1) Comply with Copyright Law
First of all, you need to be able to comply with copyright law. Your church may have a license to use certain copyrighted music during the worship service, but usually that license does not extend to web publication of a service recording. These copyright issues might apply not only to music, but also to liturgy or poems/other material read aloud during the service.
The cost of acquiring a web “podcast” license that would cover all of this material is prohibitive for many churches. Even if the cost is not prohibitive, it may not be a good return on investment. This licensing issue (combined with the massive size of an hour-long audio file) is why most churches to upload audio files usually include only the sermon.
2) Don’t Create an Archive
Second, you want to remember that your website should be geared primarily (70% to 90%) as a tool to connect with prospective visitors and new members. These visitors in general, do not tend to listen to sermon audio files of sermons. The users who will be listening to audio files of sermons are your current members who have missed the service and want to stay connected.
These two things taken together indicate that you should not use your website as an archive of sermon audio files. Your current members will generally catch up on the sermon they missed within a week or two, and creating an archive conveys to the prospective new visitor that you have a huge investment in the past, which by definition they can never be a part of. Best practice would be to keep no more than 4 to 6 weeks of past sermons on the website.
3) Store Your Audio Files Off-Site
Third, audio files in general are very large files. They take up a lot of space on your website server. This can slow down the loading of your website pages. Having your website pages load fast is not only about creating a good user experience – Google and other search engines factor in page load time in how high they rank your site.
Best practice for providing audio files on your website is to store (“host”) those large files outside of your website server, and link to them on your website page. (We want to encourage this best practice at ACWP, so our participants are not allowed to upload audio files to their website.)
There are a number of free and low-cost places to store these files and create public links to them. A free option would be Dropbox, which provides up to 2GB of space free. Using this option, you might only be able to host a few sermons at a time. And low-cost option would be Amazon Simple Storage, where storing several hundred GB might cost you around $1 per month.
For both of these hosting solutions, the process would be the same: upload the file, set the file to be made publicly available (which gives the file a unique URL web address that anyone can access), copy the file URL, and use that URL to create a link on a page in your website. When a user clicks on this link, the default media player on their computer will begin playing the file.
This advice of course, is also true for videos. Host them for free on YouTube, then create links to that video on your website. Many websites systems like WordPress, use a plug-in or other functionality to allow for embedding a video in your site so that the user can play the video without leaving your website. The video is still hosted elsewhere, but plays on your site. Hosting your video on YouTube also offers the added advantage of being more socially shareable (think Facebook and Twitter), while increasing your search engine rankings through YouTube searches. While the default length limit of videos on YouTube is 15 minutes, you can get that extended by verifying your account.
Let us know if you have questions about audio (or video!) files on your site!