Microphone Techniques: Staying On-Mic & Minding Your P & Bs (Part 1)

Twin PPM Meters

Continuing the subject of my last blog, namely attention to levels in podcasts, I have to confess that for someone who was, until recently, a “radio fan”, having no loyalty to a particular station since my listening to broadcast radio was wide and varied, Marconi’s brainchild is now no-longer my first choice for audio listening. As I outlined previously, podcasts offer an almost limitless scope of subjects, opinion (let’s call it that and not stray in to “fake news” territory) and “colour”.

Overall though, it must be said the production values of only a few can be said to be great, the ones that are clearly made by seasoned “radio people” stand out like a beacon: Well scripted, researched and structured and, in the aspect of audio production I hold dear, technically well produced too. Unfortunately, a great deal, whilst editorially well meaning, are marred by simple mistakes and poor technical execution.
So, I hope this blog will be a form of “workshop” that, should you both read this and be producer of Podcasts, will gain some benefit from.

 

The audio quality of large number of interviews, “two-headers” or simple monologue Podcasts I have encountered suffer from two easily fixable faults: Namely one or more of the speakers are sometimes “off-mic” and secondly (and creating a more difficult listen) “popping” of the microphone.


Staying “On mic”
I will let pass the sometimes poor acoustic of the recording venue, the nature of immediacy of some podcasts mean there is no time to find a less acoustically live space to recording in, but what gets me, because it’s a easy to get right, are the times where speakers are so far away from the microphone that what they say is lost – it’s just too “roomy” to make what they say distinct. By their very nature Podcasts will be listened to in less than ideal environments and, unlike music, speech demands our attention, so thus requires greater recorded clarity.

In most cases the cause of being off-mic is the use of a single, shared, microphone that has a pick-up pattern that is not really suited to the current application. In a 1-plus-1 interview this will inevitably mean there is some “microphone waving” as a question is posed and the mic moved over for the answer, or simply, if the interview is a long one, the interviewers arm starts to ache through holding the mic for so long!

There is, unfortunately, no one fix to over-come this off-mic issue: The solutions will depend upon the application. But here are a two tips to help:

  • Get a mic stand. The simplest and easiest issue to solve. That aching arm will go away and ensure the mic is consistently in a better location to the speaker. If you are using an all-in-one recorder with built-in mics (which I personally do not recommend, but that’s another story) then get a stand for it too.
  • Get two mics. Obvious when you think about it, but a long, 1-plus-1, interview will demand this. Especially if you want consistent audio quality right the way through and some feeling left in your limbs. Plugging a microphone into the left and right tracks of a stereo recorder will mean each voice will be recorded on a separate track and you can mix it later. Again, if you have the all-in-one recorder solution, try turning the mics (many recorders will allow this) so each one aims at the mouth of a speaker.


More soon, where we will cover how to avoid P, P, P, Popping the mic.

Iain Betson