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 detail the challenges you might face when capturing audio. Also, we’ll talk about best practices for good microphone techniques for podcasters, but in case you don’t have time for that, here’s a quick summary:
6 Microphone Techniques for Podcasters
- 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 lousy environment. Choose a quiet area 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 quickly pick up by monitoring your 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 create more natural-sounding audio.
- 6 to 8 inches is a good rule for the distance between you and the mic. Keep this distance consistent throughout the recording, and don’t turn your head.
Let’s Go Into More Detail
Want to know more about good microphone techniques for podcasting and other best practices for getting good tape? Read on.
Picture this. You have snagged a fantastic guest for your podcast- you have a great conversation, you’ve laughed, they’ve shared candid stories you know your audience is 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. The sound of you turning pages is captured. Disaster. Don’t worry. It happens. No amount of suitable 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, and 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 constantly monitoring your levels, that makes it easy to adjust the gain before you hit the 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 comfortable, reminding them they will be speaking for however long and that they should find a position they’re happy with.
Choose noise-free surroundings
Before we even get into technique, there is one essential 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, which actively monitors the audio. You might feel silly sitting there talking to someone in an interview with your headphones on 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 (I love the H5) with your headphones on and take notes.
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 on a tabletop and even if microphones are mounted on floor stands. And while I don’t object to this at all, if you can do it, you might as well. I recommend setting up microphone 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 reduce 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 accentuate those pesky mouth sounds.
This is one of the most important points and one where many people drop the ball.
Whatever you say and where you say it from will be picked up by the microphone unapologetically.
Microphones aren’t like human hearing. If you turn away from someone briefly while talking to them, the volume change isn’t going to affect the listener much, and our brains adjust to that instantly.
Suppose you turn away briefly mid-sentence while speaking into a microphone or move away from the microphone. In that case, you’re creating a world of hurt for the editor in post, or if you’re not editing your show (a big no-no), 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 space. Find a comfortable position for you and your guest and adjust the gain. But six to eight inches is a good rule because 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. Then put your pinky finger near the microphone and your thumb near your mouth, and that is about the distance you want to be.
Plosives AKA Fast Moving Air Hitting the Microphone
When we make certain sounds with our mouths, they cause explosions of air to hit the microphone, which is unpleasant to listen to. They usually 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 lot easier by implementing these microphone techniques. You’ve saved yourself time in the edit or money if you’re paying a professional. The bottom line is, to 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, and guide them. It’s up to you to help keep the energy and excitement going throughout the conversation. A dull, low, energy voice will be amplified in a recording, 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.