Microphone Techniques: Staying On-Mic & Minding Your P & Bs (Part 2)

Twin PPM Meters

In part 1 of this two-part blog we covered one of the two easy-made errors in recording interviews: namely “staying on mic” i.e. those speaking should stay a consistent distance (unless it’s for artistic reasons) from the microphone, in order to go some way to making a quality recording.

The second “sin” we shall be the subject of this blog: “Popping the microphone. It’s an easy thing to do, especially for those inexperienced in using a microphone, but at the same time, easy not to do.

 

Watch you P’s & B’s

“Popping” the microphone. This is the action of wind-heavy words starting with P and B that will cause the active element of the mic to be forced back in its mount, until it hits the microphone body, causing a load thump on the recording. To add insult to this recording injury is that, on many podcasts, I have detected the use of the AGC (Automatic Gain Control) being used on the recorder.

Whilst on the face of it, it may seem sensible to switch the AGC in and let the recorder look after the audio levels, there has no “brain” behind it’s microphone. The blast effect of a popped mic is interpreted by the recorder as just a loud sound, thus it’s reaction to this is to rapidly drop the recording levels and then, once the blast had happened, return the levels smoothly, and some-what slowly, to where they originally were.

This has the effect on the recording of the initial pop obliterating the P or B word the speaker was saying and then for about two seconds afterwards hearing their voice level creep back up again.

It’s almost like they said “Boo!” into the mic, took three steps back, continued speaking and then walked slowly back to the microphone:

In essence, they are off-mic again.

Keep Your Distance

Overcoming microphone popping is fairly easy to do:

Hold the microphone at a constant distance and angle from your mouth (or your subject's mouth). Around 15-20cm from the mouth should be fine. I quick tip is to spread your hand and the distance across between the tips of your thumb and little finger is about the right distance for the microphone to be away from your mouth. Any more than this, and not only will the voice become weak, but other noises will become more prominent. (Note that musicians have a special set of rules for mic distance. Most vocalists hold their mics fairly close to their mouths, but the use of a microphone for vocals is out of scope of this blog.)

If a speaker is prone to doing popping, move the microphone away from them and slightly to one side of their mouth, so the air from their mouth is not blasting directly into the microphone.

In your own case, it’s easy to get rid of popping - learn not to do it!

Finally, turn that AGC off and set the levels manually at the recoding start and leave as is.

 

After writing this it occurred to me that perhaps I should literally put my production skills where my mouth is and produce a Podcast to show these issues and how to correct them.

Now there’s a thought…..

Iain Betson