Have you ever wondered how pro podcasters achieve that slick, polished sound? In this blog, we’ll show you how to capture a rich, full vocal sound using a combination of good microphone technique, helpful accessories and a little post-production magic. Read on to learn how to capture professional-sounding vocals for your podcast.
Need a quick primer before diving in? Check out our podcasting home page for everything you need to start your podcast.
Podcast Recording Tips
Yeti X professional USB microphone for podcasting.
When you set out to record your voice for a podcast, remember that great sound starts at the source. That’s why it’s crucial to use a quality microphone and proper settings.
Mic Placement And Settings
If you’re only recording yourself, be sure to use a microphone with a cardioid pickup pattern to capture your voice with as little room sound as possible. When recording multiple people, it’s preferable to use one mic for each speaker. A single mic in bidirectional mode can also work well for one-on-one interviews. For more info, check out our blog on polar patterns.
Place the microphone about six inches away from your mouth for a clear, direct sound. You can get a little closer to the mic for a slight bass boost, but don’t get too close or you’ll begin to sound “boomy.” To avoid harsh, excessive “S” sounds known as sibilance, angle your microphone away from your mouth so that it’s slightly off-axis.
Now it’s time to calibrate your microphone for the ideal recording level. Start speaking at a normal volume, then slowly adjust the gain on your microphone or preamp. In your recording software, you should see a strong signal that takes up most of the meter but never peaks into the red.
If your microphone has a high-pass filter, like Spark SL, now would be the time to use it. High-pass filters remove the lowest frequencies from the signal, filtering out unneeded content below the range of your voice for a cleaner, more focused sound.
Accessorize For Success
With your microphone set up and dialed in just right, you should notice your voice sounding better already. However, a few simple accessories can go a long way towards improving your sound quality.
One of the easiest and best upgrades you can get is a microphone pop filter. As its name implies, this handy device sits in front of your mic to “filter” out popping noises created by “P” and “B” sounds. See for yourself—hold your hand in front of your mouth and say, “Please bring pizza pronto.” If you can feel a small puff of air with each word, you need a pop filter.
Another simple tool that can do wonders for your sound is a microphone shock mount like Radius III. Similar to the suspension system on a car, a shock mount isolates your microphone from vibrations by suspending it in a shock-absorbing cradle. If you accidentally bump your mic stand or kick your desk, the impact is absorbed by the shock mount instead of being picked up by the mic.
Finally, if you really want to take your podcast setup to true broadcast studio level, consider adding a microphone boom arm. Boom arms like Compass attach to your desk and feature a hinged, swiveling design that makes it easy to position your mic for the best possible sound and easily move it out of the way when you’re not recording.
Podcast Mixing Tips
Descript—an innovative text-based audio and video workstation that allows podcasters to edit their shows with the ease of a word document.
If you followed the steps above, your recording should be well on the way to pro-level sound. But additional processing in the editing phase can help improve your sound even further.
Equalization, compression and de-essing are three useful tools that can go a long way toward a great podcast vocal sound. Here’s how to improve your vocal recordings using plug-ins available in any audio editing software.
An equalizer, or EQ, is one of the most useful tools for enhancing audio. An equalizer is used to increase or decrease specific frequencies in a sound to precisely sculpt the tone. However, when used improperly or excessively, EQ can make your recordings sound unnatural, over-hyped or just plain bad. EQ should be used sparingly to maintain a natural sound.
Most EQ plugins display a graphical representation of the frequency spectrum from 20 Hz to 20 kHz, allowing you to cut or boost in specific ranges. To eliminate any problematic low-frequency rumble, use a high-pass filter set around 80-100 Hz. If your voice could use some extra “body,” add a slight boost around 100-300 Hz for a thicker sound.
If your voice sounds harsh or overly nasal, find the offending frequency between 1-2 kHz and use a narrow EQ cut to soften it. For extra “crispness” and increased intelligibility, a gentle boost in the 2-6 kHz range can bring extra definition to your voice.
It’s best to keep the highest frequencies flat to avoid creating harshness, although a slight boost can add some “air” to your voice, and a gentle roll-off can reduce any leftover noise.
Even the most well recorded podcast vocal usually needs a bit of compression to even out the loudest and quietest parts. Essentially, a compressor makes the loudest parts of a sound quieter and boosts the entire signal so that the quiet parts are louder, “compressing” the dynamic range of the signal. Most compressors feature the same four basic controls: threshold, compression ratio, attack time and release time.
The threshold determines how loud the signal must be to engage the compressor. Depending on how much compression you want, you can set the threshold to trigger on every word or just the loudest parts. The compression ratio determines how severely the signal is reduced when it crosses the threshold. Set this between 2:1 and 3:1 for a gentle compression effect.
The attack and release times determine how fast the compressor takes affect when the threshold is crossed, and how slowly it stops afterward. An attack time of 15-30 milliseconds will ensure a clean start, and a release time of 50-100 milliseconds will give it a smooth finish.
If you’re hearing momentary sibilance or harshness in the high frequencies—specifically on “S” and “TH” syllables—don’t try to fix it with an equalizer. You may remove the harshness, but it can cause your voice to sound strange and muffled.
Instead, try using a de-esser or dynamic EQ to selectively fix the most sibilant words. A de-esser is a special type of compressor that only engages when it detects excessive level at certain frequencies. De-essers typically target between 5-10 kHz, which is the range where sibilance occurs most frequently.
First, identify the frequency where the sibilance sounds the worst. If you need some help, try using an EQ with a frequency analyzer for some visual cues. Then, set your de-esser to target that frequency. From there, use the threshold, ratio, attack and release controls to smooth out the effect.
Alternatively, you can achieve a slightly more transparent de-essing effect with a dynamic equalizer plugin. A dynamic EQ is like a “smart” de-esser that performs a momentary EQ cut when it detects sibilance, instead of compressing the entire signal. TDR Nova is a free dynamic equalizer plugin that is easy to use and works in most recording software for PC and Mac.
Use these tools and techniques on your next podcast recording and you’ll be well on your way to professional sounding productions. To learn more about podcasting, check out our blog on How to Start a Podcast.