Do you spend too much time editing a podcast episode? Or perhaps it takes a lot more time than you would like to have your editor work on an episode. Below we’ll go into detail about the challenges you might face when capturing audio and the best practices for good microphone technique for podcasters, but in case you don’t have time for that, here’s a quick summary:
- Monitor, monitor! Watch your levels, watch your guest’s levels and do a retake if necessary. You think it might not be as authentic the second time around, but it’ll be worth it.
- Shh, find a quiet space. Good microphone technique means nothing if you pick a noisy or bad environment. Choose a quiet space with lots of room, and then test it through your microphone with your headphones on. Sometimes you’ll miss a low hum with your ears that you’ll pick up much easier by monitoring via headphones.
- Good microphone setup. Use stands, acoustic foam and/or shock mounts and have your mics set up so they won’t be easily bumped or pick up unwanted interference, e.g. banging a desk.
- Avoid starchy or sugary foods- these foods thicken your saliva and produce unwanted mouth sounds. Have a glass of water nearby to sip.
- Make use of a pop filter or position yourself slightly off-axis to the microphone to avoid heavy wind sounds, and to create a more natural-sounding audio.
- 6 to 8 inches – is a good rule for distance between you and the mic. Keep this distance consistent throughout recording, and don’t turn your head.
Let’s Go Into More Detail
Want to know more about good microphone technique for podcasting and other best practices for getting good tape? Read on.
Picture this. You have snagged an amazing guest for your podcast- you have a great conversation, you’ve laughed, they’ve shared candid stories you know your audience are going to get a lot from. You go to edit the podcast and notice a hum in the recording (was it the fridge?!), or your guest moves their head away from the microphone at a critical story point, and the sound of you turning pages is captured. Disaster. Don’t worry, it happens. No amount of good equipment or clever editing will make terrible source audio sound good.
So practice these 6 easy strategies to ensure you capture clean podcast recordings from the start every time.
Always be Monitoring
This is particularly important for indie podcasters who may be podcasting from home or recording on location with a guest. Wear your headphones, monitor the levels.
It’s a low impact way to get good audio. You can’t fix problems you don’t know you’re having. So wear headphones even if you feel silly.
Also, because you are always monitoring your levels, that makes it easy to adjust the gain before you hit record, as your guest is getting comfortable and you are both just having a pre-show chat, check the levels. Make sure your guest is in a comfortable position, reminding them they will be speaking for however long it is and that they should find a position they’re happy with and adjust the levels accordingly.
Choose a noise-free environment
Before we even get into microphone technique, there is one very important thing you can make sure to do that will make all the difference. And that is the environment. The ‘where’ you’re recording. And this point will come up again in this list and that actively monitors the audio, you might feel silly sitting there with your headphones on talking to someone in an interview, but do it anyway. Scout a location, check for hums – air conditioners. And the best way to do this is not with the human ear, because you’ll tune things out, you won’t notice them, instead have your recorder going (love the H5) with your headphones on and take note.
Related: Getting Ready to Record
They call it decoupling
Some professionals recommend separating your microphones from the surface the stands are on (that’s called decoupling) and it helps remove or stop any potential problems reaching the microphone, especially a tabletop and even if microphones are mounted on floor stands. And while I don’t object to this at all, in fact if you can do it, you might as well. I just recommend setting up stands on the floor away from the table or desk you and your guest are using. Ninety-nine times out of a hundred you’ll be fine. But if you want to go the extra mile to control as much as your environment that you’re recording in then by all means, get some decoupling pads or acoustic foam to set up your mic stands on. Arm booms mounted on desks with shock mounts are also a great way to minimise as much distortion from reaching the microphone as possible.
Essentially everything we are doing in this list is to reduce or control as much of our recording environment as possible so we can get the best quality audio and reducing the work we need to do in post-production.
Avoid creepy mouth breathing…
You know those clicking noises your saliva makes and the ASMR people are getting paid stupid money to make. Yeah, well, we don’t want those sounds here. Here are a few tips to keep in mind:
- Have some tea or water with you. It helps to keep your mouth from drying out and avoids your saliva building up.
- Avoid eating foods that are starchy or sugary. They thicken your saliva (which is where the water or tea comes in handy) and accentuates those pesky mouth sounds.
This is one of the most important points and one where a lot of people drop the ball.
Whatever you say and where you say it from is going to be picked up by the microphone unapologetically.
Microphones aren’t like human hearing, in that if you turn away from someone briefly while you are talking to them, the change in volume isn’t going to affect the listener much and our brains adjust to that in an instant.
If you turn away briefly mid-sentence while speaking into a microphone, or move away from the microphone, you’re creating a world of hurt for the editor in post, or if you’re not editing your show (a big no-no) then you’re giving your audience a hard time. Rule number one in podcasting is ‘is this good for my audience?’
So, keep somewhere around six to eight inches from the microphone. The distance isn’t as important as the consistency of the distance. Find somewhere that is comfortable for you and your guest and adjust the gain. But the reason why six to eight inches is a good rule is it helps keep reverb at a minimum and the bass and plosives at a minimum. There are different ways people explain this, but a good quick and dirty measurement is to make your hand into a shape like your making a phone call with your hand. Then put your pinky finger near the microphone and your thumb near your mouth and that about the distance you want to be.
Plosives AKA Fast Moving Air Hitting the Microphone
When we make certain sounds with our mouth they cause explosions of air to hit the microphone which are unpleasant to listen to. They normally will distort the audio and be impossible to fix in post.
A pop filter helps to absorb and diffuse that explosion of air. You can purchase a pop filter for roughly $40 from a retail store.
If you don’t have a pop filter, you have some other options:
- Speak off-axis slightly, so the air from the plosives isn’t hitting the microphone directly.
- Hold a pencil in front of you while speaking (annoying, but effective), it will break the airflow.
And there you have it. You’ve just made post-production a whole lot easier by implementing these microphone techniques and you’ve either saved yourself time in the edit or money if you’re paying a professional. Bottom line is, find a suitable environment, make sure your microphone setup is not going to be knocked or bumped by you or your guest mid recording, maintain a good distance from the microphone and keep it a consistent distance, speak off-axis or use a pop filter to avoid harsh sounds distorting your audio and a bonus that I didn’t mention above is, take some breaks if you or your guest needs to. Have some water and coach your guest, guide them. It’s up to you to help keep the energy and excitement going throughout the whole conversation. A dull low energy voice will be amplified in a recording, and not in a good way. Keep all of those tips in mind and you’ll be in good stead.
Did I miss something? Did one or more of these tips really hit home? I want to know, tell me in the comments or hit me up on Twitter at @heyadamspencer.