S13E3: Microphones!

The point of a good podcast production is capturing the human voice. To do this we need a mic. Herein lies the great benefit for disability service’s telling their people’s stories. Mics have come a long way from the early days of the medium. We no longer need to ape radio station studios, Abbey road or mega band stage setups. A few companies have realised the point of podcasting and have worked towards podcast specific mics. In this post we’ll look at what this means and how the world really has changed for the better.

Demystifying Microphones

Microphones come in various types, each with its strengths. Dynamic mics are rugged and handle loud noises well, making them ideal for live recordings. Condenser mics capture more detail and subtle sounds, perfect for quiet studios and interviews. There are almost infinite variations within these types. The point to bear in mind at all times is: good audio in my listener’s ears.

Finding the Perfect Mic

The best microphone for your podcast depends on several factors:

  • Budget: Prices range from affordable dynamic mics to high-end condenser models.
  • Recording Environment: Condenser mics pick up background noise easily so a quiet space is key.
  • Podcast Style: Interview podcasts benefit from detailed condenser mics, while solo shows with minimal noise can use dynamic mics.
  • Personal Preference: Experiment with different mics to find what compliments your voice best.

Now to the reality of actually recording:

  • Where are you going to be recording?
    • This is not as obvious as you might expect. For a disability service producing a podcast, the setting can vary from the CEO’s office to a group walking along a beach. The technical requirements for both are very different. But, here’s a clue, what works on the beach will work in the CEOs office.
  • Does your talent have any special requirements? (Other than no brown M&Ms)
    • Do the people speaking require a boom arm to reach them in a supine position? Are they put off by having a mic in their face? Do they speak through a text to voice app?
  • How good is your editing and post production software?
    • The rule of thumb is to record as clear a sound track as possible to reduce the need for editing and post production manipulation. This isn’t always possible and the software becomes more important. I’ve been sent tape from echoey locations and ten years ago, this would have presented difficulties. Not so nowadays. The software is improving out of sight and who knows how much better it will be with a sprinkling of AI? 
  • Can you use one type of mic across different settings?
    • In a word, yes. Should you? Well that depends on your vision. Let’s go with the “yes” answer and see what choices are available.
      • The smartphone mic. These are omnidirectional condenser mics. The quality has improved out of sight since the first iPhone way back when. The trick is to hold the phone with the base pointing at your face and about 10-15 cm (4-6 in) from your mouth. In a conversation you turn the phone about and point it at the other party in the conversation. You will nearly always have a phone with you, at least as a backup.
      • Another option is the field recorder. These are used by journalists, usually radio types and are specifically designed to capture the human voice in an uncontrolled space, that is, outdoors. There’s a few options. I use a Zoom H2n as my go to fieldpiece and have used it as the mic in my desktop setup. This works perfectly well. I have a separate mic on the desktop to explore mic options and avoid unplugging and replugging but even that wasn’t a difficulty. Looking back I would now just purchase a second Zoom H2n for the static desktop. There’s a whole module on the Zoom H2n in the JMPS Group Coaching Program as the options are way too many to discuss here.
      • Another option is the lapel mic, as seen on most TV interview shows. These clip to your clothing around the lapel of a suit jacket. These can be used in “studio” and in the field. The range is extensive with both wired and wireless. As a general rule of thumb, I’d go with wired. There’s less chance of interference on the recording.
    • If you’re not going into the field, the choices expand to a bewildering extent. I would go for a USB connected mic as there are far fewer things to deal with. An XLR connection needs an extra power source and this introduces audio interfaces and mixers and more trouble than most people need.
      • I use a RODE NT-USB mini in my static setup. A USB condenser mic. I’ve also used the RODE NT-USB and a college swears by that option. I didn’t find any difference between them and the mini fits nicely into my field kit. (Mobility is something of an obsession for me.)
      • Other options I’ve seen used are the ubiquitous Blue Yeti from Logitech, a lower cost option all the way up to Shure options like the more expensive MV7. The list of choices is bewildering. 

When push comes to shove, I tend to default to Zoomcorp, nothing to do with the other Zoom and their meetings app, and to RODE. The first fifty episodes of my very first show were recorded on an iPhone 5 while I sat in a walk-in wardrobe. The clothes muffled any reverb and the omni directionality of the phone’s mic also added to the general background quietness.

Mic Placement: The Sweet Spot

Once you have a mic, positioning it correctly is crucial:

  • Distance: Condenser mics require a closer range (4-8 inches), while dynamics work well slightly further (6-12 inches).
  • Pop Filter: This reduces unwanted “p” and “b” sounds.
  • Mic Angle: Aim the mic slightly off-axis (around 45 degrees) to avoid harshness.
  • Shock Mount (Condenser Mics): This minimises noise from vibrations.

All of the above means you can set your recording space, a static studio style or in the field or in people’s homes to capture the sound you require. Wheelchairs, beds, kitchen tables or in the backyard are all places a disability service can capture audio for their show. The limits are set by our minds, not our creativity. 

Beyond the Basics: Voice Techniques for Podcast Greatness

Now that the technical side is covered, let’s look at using your voice effectively:

  • Warm Up: Like athletes, your vocal cords benefit from a warm-up. Humming or tongue twisters can help. A simple chat with an interviewee can also warm up the vocal cords. We aren’t producing an opera, we are listening to people’s stories and presenting them to the world.
  • Clarity is Key: Enunciate clearly and avoid mumbling. Listen back and identify areas for improvement.
  • Project Your Voice: Speak with a confident volume that fills the microphone without shouting.
  • Vary Your Pacing: Avoid monotony. Use natural pauses and inflections to keep listeners engaged. Remember, if you can without terrors, the reading aloud sessions in primary school where expression and some minor dramatics were required.
  • Mind the Noise: Choose a quiet space or use soundproofing materials. Think creatively, many soft surfaces are great for absorbing excess noise.
  • Embrace Silence: Don’t be afraid of silence between sentences. It allows listeners to absorb information and adds a natural rhythm.

Editing: Polishing Your Podcast

Editing software helps refine and polish your recordings. Here’s what it can do for your mic use:

  • Noise Reduction: Remove unwanted background noise.
  • Levelling: Ensure consistent volume levels throughout your podcast.
  • Removing Errors: Microphone pops, stumbles or coughs can be easily removed without disrupting the flow.

Conclusion: Mic Technology Means the Voice is available

With the changes in design from the phone in your pocket to field recorders to studio mics, everyone with something to say can be recorded. A full radio/Abbey road setup is not required. Technology has freed the voices of the unheard and the ignored. Podcasting has provided those voices a platform. Combine this with the depth of experience in your disability service and you have a winning combination to empower your people and smash the ableist paradigm.

If you’re thinking about starting your service’s podcast, JMPS can assist. From a full done for you service to the JMPS group coaching program.

The Program Promise: After the Six Month JMPS Group Coaching Program you will have at least one: 10 episode season live.

And all the knowledge and creative drive to create ongoing seasons.

You’ll be: Set Up For Success

If that sounds like something you’d be interested in click the link in the show notes: Dreamer to Podcaster.