Today we’re talking about recording environments.

The space in which you record makes a big difference to the quality of your Podcasts. Background noise and echo are just two of the many factors that come into play. Listen to the podcast, or read the transcription below for the full story.

And if you have any questions, please pop them in the comments below – enjoy!

Podcast Transcription

Hey folks, and welcome to another ‘How to Podcast’ episode. Today we’re gonna be looking at how to record. This includes stuff like how to set up a recording environment. So, how to put your microphone together, where to put it, what equipment goes with the microphone. We’re also gonna look at the environment. This has a huge effect on the quality of recordings. So, let’s get started.

In this episode, we’re gonna look at the recording environment. So, this means setting up your equipment in the best way possible, and making sure your environment and your presenters are set up so that it can create the highest possible audio quality for your recordings.

So, let’s look at the equipment first. We’re gonna look at the types of mics you can use in the future, along with the other kit that can go along with your microphones. But, for any microphone, you want to set it up so that it’s placed in front of you and your mouth is placed as close as possible to the microphone without being right on it.

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Currently, my mouth is about four inches from this microphone, and that’s a pretty good distance, in terms of audio quality. If you think about it this way, you’ve got lots of background noises going on in the background, stuff like computers, you’ve got lights buzzing, all that type of stuff, but, that’s all quite far away from the microphone. So, you want your voice to be as loud as possible, relative to those things. And, to do that, you want to get your mouth right up against the microphone, so that your voice is very loud, compared to that background noise.

Now, four inches is pretty good. Any closer than that, and you might start to overload it too much. And, any farther away, and your voice starts to sort of be overtaken by the background noise. The reason for this is that, when you amplify your voice, when you bring it up to the volume that you probably want on your final recording, you’re also amplifying the background noise. So, if you make the voice as loud as possible, then you don’t have to amplify as much, and that gets a good quality on your final recording.

So, the other disadvantage, though, of being so close to the mic, is that you can introduce plosive sounds quite commonly. Now, a ‘plosive’ is the sound that’s introduced by using the letters B, P, T, any letter, basically, that causes you to expel air from your mouth quite rapidly. So, it’s basically like spitting air from your mouth quite quickly. And, when that air is spat from your mouth, it comes out quite quick and it impacts the microphone. And, that’s when it introduces the ‘pop’ sound. So, the air hitting the microphone introduces a kind of a small bang, and that is recorded and sounds really bad if it’s littered all the way through your recordings.

So, there’s two ways to get around this. The first and the most simple way is actually just to shift your microphone a little. So, move it off to the side just slightly, a couple of inches off the line of your speech. So, it could be like 45 degrees, and about four inches away. And, as you speak, if it’s off to the side, then the air you expel from your mouth will actually just go past the microphone, as opposed to impacting the microphone. And, that gets rid of those plosive sounds. Now, it does mean that your microphone is only picking up the kind of, the side sound from your mouth. But, as long as you’re close enough, it’s not too bad. But, it’s not quite perfect, in terms of audio quality. So, it can be better to go for the second option. And, that second option is to use a pop filter.

Now, a pop filter is essentially just a piece of fabric stretched across a small frame. And then, you put that fabric in front of the microphone, so it acts as a barrier between your mouth and the microphone. So then, when you utter a plosive, when you say a B or a P, then the air that’s spat from your mouth when you say that, it impacts with the fabric, as opposed to the microphone. The fabric protects the microphone from that air. The sound gets through, no problem, but the air doesn’t, and that stops the pops from getting through.

Now, pop filters can get be got from really cheap, on Amazon or elsewhere, or you can even make them yourself, just by using a coat hanger and a pair or tights. So, it’s quite simple, quite cheap, and it’s one of the best additions you can make to your recording setup.

Alternatives, of course, are things like a little foam protector for your microphone. You see them quite a lot on mics. You get a foam sort of dome protector, and they act as a pop filter, to some degree. You also get big, fluffy ones, as well, for outdoor recording. So, get yourself one of them and you’ll see the plosive sounds just disappear.

So, once you’ve got your mic set up, the next thing to think about are your surroundings. Now, this is one of the biggest factors in a good quality recording.

If you think of a recording studio, you might not ever have seen one but, just to describe a recording studio, it’s a really strange environment when you first go into one. You sit down and you’re surrounded by sort of carpet-
covered walls, covered in felt or other type of soundproofing. The room generally tends to be completely soundproof, so you won’t be able to hear anything from outside the room, and you can even get them that are suspended slightly on springs, so that vibrations from outside of the room don’t even make their way inside.

If you speak inside a recording studio, you won’t hear any echo, because all of the echoing surfaces tend to be covered up. So, you don’t get echo, you don’t get any sort of echoes from outside. And, it just sounds really strange, because you’re not used to being in an environment so quiet. Even if you think you’re in a quiet environment, if you’re in your front room relaxing, there’s no sounds going, there’s always something, there’s always kind of hiss or a bang or a something from back, sort of the background, that you don’t even notice. So, recording studios are just a, they’re quite strange when you first go in there.

