web sites.
  • Podbean: Podbean provides multiple tiers of hosting, including a free option (though the free hosting is fairly limited). The service has its own iOS and Android app for listening, as well as analytic tools, though you’ll need to pay to get most of their best features.
  • Podomatic: Super user friendly and offers free hosting with enough bandwidth and storage for podcast beginners. There’s also a pro option that allows for more bandwidth if you find that you like it.
  • Libsyn: Libsyn is one of the oldest dedicated podcast hosting sites and considered to be one of the best. Their lowest price plan is $5 a month with unlimited bandwidth, and there’s no free option, but you get what you pay for.
  • Amazon S3: Amazon’s hosting service offers a free plan, but limits your storage among other things. The paid service only charges you for the storage and bandwidth you actually use, meaning the cost can go up as your podcast grows in popularity.
  • Fireside: A new podcast hosting platform from the creator of the 5by5 podcast network, Fireside offers unlimited storage, downloads, episodes, analytics, and a site for your podcast (with custom domain support), for $19 per month. Each additional podcast is an extra $8 per month. You can easily import your older podcasts from any valid podcast RSS feed in addition to other hosting sites including Soundcloud, Squarespace, Libsyn. It also makes small details like chapter markers and metadata more accessible. If you’ve got a few episodes under your belt and want to provide a better experience for both yourself and your audience, try it out.

If you’re new to podcasting, or hosting media files online in general, try out the free services to see if you like the way they work. When you find one you like, it’s worth paying for hosting if you’re serious about continuing your podcast. Each host listed here will provide you with easy to follow instructions for how to upload your podcast audio file, but there are some basic steps to follow regardless of which service you choose:

  1. When you sign up for the service, use the name of your podcast (or the closest thing to it).
  2. Upload a cover art image that is at least 1400 x 1400 pixels.
  3. Fill out all sections of your profile, especially your show’s description.
  4. Upload your MP3 file. Most hosting services let you listen to your podcast right within the site, so give it a listen to make sure everything sounds good.
  5. The file’s metadata that you created before should fill in a lot of the necessary information. However, if something doesn’t look right, now is the chance to make changes and fix it before you submit your RSS feed to any directories.

Once you’re happy with how everything looks, you’re ready to validate your feed and submit it to podcast directories.

Step Seven: Get Your Podcast on iTunes

There are a lot of podcast directories out there that you can submit to, including Stitcher, Blubrry, and Miro. Most podcasters, however, will tell you that if there’s only one directory you should try to get listed in, it’s iTunes. It’s the most popular and has the largest reach. Here’s how to get listed in the iTunes podcast directory:

  1. Check your title, author, description and cover art that’s associated with your podcast audio file on your hosting service. iTunes uses those fields for search. For more information and tips, check out the official iTunes podcast specs here.
  2. Locate your podcast RSS feed URL and copy it.
  3. Make sure your podcast RSS feed is valid. Some hosts have a built-in validator and will say if your feed is valid. Otherwise paste your feed URL into Cast Feed Validator and see what podcasting apps and directories will see. Make changes at the hosting site as necessary.
  4. Download and open iTunes.
  5. Find the More icon in the upper-left part of the window (the “...”). Select Podcasts.
  6. Locate the Podcast Quick Links section on the right side of the window. Click on the Submit a Podcast link.
  7. Copy your RSS feed URL in the field provided and click Next.

That should do it! If you don’t see anything pop up in iTunes right away, don’t stress. It can take from 24 hours to two weeks before your podcast is added (your podcast will be reviewed by a team of people). Fortunately, the process of getting listed in other podcast directories isn’t much different. So once you’ve got iTunes figured out, the sky’s the limit.


Finally, as exciting as it is to finally get your podcast out there for everyone to hear, consider waiting to submit your podcast until you’ve already got a few episodes in the can. Submitting only one episode can leave a lot to be desired for those that stumble upon your show. It’s also less likely that you’ll be featured or promoted as something new and noteworthy. So record three or four episodes before you start trying to grow your audience.

Illustration by Jim Cooke.

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