Mic performance tips from an engineer, Dave Kresl on how to get better in the studio.
So we have selected a microphone and set up a home studio, now what? Well get to cranking out auditions and recordings! One of the best outcomes from doing a lot of them is that your microphone technique gets more refined. What do I mean by that? Well, where you stand in relation to the microphone, how far away you are from it, the angle you speak at, and your volume while doing so all have a huge effect on your performance and the sound of it. Knowing how to use that information and in which situation will make you a better voice actor. Here are a few thoughts.
First, look at the script and read the specs. Does it call for a loud voice or soft? Is it an announcer or a person on the street. Is it intimate or sensual? The distance between your mouth (source) and the microphone will change the quality of the sound. The closer you get, the more sonorous, big, and bassy it will be. This is called Proximity Effect and the deeper your natural voice, the more it works. It is a phenomenon where there is an increase in bass when moving a mic closer to the source.
That is why the movie trailer announcers and DJ’s have so much rumble in their voice. Don LaFontaine, the OG of movie trailers (… In a world…), would almost eat the shotgun mic he was speaking into. He didn’t pop the P’s and other plosives because he would speak ACROSS the mic rather than straight into it and he wasn’t talking loudly. If your read calls for an intimate or sexy voice, then get up on that mic and speak softly. It’ll come through in the read. If the specs call for more announcery, then get closer, if it says not selly, then stay at your original 4-6” away mark.
If you have problems with plosives or fricatives, (popping P’s, T’s, B’s, C’s, etc…) they can be mitigated by the angle in which you speak into the microphone. So, if your nose and lips are pointing straight into the center of the mic, that means that you are ‘on axis’. You are speaking into the mic and the air and sound waves you produce go right into the capsule. P’s and T’s can sometimes overload it and lead to distortion. By turning your head 10-20 degrees to one side you will find that the plosives go away because the air from your mouth doesn’t hit the capsule of the microphone anymore.
With practice, you can do a read on axis and then turn your head at the offending words. It doesn’t change the sound much. This is also why we use pop filters, because they break up the sound waves. But make sure there is a little space between the pop filter and the microphone. One trick that we did at the studios before filters were commercially available was to tape a pencil down the center of the large diaphragm condenser mic. It kinda did the same thing.
Sibilance is the harsh sound produced by S’s, Z’s and other consonants. It is more prevalent in women or higher voices, but men can have it too. It almost sounds like a slight whistle or hissing and can be distracting. There are plugins called De-Essers to take care of this in a recording, but it is best to try to eliminate it at its source. The easiest way is to read the script with headphones on and move around the mic while talking to find the place that sibilance is reduced. Then, stay in that position while recording. It also helps to back away from the microphone slightly, since sibilance is very high frequency and is extremely directional. I have found sometimes placing the mic above the lips and nose and pointing downward helps. Every person is different and it is an experiment!
Another problem area is mouth noise. A drink of apple juice, swishing with water, a bite of apple before a take are all known remedies. Speaking a little further from the mic helps or change it to a dynamic rather than a condenser can reduce it as well. When you see someone walk into a session with a baggie full of apple slices, you’ll know why.
If you ever get the chance to watch a professional VO at work, you’ll see that they KNOW their positions for each type of character, or voice they do. Through trial and error and listening back to your recordings, you can find your spots as well!
Dave Kresl has worked as a recording engineer in the Chicago advertising community for over twenty years. Through the recording and mixing of thousands of spots for television radio and internet, he can help you with the process of preparing great sounding auditions!