Miked Up – Podcasting
Miked Up – Podcasting | Miking Techniques | Tips & Tricks | Mic Basics
<b>MIKED UP – PODCASTING</b>
MIKING TECHNIQUES | TIPS & TRICKS | MIC BASICS
IT’S NEVER BEEN EASIER TO CAPTURE YOUR CREATIVITY AND SHARE IT WITH THE WORLD.
Whether you're producing a podcast, livestreaming a concert, or taking journalistic deep dives into important issues, you can now do it all with the smartphone in your pocket. This technological revolution is turning scrappy content creators into important cultural tastemakers.
Of course, not all content is created equal – if you want people to appreciate your work, you’ll first need to make certain it sounds good. Yes, smartphone cameras are incredible these days, but the mics ... not so much. To make stuff that people care about, you’re going to need high-quality audio. And that means a professional microphone.
But which mic is the right one for you? That, of course, depends entirely on what you’re doing. So, to help you out, we’ve packed this handbook with miking techniques, tips and tricks, and mic basics for content creators focused on podcasting.
MIC TYPES &
CONTENT CREATORS MOSTLY USE EITHER
A DYNAMIC OR CONDENSER MICROPHONE.
BUT WHAT'S THE DIFFERENCE?
CONTENT CREATORS MOSTLY USE EITHER A DYNAMIC OR CONDENSER MICROPHONE. BUT WHAT'S THE DIFFERENCE?
DYNAMIC MICS are ideal for the field because they’re rugged, reliable and will work well in almost any situation and with every kind of voice. While they’re not the most sensitive type of mic, this can be a good thing if you’re recording in an untreated space with unwanted background noise.
CONDENSER MICS are highly sensitive and pick up a wonderful spectrum of sound, which makes them great for everything from podcasting to field recording. However, compared to dynamic microphones they are more likely to pick up sounds like mid-sentence breaths, your growling stomach, and the hum of your air conditioner. They also require phantom power* in order to work.
*Huh? Don’t know what phantom power is? Find out in the MIC BASICS section.
FOR PODCASTING AND LIVESTREAMING, KNOWING ROOM ACOUSTICS IS ALMOST AS IMPORTANT AS THE CHOICE OF YOUR MICROPHONE.
ABSORBERS, as the name suggests, are things that absorb sound – for example, the acoustic panels you see in professional recording studios. Absorbers remove unwanted audio from a space, allowing you to capture more of the original source. Curtains, cushions and soft furniture all absorb sound, so a room with plenty of these is ideal for podcasting and livestreaming.
DIFFUSERS break up sound rather than remove it. This scattering cuts down on echoes and reflections that will clutter up your audio recordings. Books, furniture, photos and plants all help to diffuse sounds.
ROOM CHOICE might seem obvious but picking a room that sounds good to start with will make your job a lot easier. Bedrooms are excellent for re- cording because they usually have more absorbers like cushions and curtains. Also make sure you close any windows and switch off appliances that make noise, including air conditioners, washing machines and fans.
Tips & tricks</small>
SO, YOU’VE GOT A GREAT IDEA FOR A PODCAST. CONGRATS! COMING UP WITH A NOVEL CONCEPT IS THE HARDEST PART.*
Fortunately, you've picked the right time to get into podcasting, since more people are listening than ever before. In the United States alone, over 100 million people listen to podcasts on a regular basis.
But there's just one problem: You're great at talking, but not so sure about the tech. Which microphone should you use? Where do you post your podcast once it's ready? And what the heck is compression and how do you actually use it? You'll find the answers to these questions and more in the following pages.
*Aside from perhaps perfecting your silky-smooth radio voice.
• Always monitor your audio with a good set of headphones.
• Do vocal warmups beforehand – talking for an hour is surprisingly hard on the voice.
• Export your audio in a lossless AIFF or WAV format (not MP3!) for maximum quality.
• Simplecast, Anchor and Captivate offer free platforms to publish your podcast.
• Use your platform’s analytical tools to track your podcast’s performance.
