How to Use a Microphone Like a Voiceover Pro

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So, you’re an aspiring voice actor with dreams of being the next Mel Blanc. Before you can emulate the “man of 1,000 voices,” you have to understand one thing: how to handle your hardware. The microphone is the conduit through which emotion, character, and storytelling come to life. This guide will help you navigate the intricacies of the mic, the technical aspects of your recordings, and how to amplify the soulful dimensions of your voice.

Proper microphone setup

1. Choose the right space

The environment you record in is pivotal. Select a quiet space that’s free from background noise. Ideally, your space will not share walls with a noisier room, like a laundry closet or stairwell. Be mindful of ambient sounds like traffic, air conditioning, or electronic hums. “As a voiceover artist, the room in which you record is the most important factor to consider,” VO actor and producer Jamie Muffett says in our guide to setting up a home studio. “It is more critical than your mic, your interface, expensive preamps, your computer, and software. If your sound is compromised before it even gets to your microphone, no amount of expensive equipment is going to be able to make up for poor acoustics.”

2. Select the right mic

There’s an art to selecting the right mic that complements your voice, desired tone, and recording space. Generally, large diaphragm condenser microphones like the Neumann TLM 103 or the Rode NT1 work best for voiceovers. However, there might be instances where a Shotgun or Dynamic Microphone better suits a particular space or voice. To find the one that best suits your situation, experiment. Consider renting a mic from an audio store if possible.

3. Treat your space

Soundproofing: Minimize external noise as much as possible. This process could involve sealing gaps, adding weather stripping, or using specialized panels.

Acoustic treatment: Place acoustic panels strategically to control echoes, reverberations, and reflections. This will contribute significantly to the overall clarity of your recordings.

4. Check your hardware 

Power cables: Keep power and audio cables separate to avoid buzzing in recordings.

Phone interference: Distance mobile devices from the recording area to prevent interference.

Mic connection: Connect your microphone before turning on the power, and remember to turn off the power before disconnecting to prevent damage to the microphone.

5. Eradicate other noises

Touching or knocking the mic and/or stand: Be mindful of movements and avoid unnecessary contact with the microphone or its stand.

Clothes: Opt for noise-minimizing fabrics like soft cotton to avoid rustling sounds.

iPad, not paper: Choose electronic scripts controlled with a touch screen or touchpad to eliminate paper shuffling or mouse clicking.

6. Use a pop shield

Employing a pop shield (or pop filter) serves a dual purpose:

Reducing plosives: Pop filters minimize the impact of plosive sounds, which are popping noises often caused by hard consonants (such as p and b sounds) that can cause distortion in the recording.

Stopping saliva: Pop shields also protect the microphone’s diaphragm from saliva, ensuring consistent audio quality over time.

7. Place your mic properly 

Distance: Position the microphone between 6 and 12 inches away from your mouth. Alternatively, use the "hand spread" technique: extend your hand with your thumb on your chin and pinky on the pop shield.

Off-axis placement: Experiment with vertical height and horizontal angle to find the optimal placement for your voice. Microphones are sensitive to your positioning, so invest time in testing different setups to identify what works best. A 45-degree angle to the side, with the mic just above head height, is a good starting point. Tilt the front of the mic so that it points at your chin.

8. Set your levels 

Set levels by recording a section of your script with dynamics, where your voice lifts to the highest volume and drops to the lowest. For long projects like audiobooks, set up everything the same each day for consistency.

Adjust the gain on your mic or input volume on your computer to fit the guidance below:

  • Peak: Set peak levels to around -10dB (no higher than -6dB) to avoid distortion. This ensures clear and clip-free recording during louder moments.
  • RMS: The average loudness should range from -30dB to -20dB. But peak level is most important.

9. Care for your mic

Handle your microphone with utmost care to maintain its performance. Avoid dropping it or exposing it to extreme conditions. Regularly clean your microphone to remove dust or debris, storing or covering it as instructed in the user manual.

How to record with a microphone

Podcasters

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1. Reducing breaths

Practice good vocal technique to minimize breath sounds. If you’re struggling with loud breaths,

position the mic above rather than below.

2. Mouth noise

Be mindful of noises like clicks or pops often caused by mouth dryness. Start hydrating at least three hours before recording. If the disruptions are still audible, move slightly back from the mic and project a little more with your voice.

3. Plosives

Minimize plosive sounds using a pop shield and off-axis mic placement. Additionally, slightly turn your head away from the mic when encountering plosives. Ensure an even sound by listening back; this becomes easier with practice.

4. Proximity effect

Understanding and using the proximity effect—caused by moving closer to the mic—can add depth and warmth to your recordings. Experiment with different distances to find the right balance, especially when performing character voices.

5. Constant monitoring

Use over-ear headphones to monitor as you record. This will allow you to hear and address mishaps in your own recording, while also catching hard-to-notice external sounds like airplanes and traffic rumbles.

Why proper microphone use is important

Microphone with pop filter

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Mastering proper microphone technique is more than a technical skill—it’s the key to preserving the soul of your performance. Without it, even the most inspiring delivery may be muddled by technical glitches. Your audio could be too faint or distorted, and distracting elements like popping plosives or mouth noises might overshadow your voice. Using your mic correctly allows you to focus on what you do best—performing.

If you are at a studio

While many of the above techniques apply universally, the golden rule in a studio is to listen attentively. Resist the urge to touch the microphone during a session unless explicitly instructed.