I feel like I get this question on a daily basis. From podcasting to speaking, there’s no shortage of opinions on the internet about microphones. Should you go for what the pro streamers use? Can I get away with the $20 special on Amazon?
You must have the right/best microphone before you can start, right?
I’ll let you in on a secret. The big microphone companies won’t like this.
Your microphone choice doesn’t matter much.
Let me share a story with you. Once upon a time, I felt like I had to have a “broadcast” microphone before I could get started with podcasting and voice-over work. I invested in the Shure SM7B - a legendary mic, famously used to record Michael Jackson’s Thriller album.
I hooked it up to my sound card and did a few test takes.
It sounded… okay. Just okay. I decided to test it against my older Shure SM58 - a staple mic in live performances. To my ears, they sounded just about the same.
This is when I began to fiddle. I tried adjusting the equalizer settings. I added a compressor to my setup. I tweaked and fiddled with everything I could. But I couldn’t get this SM7B, a $500 mic, to sound better than my SM58, a $100 mic.
As I tweaked and fiddled, I could hear lots of room echo. The SM7B needs extra gear to be used properly. It needs a properly treated room to get the most out of it. It needs someone with Michael Jackson’s voice to get the most out of it.
It was overkill. I’m not Michael Jackson, and I’m not recording Thriller. I’m recording for online events, streams, and for YouTube videos.
Plus, there’s the issue of what happens after you hit record or go live on your stream. Audio in its raw form takes up a lot of bandwidth. In order to send audio over the internet, it’s compressed. Teams, Zoom, and any streaming program will compress your audio. This shaves off parts of the signal to make it smaller. Smaller = faster to send.
Have you ever noticed how people on the phone sound flat or fuzzy? That’s compression at work.
Once that audio enters your computer, is compressed by your program, and sent to the other end, it’s not over. If your recipient is on an iPhone or iPad (or similar device), that device will further tweak your audio. It does this to make you sound good over the teensy speakers in phones.
The result? A properly adjusted $50 microphone will sound just as good as a $500 microphone.
Don’t believe me?
Mike from Booth Junkie did a great video on using your smartphone mic for voiceovers.
Watch that video and listen to how good Mike sounds. If he can sound that good on a cheap-o smartphone mic, imagine what you can do with a $100 Shure SM58.
I eventually realized that my Shure SM7B was more of an ego boost than anything else.
I get told all the time that I have a great voice for radio. Part of it is because I practice. I podcast. I record voice-overs for our company videos. I record sponsor reads for our client’s virtual conferences. I’ve recorded voice-overs for explainer videos (Your Home Watch Professionals, CleanProof, and more).
Your clients, listeners, and attendees do not care what microphone you use.
You know what they do care about? Your message. If you sound good enough to listen to for 20, 30, or 60 minutes, that’s all you need.
The best way to improve your audio? Learn proper microphone technique, treat your room (maybe), and use a good enough mic.
We’ll cover room treatment another day.
The “Good Enough” guide to proper microphone technique
For proper technique, use these five rules.
- Get the microphone close to your mouth. Two to three fingers away is great.
- Don’t speak directly into the mic. Angle it away so you avoid breathing and mouth sounds.
- Sit up straight. That allows you to take deep breaths.
- Hydrate - drink some water. If you’re dehydrated or have dry mouth, people will hear it. It sounds nasty. Would you like it if someone made dry mouth noises in your ear?
- Close your office door and windows. Minimize room noise.
My rule of thumb - once you spend more than $50 on a mic, chances are it’s going to sound good enough for your listeners.
In a future post, we’ll cover what kind of microphone you should buy.
Take your virtual event production to the next level
Whether you’re a speaker at a virtual event, recording webinar content for yourself, or coaching your virtual event speakers, you need to sound like an expert. It’s part of the professional online speaker equation. With the right camera angle and clean, crisp audio, you’ll be positioned as a credible authority on your topic.
Our clients love that we work directly with their speakers to bring out their best, no matter their experience level. If your content looks and sounds good, you (and your speakers) will gain recognition as a credible authority on your topic. That will make the difference between attendees sticking around at your event and tuning out.