• Want to record guests remotely? Check out services like Zencastr and Cleanfeed.
• Record a few episodes in advance. That way you can ensure no release delays.
• Include links to anything you discuss in the show description for each episode.
The usual recording rules apply here: More soft stuff = a better sounding space. but there are some room particulars when it comes to podcasting that you should know.
Picking the right room can save you a lot of acoustic trouble, and bed- rooms are usually a good bet for recording podcasts if you don’t have access to a proper studio space. For a start, they’ve got duvets, pillows and curtains that can absorb sound. And, just as importantly, it’s a bit more private and you’re less likely to be interrupted (especially if you make a ‘podcasting in progress’ sign and stick it on the door).
If you’re using a sensitive condenser mic and your room sounds a bit bright (i.e. has lots of hard and reflective surfaces) you might want to consider actually getting under a blanket or duvet to record your pod- cast. You’ll feel a bit silly at first but trust us – your voice will sound way better.
You might be in the right-sounding room, but if your oven, air condition- er or grandfather clock is making a ton of noise it won’t matter. Ticking and buzzing right into the ears of your podcast listeners can be extremely annoying. So turn off even those objects that you can normally blend out. And be sure to switch your phone to silent or airplane mode!
UNTIL RECENTLY, YOU NEEDED A WHOLE BUNCH OF GEAR TO DO A PODCAST PROJECT PROPERLY. NOWADAYS, YOU CAN RECORD A HIGH-QUALITY PODCAST WITH JUST A SINGLE USB MIC AND YOUR LAPTOP. STILL, IT’S WORTH KNOWING ALL YOUR OPTIONS WHEN IT COMES TO THE GEAR.
It’s the age-old condenser vs dynamic decision again, and it depends on which suits your voice and recording space best. If you’ve got a condenser that you love, go with that – but only if you’ve got a room with the right acoustics. As for dynamics, mics like the SM7B and MV7 are perfect for podcasting and will work well in any room.
Regardless of which you choose, you’ll want to get it set up on a stand (preferably a desk boom stand as these cut down on noise) and then point it directly at your mouth. For dynamics, the mic should be no more than two inches (5cm) away, while for condenser mics it’s more like six inches (15cm).
Full power to the shields! You’ll definitely want a windscreen or pop shield to cut out plosives (those hard sounds with lots of air like ‘P’ and ‘T’). We’d recommend only using either a pop shield or a windscreen, as if you use both your voice might sound muffled.
Smartphone, laptop or stand-alone digital recorder: the choice is yours! But just be aware that editing audio on a phone can be a bit fiddly* sometimes.
To use your phone, you’ll need either a USB-compatible mic or an XLR** adaptor.
Laptops: If it’s a USB mic you can plug straight in, but if not you’ll need a mic preamp – especially if you’re using a condenser, as these require phantom power. If you’re using an SM7B you’ll also need an interface with a hefty preamp or want to get a signal booster like a FetHead.***
Stand-alone recorders will usually will work with any mic, but just re- member you’ll need either a USB cable or a card reader to get the audio from the recorder to your computer.
Once you’ve got your audio, you’re going to want to edit it (whether that’s adding theme music or removing the hundreds of ‘ummms’ and ‘likes’ you didn’t realize you were saying). The software for this job is called a DAW, which stands for Digital Audio Workstation, and luckily there are free options for both Mac and PC users.
For Mac, GarageBand has more than enough bells and whistles for en- try-level podcasting. For Windows, Audacity is completely free and does exactly the same job (even if it doesn’t look quite as fancy).
Once you’re established and have cash to spend, there are loads of other powerful paid DAW options available, from Audition to Hindenburg. Just remember: Whatever software you’re using, the most important thing is you’re comfortable with all its specific quirks.
** Find out more about XLR connectors in the MIC BASICS section.
*** The SM7B likes an extra 55dB of clean gain!
ONCE YOU’VE BOUGHT YOUR MIC, SORTED YOUR ROOM AND RECORDED YOUR PODCAST YOU’RE DONE, RIGHT? WRONG, BECAUSE EVEN WITH A GOOD MIC AND THE RIGHT SOUNDING ROOM THERE ARE STILL A FEW TWEAKS LEFT THAT WILL MAKE YOUR PODCAST SOUND PROFESSIONAL.