Now, you can try and replicate this, as best you can, in your own recording environment. Ways to do that are to find rooms that are well-carpeted, that have soft walls. So, if you have walls that are wallpapered, then that’s better than walls that are just plaster. Wood can be quite, a little bit reflective, but if it’s soft wood, it can be quite good, as well.

If you wanted to create your own recording studio, get some off-cut carpet and put that on the walls. Or, you can get curtains. So, if you get really heavy curtains and hang them around the walls, that can be really good for stopping reflection, as well.

So, that’s the sort of setup of the environment. But, then, you can do all you can to cut down on reflection, echo and outside noise, but then if there’s noise on the inside, then that kind of ruins it anyway.

So, big causes of that are things like computers. So, if you’ve got a PC, a desktop running in the background, then the fan from that desktop, or just the sort of electrical noises from that desktop, can be really loud to a sensitive microphone, so you can hear that fan quite heavily. Desktop computers are worse, but laptop computers can still cause a bit of noise, as well. So, if you’re recording on a laptop, try and keep the mic a little bit away from the laptop, at least.

Lights are other big culprits, so if you have large halogen lights on the roof, they can cause quite a big buzz, and that can get right into the microphone and cause quite a nasty hum.

If you can’t find a room that is sort of protected from echoes, then the next best thing is to find quite a large room and sit in a corner, but face outwards, so you’re not facing the wall. This is because if you’re facing the wall, obviously, you’re gonna be talking at the wall, echoes are gonna be coming back, hitting the microphone, and it’s gonna sound a little bit tinny. But, if you’re facing outwards, then no echoes’ll come back, and it’ll almost sound a little bit recording-studio-like, if you’ve got a nice, big space in front of you. So, that’s the best kind of setup you can find.

Basically, what you’re looking for is as quiet as possible, and just make sure that you don’t have sort of windows open, trucks rushing by, the classic lorry reversing up to the side of the building, with the beeps going in the background. I’ve also had many a recording ruined by a seagull as it flies by the window, screeching as it goes.

So, the next thing to think about, after the environment, are the presenters. You can do as much as you can to reduce your background noise, your outside noise, but if the the people you’re working with, the presenters or the interviewees, start making a racket, then it’s not really gonna help.

Sort of people noise is often sort of, it’s often done without thinking about it. There’s things like jangling of keys, or clicking a pen, or scratching your chin. That stuff that you never really notice when you’re with the person, in person. It’s only when it’s picked up by the microphone and it’s played back to you through your speakers, or through a pair a set a of headphones that it becomes really obvious.

So, you need to be really aware of what people are doing. You want them to sit as still as possible. You want to sit in the same position, talking into the mic at the same distance the whole time and not to be playing with anything. Hopefully, get them to just clasp their hands in front of them and keep them there, or put their hands on the table and not move them. You don’t want them rubbing their nose, scratching their chin, anything like that. All of that is really picked up by the microphones.

Another things is, if you’re touching the mics, or if you’re having to hold the mic for an interview, then that can be a really big cause of noise. If you accidentally start waggling it about, or kind of shuffling your fingers on the microphone, that can really come through the mic, into the recording, and sound really bad.

You’ve also got the standard sort of, mouth noises, I’ll call them. You’ve got breathing, coughing, sniffing, all that kind of stuff. All these noises that we make without thinking. They come across really strongly on our recordings. Obviously, it’s kind of hard to stop somebody coughing or anything like that, but that might be the type of thing you want to edit out. Or, if somebody’s got a bit of a cough at the time, it might not be worth doing the recording.

There’s other little things like, a classic that I’ve always come across is the squeaking chair. So, somebody’s sitting on a slightly squeaky chair. It’s not something you’d really notice, yourself. But again, they’re rocking back and forth, they’re turning round in a rotating chair and it comes across really badly on the recording. It comes across really loudly.

So, just try and have a think. Just try and be aware of the sounds. Have a wee chat with your presenters, your interviewees, before you start recording. Just talk to them for five minutes in your recording positions, and be really aware of the sounds that are being made.

If, during the recording, you find that people start to do something, they start, like, scratching the table or tapping their fingers, then you need to just stop and just tell them about it, and ask them not to do that. Because, it’s the kind of thing that, you can let it go because you don’t really want to stop the recording, but it just, it really does ruin it, and it’s impossible to get that kind of stuff out. Or, it’s very difficult, I should say, and it’s not really worth it. It’s worth better, just going back, starting that section again and doing it right in the first place.

So, I hope that gave you a few tips on how to set up your environment, how to make sure you start with a really good quality recording in the first place. And if you manage that, it’ll make your editing job so much easier in the future. Okay, thanks, and I’ll see you on the next podcast.