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September 10, 2020 / Randy Coppinger

Microphone Position for Voice Recording

When recording voice, it seems helpful to start with a specific microphone position, then make adjustments depending on what the project needs, and what we’re hearing from the voice actor or vocalist. I’m not suggesting that there’s one, perfect way to always place a mic, just that strategies should be based on an intentional starting position.

MIC DISTANCE

I like to start with the front of the microphone 6 to 18 inches away from the actor’s mouth. If a recording space seems noisy because of room reflections or background noise, I’ll place towards 6 inches to improve the signal to noise ratio. If a performer is loud, the mic is sensitive, and/or I expect significant proximity effect, I’ll place towards 18 inches.

Once we can hear how the starting distance sounds, I’ll move the mic closer or further for the reasons stated above, and also to help the performer with sight lines to script, or music. If the space is especially tight, that may limit how far we can move the mic away from the performer. The mic stand may limit where we’re able to place the mic also. This is why I am willing to spend money on a quality mic stand: to improve mic location possibilities.

POP SHIELD

I assume a pop shield will be needed and just include it in an initial mic setup, primarily because it’s easier to remove a pop shield than add one to an existing configuration.

For a stretched cloth or metal screen style pop shield, place the pop shield between the microphone and mouth. Place the back of your hand on the front of the microphone, and behind the pop shield. Then gently blow through the shield. Then move the pop shield away from your microphone and hand, toward your mouth, until you can no longer feel air on your palm. I learned this adjustment technique from Gary Terzza of VO Master Class. Read more about preventing plosives.

Some pop shields are more efficient at stopping air from reaching the mic than others. If you have to move your pop shield too far from your mic for it to diffuse the air, consider getting a more effective one.

SOUND EMANATES FROM THE MOUTH

Let’s think about what comes out of the performer’s mouth, then position the mic accordingly. Sound emanates directly forward from the mouth, and also up, down, and to the sides. Air blasts from the mouth too, especially when a performer makes hard consonant sounds. Those air blasts are mostly in front of the mouth; not up, down, or to the sides. We want to avoid those air blasts, which do not sound good, while capturing the sound of the voice.

STARTING POSITION

I like to start with the mic positioned above the mouth, with the mic element somewhere between the nose and forehead, and pointed directly at the mouth. Starting above avoids the air blasts and captures the sound of the voice. In addition, placing the mic up high leaves room below for a music stand, script, lead sheet, video monitor, tablet, or other visual tools used during a recording session.

The area to the left and right of the nose, above the mouth and below the eyes is called the Mask. In the same way that the wooden body of an acoustic guitar resonates with the vibrations of guitar strings, the mask resonates with the vocal chords for a richer, more sonorous recording of voice. You instinctively know the mask does this because people sound different when they have nasal congestion from a cold. The mask is an important component of the total sound of a voice. Placing the mic above the mouth helps ensure the mask is well represented in the voice recording.

The chest and neck also resonate with the sound of the vocal chords. Recording the resonant sounds from the chest and neck contribute to a fullness, along with the mouth and mask. Positioning the mic above, pointed down at the mouth, helps include all of these adjacent vibrations, which is why recording from above can sound so natural.

But listen, if recording from below or off to the side sounds better, do it. By all means don’t record from above simply because you designate it as a convention. The location of the mic may be influenced not only by how the voice sounds on mic, but also the physical layout of the recording space. Don’t feel beholden to this mic from above position simply because it’s my starting point. Put that mic where it will do the most good overall.

SIMPLE MISTAKES

I can’t tell you how often the mic is placed above only to have a performer raise their mouth to meet it directly. While that can help open the performers throat and diaphragm, it also blasts air directly at the capsule. Work to keep the element above that blast of air.

I’ve also seen a movement too far away from the capsule. The performer looks straight ahead during mic placement, but then looks down toward a script of music stand when performing, in which case the mic is aimed at the top of the head instead of the mouth. Work to keep the element pointed directly at the mouth when recording.

Read more about Recording Voice Acting Remotely.

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