Microphone speaking techniques are at the center of high-quality audio recordings. They are what separates a novice from a veteran in the world of voice acting, YouTubing, and even live streaming on Twitch. In fact, with the rise in popularity of live streaming, there is an absolute surge of individuals who do not understand proper microphone use. So I’ve done a fair bit of research from the likes of Booth Junkie, Podcastage, Rode, Shure, and many other sources to find some easy speaking techniques to bring to your attention.
Even if you already have solid audio, you may find one of these techniques to be handy. Before I get into the techniques in detail though, I’d like to explain the issues that novice users of microphones tend to encounter. It is these issues that you will eliminate, or at the very least, dramatically reduce the effect of, utilizing these techniques. As a result, they will improve how you sound when speaking into a microphone.
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Common issues that affect novice users of microphones
There are Three very common issues that plague new users of microphones:
And yes, there are many others, but these tend to be the most rampant. If these issues affect you, don’t feel too bad; I’ve even seen some of these issues on Live TV, on a professional broadcast going out to millions of viewers.
What is “Peaking”?
Think of peaking like filling a balloon up so much that it bursts. If you speak too loudly or make certain sounds (more on that in a minute), those pressure waves tend to be very powerful. When they reach a microphone’s diaphragm, it will be forced into its maximum deformation, and be unable to capture the full detail because it simply cannot deform any more to do so. This is Peaking on a hardware level.
There is one other form of peaking, which has to do with the software used to decode an audio signal. If you attempt to boost a digital audio signal past the “0 dB” threshold, you will reach software peaking. This may be slightly confusing, particularly if you knew about decibel charts, but in digital audio, 0dB represents the maximum possible volume of a device.
What are “Plosives”?
Plosives are the preposterously loud and disproportionate pieces of a sentence that prioritizes the P sound. If you were to say that sentence directly into an untreated microphone, you’ll likely overwhelm the diaphragm.
This happens because the letter P expels a rush of air when we make that sound. As that air impacts the diaphragm of a microphone, it can cause it to “bottom out”, or peak. Suffice it to say that there is nothing you can do with a signal that has peaked at a hardware level. The information is permanently lost, even if you lower the volume in post-production.
Microphone users have been trying to combat this issue for decades, inventing things like “Pop Filters” and “Windscreens” that help to slow the air down before it reaches the diaphragm. While these devices do, in fact, help to reduce the effect, they shouldn’t even be necessary. All that is really needed is a proper microphone speaking technique.
Still, it is easily the most common mistake I see untrained individuals make.
And yes, I’m aware that windscreens aren’t really designed with plosives in mind, but they do work to reduce their intensity slightly. Still, none of these products act as a perfect substitute for the first of the microphone speaking techniques covered here.
Microphone Speaking Technique #1 – Off-Axis Rejection
Off-axis rejection is a neat little trick that voice actors utilize to counter “Plosives”. This technique has to do with microphone placement, and how you talk into it. Or rather…over it. See, the key to this trick is to physically move the position of the microphone out of the direct path of the sound pressure wave, and point the sensitive side at your mouth instead.
Off-axis rejection is a neat little trick that voice actors utilize to counter “Plosives”. This technique has to do with microphone placement, and how you talk into it. Or rather…over it.
The result? That high-pressure wave from your P’s don’t hit the microphone diaphragm head-on; Most of the force never even makes contact.
There are several benefits to this technique, as well as some drawbacks.
|BenefitsDrawbacksNo need to buy Pop Filter hardwareChanges the tone slightlyThe microphone isn’t blocking your face from the cameraSmaller area that you can speak inAlso reduces the harshness of the “Sss” sound.|
If you’d like a visual representation of what this technique should look like in practice, check this video out by “Sound Speeds”. Incidentally, it is also a GREAT example of what plosives are.
For some clarification, the reduction in the speakable area of the microphone has to do with the sensitive side being at an angle. The good area ends up going above you if you back up too far. But then, you want to be pretty close to the microphone anyways…
Microphone Technique #2 – Keep it close for Proximity Effect
Positioning is once again in the line of fire, specifically having to do with the distance of the microphone to your mouth.
This is an issue I mainly see in live streaming channels. See, there are a great many live streamers who see a microphone as, unsightly, that it ruins the immersion. So they do everything they can to hide it. Most will opt to simply… keep the microphone two or even three feet away. To compensate, they turn up the gain, or volume so they are still audible.
That’s where the room’s voice begins to take precedence. Well, metaphorically speaking anyway. Increasing the gain amplifies everything that the microphone picks up. This results in a lot of audible reverb in the signal and it just sounds very, unrefined…
Well, I’ll tell you now, if you want to sound good, this is an example of what not to do. The correct answer is to get the proper kind of microphone for your situation. Don’t want to have a visible microphone? Get a Lavalier. Not willing to buy something new? I get it. Move it closer. You have to do one or the other if you want to solve this issue.
Just remember to adjust the gain on your microphone to a lower setting when moving it closer so you don’t peak it. Finally, try not to have it so close that your lips make contact with the mic. The ideal range is 1-4 inches or 2.4-10.16 centimeters away for the rest of the world. At this distance, something called the “Proximity effect” starts to kick into gear. If you don’t like that effect, move the mic closer to 4 inches away vs 1.
Speaking Technique #3 – Mouth-Breathing (Yes, Actually.)
Believe it or not, when speaking into a microphone, you don’t want to breathe through your nose. There are a few reasons for this, but the main one is that it creates harsh noises that the microphone easily picks up. The effect is further amplified if you don’t happen to have completely clear nasal passages, which can add high pitch whistles into the mix as air is compressed and forced out at a greater velocity. It isn’t a glamorous subject, to be sure, but one that you will have to consider if your goal is to sound better.
Believe it or not, when speaking into a microphone, you don’t want to breathe through your nose.
In contrast, when breathing through your mouth, you are able to greatly increase its diameter when inhaling air, resulting in a less audible, and less harsh sound overall. Of course, this technique comes with a pretty obvious flaw.
- Your mouth will dry out.
It is for this reason that you should always have a glass of water nearby to re-moisturize your mouth. The point isn’t to chug it down, but just sip it to keep your vocal tools in good working order. Besides, if you are live streaming or recording for two-plus hours, you’re going to need to keep hydrated anyways.
Just remember, this is to be used mainly for when you are speaking into a microphone. You should still breathe through your nose normally when not near the microphone.
Bonus – Vocal Exercises
Here’s a quick bonus video for those looking to train themselves on how to improve your ability to speak. While not exactly a microphone speaking technique, it is important for anyone whose job is to talk.
Vocal Exercises isn’t something only for actors and singers. They are an essential step to take if you want to preserve your vocal cords before you begin live streaming something like a 3+ hour live stream. Just a heads up, this video may seem silly, but they work. If your goal is to sound better, what better place to start than at the source – Your own voice.