Updated July 28, 2020
I see many interesting lectures and interviews on YouTube that I know I will never, ever have time for. I simply cannot sit in front of a computer and watch a video. Email beckons too hard. But I can listen to these videos on the bus, while doing yard work, and at many other odd times that add up fast. I listened to about five 30-minute textual criticism lectures (on more than double speed) from Dan Wallace last night while cleaning out our family car.
I listen to lots and lots of sermons and lectures and interviews and podcasts. However, I subscribe to only a few podcasts: Lexicon Valley (with the inimitable John McWhorter) and Thinking in Public (Al Mohler), and the amazing History of English podcast are some of my favorites. I also enjoy 9Marks Pastors Talk, the Economist Morning Briefing, and The Argument from the New York Times. Everything else I listen to is some kind of one-off instance.
I’ve refined my system to make it maximally easy to take any YouTube video or MP3 and get it into my podcast app. So though I’ve posted on this before, I have now reached MP3 nirvana and I have to share it with you.
I actually have two systems, one for MP3s I download directly, and another for YouTube videos. The two systems converge, as you’ll see.
Each will take some setting up, and my instructions are geared for Mac, but once you’re set up it takes literally one click to get almost anything into your personal podcast feed. Here’s what I do.
Preliminary Steps for Each System
- Sign up for Justcast, a rock-solid app which creates a podcast feed from a Dropbox folder you choose. It’s a subscription service that is 100% worth it if you use it as much as I do, but the free service may be sufficient for you. (Note: a cheaper alternative is the Castro app, which my good friend Andy Naselli explains here. The only problem with Castro is that it requires you to use their app. But it’s a good app.)
- Subscribe to your own personal podcast, generated by Justcast, within Overcast.fm (iOS), Pocket Cast (Android) or whatever podcast app you prefer. I listen to most things at least double speed. I love Overcast.fm because it has a web-based interface I can use on occasion.
Now let’s get some MP3s into that folder so you can listen to them in Justcast.
System 1: Downloaded MP3s
There are two ways to handle MP3s you download, the nerdy way I used to use and the manual way which I find works a little better for my needs.
- The nerdy way: Set up a Folder Action in Automator that will automatically move audio files to that Justcast folder. Here are the instructions I mostly followed, but here’s what my workflow ended up looking like after I modified it for my needs. (Don’t forget to turn on Folder Actions.)
- The manual way: just drag any audio files you download, through whatever means, into that specially designated Justcast folder, and you’re good to go.
Now, anytime you download an MP3 into your Downloads folder, it will be automatically moved into your Justcast folder and then show up in your personal podcast feed on your phone or wherever you listen to podcasts.
Now let’s get a lecture off of YouTube (the same system works for almost any site that includes video or audio—Downie is excellent, excellent):
System 2: YouTube Lectures
- Get Downie. It’s awesome (I have it as part of Setapp).
- Set Downie to automatically to Extract Audio Only and Enforce MP3; and have it save the resulting audio file to your Justcast folder in Dropbox.
- Now navigate to any YouTube video, Soundcloud audio page, Vimeo video, or just about anything you can listen to, grab the URL, and paste it into Downie—the audio will show up in your podcast app soon afterwards.
System 3: Articles in Text-to-Speech
- Sign up for a free Instapaper account.
- Sign up for the free tier at the text-to-speech service Narro.co.
- Connect the two services via the integration page at Narro.co.
- Subscribe to your own Narro.co audio feed via instructions here.
- Now when an article stays open in a tab for four days because you’re sure you’re going to read it but you never do, just hit ⇧⌘S (that’s what I have it set to) and the article will save to Instapaper and show up in your podcast app. The computer voice is pretty good—better if you pay. I find these stack up in my feed, but then I go on a kick every six months and listen to a bunch of them.
The key to this system is that I only want to listen to each of these items once. Having my own personal podcast that only I listen to means that each item leaves my feed as soon as I’m done with it. It’s so much easier to manage these files if I don’t have to manually delete them from my phone when I complete them.
But I still have the MP3 files in Dropbox. So every so often I move all the MP3s out of my Justcast folder and into an archive location in Dropbox (not on my hard drive) so I can find them again if I need to—and sometime I do, like if I want to cite an illustration from one of them or transcribe a portion of it for use in an article or sermon or lecture of my own.
I find that I listen to so many books and podcasts, that I need a phone with at least 64GB of space. I’m up to 128GB now, because it was an extra $5/mo. The main thing I use my phone for is listening to stuff. I highly recommend Bluetooth headphones, and I’m going to go to the trouble of listing out all the Bluetooth devices I own!
I shopped around awhile for noise-cancelling headphones that were cheap and effective, and I’ve been super pleased with these Anker Soundcore Life Q20 headphones:
When I need to be discreet about listening—like in public places, or while my wife is trying to fall asleep, I reach for the Plantronics PLTM70:
I’m a bit manic about listening to stuff all the time, so I saved my book budget money (not as needed as it once was because I work for an ebook company!) and got Apple AirPods. I went back and forth for a long time, because I thought they would be an indulgence. But I finally nabbed them before a summer of lots of trips, and I’m so grateful! They are so convenient! They just disappear; they are so easy to handle.
For the shower, this little Tribit XSound Go really packs a punch. I’m super impressed with it (thank you, Wirecutter, for the recommendation!):
I also saved my monthly budget for a while and got myself 3M Bluetooth work headphones/ear protectors for while I do yard work. I’m kind of dedicated to this personal podcast thing…
And when I want to play something over the old speakers in my shop (I’m getting into woodworking a little), I use this Tzumi Bluetooth dongle:
My system has given me access to some truly memorable YouTube interviews, like this one with Amy and Leon Kass. It’s a rare one I listened to three times. Recently I nabbed a speech someone recommended from a “Sheologian” who turned out to be James White’s daughter. It was excellent. I never would have heard these things without my precious personal podcast. =)