Unless you’re a black metal fan, no one likes poor sounding audio. And the quickest way to achieve sub-par audio is to disregard basic recording knowledge and methods. The best studio equipment and software money can buy won’t save a track being recorded improperly. Conversely, using great technique can allow a $20 mic to capture viable, quality audio.
Pop filters and mic covers (windscreens)
These items are similar but intend to block different things. Pop filters aim to mitigate harsh, popping plosives like P and B sounds. For example, put your hand 4 inches from your face and say “popping plosives” out loud. Notice how much air shoots at your hand as you say the P sounds? That rush of air would be picked up by your mic and will leave an unappealing result during playback. Wind screens block more of the consistent air like breathing, sighing, or like the name suggests, wind. They also dampen some of the higher frequencies due to covering the entire microphone. Most dynamic mics come with a windscreen built in under the protective wire mesh.
Can you use both?
Of course! I personally suggest it, especially if you purchase a mic that comes with both. Get to know your equipment and do some testing yourself.
Don’t want to bother at all?
While I don’t advise anyone to completely leave them out without testing, there are still other techniques to mitigate plosives and unwanted sounds. A pop filter can easily be made with pantyhose and a wire hanger. It may be a little unorthodox, but it can serve as an adequate pop filter. If even that’s too much and you’re using a condenser mic, aim it at a 45 degree angle down and talk in to the top of it.
Studio foam and acoustics of your room or area
Studio foam and acoustic treatment is highly recommended if you plan to podcast in the same room frequently. It must be understood that studio foam does NOT block sound. It is NOT noise canceling. Studio foam dampens sound. Meaning sound does not reflect, bounce, build up, or drop out as it would with bare walls. The aim is to record clear sound only from the source by removing excessive reverb in the room.
Do my entire walls have to be covered?
Absolutely not. More treatment is not always better. Intentional, quality placement reigns supreme over quantity.
Does it have to be top of the line?
While it may be true that ‘you get what you pay for’ when it comes to some room treatment options, moving blankets have been proven to provide great sound dampening in spaces. And even thinner and cheaper studio foam will help far more than leaving walls bare, especially when installed correctly.
Get closer to the mic
This tip does not apply to everyone and it should also be said closer is not always better. But there are those who wonder why their microphone is picking up so much extra noise when they’re 3 feet or more from the mic. Best practice is to be around 4-10 inches away when recording. If you are becoming animated or you know you will begin speaking louder, back away a little bit and slowly return as you move to a normal volume. This technique takes time and experience to master but can improve recordings immensely.
Check your levels
There is no need to amp up the input when recording. It’s much easier to bring out and thicken up quieter, well recorded audio than it is to recover peaking, distorted audio. Minimize background noise and turn that input gain down. Look for your average speaking to sit -15db to -18dB. Peaks should range between -10dB to -5dB. If you creep up above the -5dB level, it puts you at risk of recording unsalvageable audio.
Practice and learn your equipment...and yourself!
Learn when to back off the mic and learn when to lean in. Learn how your laugh sounds. Cough into the mic. Cough into your hand away from the mic. Can you hear your breathing? Learn how talking just above the mic sounds. Talk to your left. Yell from 3 feet back. Say “Paper pepper analysis systems kicking cakes,” without a pop filter. Then with a filter. Then with a windscreen. Experiment as much as you can and get comfortable with your equipment.