The first thing you’ll want to do is EQ, or equalize, your audio, i.e. boosting or cutting certain frequencies that you want to either hide or emphasize.
• First, cut everything below 80Hz (this is called a high pass filter, because it allows all the high- er frequencies to pass through).
• If your audio sounds a bit mud- dy, make a slight cut in the 300- 400Hz range (a few dB should do).
• If your voice sounds muffled, put in a gentle boost from 2-6kHz.
• If your voice sounds a bit harsh, make a slight cut around 3-5kHz.New page
GATEWAY TO HEAVEN
A noise gate cuts out unwanted qui- et sounds (electronic hum, paper rustling, room reflections). Setting the threshold at 0dB will remove your entire signal, while setting it at -100dB will mean nothing is cut.
Getting the threshold right will re- quire some trial and error but start at around -40dB. As for the amount of cut, a soft reduction of around 30-50 percent is best (anymore and you’ll get a weird pumping effect).
PUTTING ON THE SQUEEZE
Put simply, compression reduces the range between the loudest and quietest parts of your audio. Used properly, it can give your audio a smooth, consistent tone – and it should always be the last step in your signal chain.
The trick for speech processing is to be subtle, and we’d recommend using the voiceover preset (if your compressor has one). If not, try a threshold of -16dB, a ratio of 3:1, an attack of 10ms, and a release of 200ms (and pick the ‘soft knee’ option if you have it).
A SOUND IDEA
ANYONE CAN CREATE A PODCAST. BUT COMING UP WITH A UNIQUE IDEA FOR A NEW SHOW IS HARDER – DALLAS TAYLOR FROM 20,000 HERTZ EXPLAINS.
ANYONE CAN CREATE A PODCAST. BUT NOT EVERYONE CAN COME UP WITH A UNIQUE IDEA FOR A NEW SHOW – DALLAS TAYLOR FROM 20,000 HERTZ EXPLAINS.
“It seemed like there was a gap in the market,” says Taylor, host and creator of the Twenty Thousand Hertz podcast. “There were podcasts about movies, podcasts about food, podcasts about books, but nothing about sound. And sound is all around us.”
With his background as a sound designer and his pas- sion for aural culture, Dallas reckoned he was the perfect person to create a podcast on this topic. He was soon proved right: launched in 2016, Twenty Thousand Hertz now attracts 100,000-plus listeners per episode and has won two Webbys (the podcasting Oscars) and a People’s Voice Award.
So picking the right topic – one you are passionate about – is critical, but you’ve also got to give yourself room to maneuver.
“At first I thought it would just be about sound design,” recalls Dallas. “But I very quickly realized there are all kinds of offshoots in the sound world, and now the show has become a celebration of all things to do with sound. So, picking a title that wasn’t too specific gave us room to grow, which was really important.”
As for the sound of the podcast itself, Dallas has some simple advice: set it and forget it.
“As long as you understand the basics of EQ, compression and the signal path, that’s 90 percent of the pro- cess,” he says. “Those things really are the salt and pep- per. And once you’ve set them up for your microphone and your studio, you can really just set it and forget it.”
LISTEN TO DALLAS TAYLOR ON POCAST SOUND DESIGN:
This legendary dynamic microphone delivers smooth, warm vocals every time. It captures and enhances the finer details of the human voice while blocking out all the distractions. An audio icon.
A dynamic microphone with USB and XLR outputs for both computers and professional interfaces alike. Auto Level Mode and Voice Isolation Technology make it perfect for spaces with challenging acoustics.
A large-diaphragm digital condenser mic with USB and Lightning connectivity providing onboard presets for speech, singing and more in a portable package.
This affordable condenser microphone is great for beginning podcasters looking to upgrade their audio. Connect with either USB.
