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Setting up your mic

Now you’ve got your gear and you’ve picked out a blog post to read, let’s get to work and record it. To do that, you’ll need to install some software.

Before you hit Record

You’re going to be reading text from a screen – unless you plan to print your blog post – so find one that will be easy to read from at a comfortable distance. If you’re using a phone, get a kickstand so you don’t have to hold the device at arm’s length.

Make sure your post is formatted in a way that’s easily readable for you. That might mean making the text bigger (in lots of apps you can hold down the Cmd or Ctrl keys and hit the + and - keys to increase and decrease font sizes, and 0 to reset). The less strain on your eyes, the more comfortable you’ll be, especially if you want to try and knock out a few recordings in one session, which is a good time-saving technique.

Carve out some time when you won’t be disturbed. If recording at home or a shared space, make sure you’re the only person in the room, and consider hanging something on the outside door knob as a signal to others that you’re recording.

Addressing the mic

Microphones mostly pick up what’s directly in front of them, and the closer you are, the warmer and richer the sound, because there’s less space for sound waves to bounce around, creating reverb.

The microphone grill is the bit you speak into. If the grill is shaped like half a tennis ball, you need to speak into the middle of the roundest part of the ball. If your mic’s grill is long and flat – even if the top is round – usually you should speak into the long flat part, not the top. If it has a piece of mesh attached, that’s your in-built pop filter, and you should speak into that. If you’re not sure which side to speak into, look for the logo. If in doubt, or your scenario isn’t covered here, check YouTube reviews for the mic you’ve bought, or have a look at the packaging or manual.

Rest a fist on the bit of the mic you should speak into, then bring your mouth in for a kiss. That’s about the distance you should aim for. If you’re about to shout or otherwise do something loud on mic, move further back, then remember to come back in close.

You should have a pop filter with your mic, either an integrated one, or one that you fit manually. Make sure to fit the pop filter so your P sounds don’t pop.

Plugging in headphones and checking your sound

Some USB mics have a headphone socket, which you can use to hear your own voice. If your voice sounds too quiet, first check the Headphone Volume knob and turn it to about 9 o’clock. If your mic doesn’t have a headphone jack, it will be trickier to monitor your voice while you’re recording, so the simplest thing to do is make some sample recordings and listen back (we’ll get to that later). If you know how to, you can plug headphones into your computer or tablet and monitor the recording from there, but that’s a little too fiddly for this course.

If you change the volume in your headphones – even using the Volume knob on your USB mic – this will have no effect on your recording. In order to do that, we need to set our input gain.

Gain, signal, and noise

If you imagine an adult with healthy hearing, we might say their input gain is at 0dB. If they fit a hearing aid, we can boost the amount they can hear by a given number of decibels, by making the in-ear microphone of the hearing aid more powerful. It’s different from volume because it’s affecting the sensitivity of the hearing aid itself. That’s input gain in a nutshell.

Unlike volume, input gain is set at the time of recording, so if it’s too high and the audio sounds distorted, you can’t really do anything about it after the fact. You can increase the volume of a recording later, but that can add extra unwanted noise.

For our purposes, “noise” is specifically any sound that is not your voice. In technical terms, anything the mic picks up from its diaphragm is called signal, and anything else – like mechanical or digital interference – is noise. But we also use “noise” to refer to things like car sirens, computer fans, traffic outside our window, or anything else the mic is picking up that we don’t want in our recording.

If your input gain is too low, your whole recording will be quiet, so when we boost the volume later, we’ll also boost the digital noise that is the byproduct of recording on a computer. Setting the input gain higher and avoiding any sudden noises will mean we capture more of your voice (the signal), and less noise.

The USB mics mentioned in the previous lesson don’t have input gain controls – that’s all set in your recording software, so we’ll get to that later (it’s easy). If your mic is plugged in to a mixer or a USB audio interface via XLR – a large three-pinned plug – you’ll have options to set the gain within your mixer or interface.

We’ll go over how to set your gain and get you recording some audio in the next lesson.

Key points

  • Find somewhere quiet to record.
  • Hang a sign on the door so people know you’re recording.
  • Check the manual or do a YouTube search if you’re not sure which end of your mic to speak into.
  • Put about a fist’s distance between you and the mic.
  • Use a pop filter.
  • Gain is the sensitivity of your recording equipment. The higher the gain, the more sound the mic will pick up.
  • Volume is the loudness of the sound in your headphones.
  • Check your headphones volume before making any adjustments to your mic’s gain.

Homework

Complete this lesson