Proper Mic Technique

I’ve been thinking about microphone position for years. I see singers and voice actors behind the mic and can’t help think to myself – who told them to talk directly into a microphone?

The Takeaway

In short, if you take nothing else from this, take this: Never talk INTO a microphone, always talk ACROSS a microphone.

The reason is plosives.

When you witness a recording session, especially in voice-over, and the talent is talking directly into a mic, there is a thin pop filter between the voice actor and the mic. It’s that disc between the talent and the mic, and it is designed to stop plosives from hitting the mic.

What’s a Plosive

Briefly, what is a plosive? Place the palm of your hand flat in front of your face and say out loud anything with “P” in it – “Peter Piper Picked A Pail of Pachyderms” or similar. With every “P” you said you should have felt an exhalation of air hit your palm. That puff of air is a plosive, and it will bottom out the pick-up element on a microphone. You won’t hear a plosive in normal conversation, but you will it in recorded conversations due to improper mic technique: the voice was talking INTO the mic.

How to Eliminate

So how to eliminate the plosive? For years, with limited success, it has been the pop filter. But with proper mic technique, the plosive sails right past the microphone, never to be heard in recordings.

How? Here’s the proper technique:

This may vary by mic, but (with your engineer’s permission) position the microphone to your cheek. Again, place your flat hand in front of your face. I use my left hand as I like the mic on my left. Hold your hand about an inch from your lips and place the pick-up end of the mic about an inch off your thumb (or closer, if you like). Just make sure the microphone is NOT in front of your mouth.

With the mic at your cheek, the exhalations from speaking will pass the microphone without striking it, yet the sound will be picked up. You’ll have a cleaner recording and fewer pops to remove in post.

For Field Recordings/TV Stand-up, etc.

OK, you may feel silly on TV with the mic at your cheek. No worries, you can still achieve a similar removal of plosives with your hand-held mic. Simply hold the microphone so the top (the pickup area) is about your chin level. This way, when you talk, the plosives pass over the top of the mic, not into it.

In summary: do NOT speak or sing directly into a microphone, speak or sing with the mic to the side or under your mouth so the plosives never hit the mic.

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