Over the last ten years, I have worked as a vocal coach, a voice-over artist, singer and a commercial actor. This blog is about microphone technique, and I will be giving you five tips that you can use to sound more professional, both at home and in the studio.
Here are those five things that you can start using TODAY to improve your mic technique:
Tip One — Microphone placement
Whether you are standing up or sitting down, you will want to make sure that your lips are in line with the centre of the microphone. Inside the microphone is a little circle which is called the diaphragm. You need to have your lips in line with the centre of that. That way, the microphone can pick up all of the sound, all of the articulation and resonance of your voice, at its clearest and best.
This sounds like a small detail, but it’s actually a significant one. If you set yourself up in the right position from the very beginning (i.e. your mic is in the right place), everything else will be better and a little bit easier, going forward.
Tip Two — Distance
The most common distance used by any voice actor using a microphone is called the ‘Conversational Distance’.
If you need to measure this, the best way to do it is to take your little finger and your thumb and open them up as if you are imitating a phone with your hand. Place your little finger where the mic is and your thumb where your mouth is. You will find that this distance is the most commonly used because it sounds conversational as if you are talking with a friend. And ultimately, when you are talking into the microphone, you are talking to a friend — the audience, the listener.
For the next position, take your hand and place it on the back of your neck, then bring your elbow to where the mic is. This distance is approximately twice the length of the one we just did (finger-to-thumb), but you’ll now sound like you’re four times as far away. It sounds more like you are at the other end of the table, or halfway across the room. This technique is often used in radio plays, or if someone is speaking louder, or perhaps needs to present something in a much more quirky, or salesman kind of way.
The last position to help measure the distance from the microphone is ‘Arms-length’, which is the equivalent of doing four of the first distance (finger-to-thumb), or two of the second distance (hand on neck-to-elbow). At arms-length, you sound like you are across the other side of the room, and it really allows you to increase your volume.
You may have heard sometimes, on the TV perhaps, a sultry voice, a sexy voice, or a narrative (e.g. nature programme, or ‘M&S’) voice. These are all spoken very closely to the mic, at a very low volume. This way, the mic picks up all the resonance and the deeper tones.
So if I turn to the mic, and speak into it quietly and low. It could be someone’s thoughts, it could be a description — but either way, it sounds incredibly personal and close.
Tip Three — Pips and Pops — be aware of the impact of your voice.
This is an essential one — the diaphragm that we talked about before is like a human eardrum. What you need to do is treat it as such.
When we talked about distances, we talked about how the distance you are away from the microphone is usually reflected in the sound it picks up (e.g. sounding further away, the further you move yourself). But I didn’t mention the physical impact that your voice has on the mic and how that affects the sound. Being a reasonable distance away from the mic protects you from creating any dreaded pops, or huffs, or sniffs, but being up-close can make that difficult.
Imagine that what you are talking to is human, ideally a human baby’s ear, (because they are very delicate and not fully formed, therefore have to be treated with a certain respect). Even though you are talking to a piece of equipment, it is still very sensitive and designed to be that way.
When you are very close to the mic, be more delicate and try to avoid being ‘plosive’, which is when you make ‘P’ noises etc. — which sounds terrible — and you wouldn’t want to damage the baby’s eardrum.
If you consider that when you are quite close, you must be very delicate and loving and caring, and even at the second distance you never want to be shouting. Also if you do need to raise your voice, you always need to turn your mouth to the side a little, so you are not blowing air right into the diaphragm, i.e. baby’s eardrum, where you might ‘pop’ it.
If you use this tip, you don’t need to worry about how loud to speak (or how low to talk); you just give the microphone the respect it deserves, stop thinking about your technique so much and just think about the person who is listening.
Tip Four — Positioning and placement.
This brings me to Tip Four, which is basically about looking at the microphone. If I look down at the ground or look away as I am addressing you in person or even on the camera, it doesn’t connect with you as much as when I actually look into your eyes, or in this case at the microphone. And it doesn’t sound as good unless I connect directly to the mic either. It may seem like a minute detail, but paying attention to your positioning can make a real difference to how engaging you sound to your audience, and it shows the difference between a professional voice artist and an amateur.
If you have to read off of texts — as you often will — it is nice to hold the text up and behind the microphone. Breathe in, and deliver the words directly to the microphone. It makes a world of difference.
Tip Five — Eyes and lips
If I were doing voice-over work and not looking into the microphone, it would not sound as good.
Where you place your eyes and mouth in relation to the mic makes a huge difference. You can try all sorts of ways to turn your head — upwards, downwards, to the side, far away — but speaking directly into the mic always sounds clearer and more engaged.
These are my tips for today; I hope they are helpful. Try putting them into practice. And remember, take care of your voice.