tips for speaking into a microphone
Speaking into a microphone is such a common practice that you’ve probably already done it once today. We’re surrounded by microphones, from the ones we carry around in our cell phones to the ones we shout at when trying to make a bank deposit or order fast food at the drive-thru. We’re so exposed to these devices that you’d think we’d all be experts with them by now.
When you’re recording your own voice, however, for the purposes of creating some sort of digital media for example, there are some general practices you can keep in mind that will greatly influence the quality of your final product.
Use a slightly exaggerated inflection when speaking. You don’t need to sound like you’re selling a used car or announcing a tractor pull, but generally you want to record yourself speaking with a little more variation in your tone than you might use conversationally. Remember that the listener hearing you will not have the benefit of seeing your body language or eyes. Subtle variation in tone is also less tedious to listen to (this is why Ben Stein is funny in a comedic context, but in real life you’d fall asleep in his classroom).
Don’t bully the mike! If you’re inexperienced with microphones, just presume that it’s more sensitive than you think it is. Far more often than not, people raise their voice when speaking into a microphone as if they’re addressing someone sitting far away from them. Unless you’re at a live event with a great deal of background noise, this is almost never necessary (and actually may result in clipping your voice resulting in a poorer recording).
Don’t swallow it either. Unless you’re doing prop comedy, try to resist the urge to get too personal with the microphone. If it’s in your hand or on a stand, you need only speak normally while facing it, think of it like a person and keep a typical conversational distance (and try to keep that distance consistent without moving too much). If you have a small microphone mounted on a headset or pinned to your chest, don’t try to contort your head to speak “into” it. Just speak at the air in front of you as you normally would if you were addressing a person.
Know your levels. No matter what sort of recording software or hardware you’re using, chances are somewhere there is a “VU meter” which displays the level at which sound is being received by the microphone. Before you start recording, speak at your intended pace and volume into the microphone and watch this meter. Adjust the “recording level” or “gain” control to the point where your speaking voice is peaking near, but never actually reaching, the top of the range.
Be a good listener, too. The number one reason speaking into a microphone can feel alien to us is that we are used to hearing our own voice. In a large space, or in a small soundproofed space, we lack feedback and tend to wander in tone and volume (usually erring on the side of loud and bizarre). If you have a headset handy, plug into your computer or recorder and place it over one ear (like you see in the music videos). This allows your brain to both hear the natural sound around you, but also to “monitor” what’s being recorded. Make sure you enable “monitor” on your hardware or software if you don’t hear anything in the headset.