Perhaps the most widely used dynamic mic in the world, this durable workhorse always sounds amazing and is a great option if you have several guests on your podcast and an XLR interface.
A compact and portable USB digital audio interface with XLR and 1⁄4” inputs. Features include 5 DSP presets for EQ, compression and limiter, plus phantom power for condenser mics.
MICROPHONE JARGON CAN BE CONFUSING. LEARN
WHAT POLAR PATTERNS AND PHANTOM POWER ARE.
When using multiple microphones, the distance between them should be at least three times the distance to the sound source. An example: Two mics placed one foot away from a drum should be spaced three feet apart from each other.
Not the cozy vibe in the studio, this refers to room acoustics or natural reverberation of a space.
BLEED, LEAKAGE, OR SPILL
Pickup of an instrument by a microphone intended to capture an- other sound source. Normally, your engineer will want to avoid it, but creative leakage can also add a live feeling to a recording.
The part of a microphone where all the magic happens. It’s inside here where a transducer, or element, converts acoustic energy (sound waves) into an electrical signal. Different mics (dynamic, condenser, ribbon) use different types of transducers.
You’re no doubt familiar with this squelching sound, but what causes a PA system howl? Feedback occurs when a microphone picks up amplified sound from a loudspeaker connected to the same mic. This creates a re-amplified loop that eventually will sonically pierce your skull. A guitarist might love it. Your livestream audience likely does not.
How a microphone responds to various sound frequencies plotted in decibels and hertz. A flat frequency response means a mic handles all frequencies the same. Using a mic with frequency response tailored to your source will give you the most natural sound. An example: The SM7B has a smooth, wide response that tappers off at the higher frequencies to give you that rich ‘podcast voice’ you’ve always craved.
INVERSE SQUARE LAW
You don’t need a degree in physics to understand this concept. It sim- ply means that direct sound levels increase (or decrease) by about 6 dB when you double (or halve) the distance between a source and microphone. It also underscores how important mic placement is!
Freedom from leakage or a mic’s ability to reject unwanted sounds. Splendid, splendid isolation ...
Man, their second album was epic! Oh, we’re not talking about the band? In that case, this refers to the extra DC juice (normally 48 volts) supplied by a preamp or mixer via regular XLR cables to power condenser mics with active transducers. It gets its ghostly name from the fact that it simply passes through passive dynamic mics plugged into the same board without affecting them. Warning! Phantom power can blow out passive ribbon mics. Active ribbon mics, however, require it.
This occurs when using more than one mic on a single source and the waveforms of similar audio signals don’t match up exactly when ombined. Being out of phase will make your audio sound wimpy and pathetic.
POTENTIAL ACOUSTIC GAIN (PAG)
This is the amount of gain that a sound system can achieve at or just below the point of feedback.
POLAR PATTERNS (MIC DIRECTIONALITY)
A graph showing how the sensitivity of a microphone varies with the angle of the sound source, at a particular frequency. Examples of polar patterns are unidirectional (including cardioid, supercardioid, hypercardioid), bidirectional (figure eight) and omnidirectional.
PRE OR PREAMP
A microphone preamplifier simply boosts a weaker mic signal be- fore it goes into a console for mixing and recording. For reference, a typical mic level signal is a meager 2 millivolts, whereas pro audio ‘line level’ signals operate at 1.28 volts.
The increase in bass occurring with most unidirectional micro- phones when they are placed close to an instrument or vocalist (within 1 ft). Does not occur with omnidirectional microphones.
A gradual decrease in response below or above some specified frequency. This can be quite handy if you want to reduce bleed from the bass drum (use a mic with low roll-off) or your cymbals (use a mic with high roll-off).
SOUND PRESSURE LEVEL (SPL)
The acoustic intensity of a sound wave. Or how loud something is measured in decibels. It’s important to keep this in mind when matching gear to the various parts of the drum kit you’re miking. Generally speaking, dynamic mics can handle higher SPLs than other mics.
The most common form of microphone cable connector for pro audio. An XLR plug has three pins, ensuring the signal is balanced, which helps reduce unwanted noise when using longer cables.