Learning to love your mic

About five years ago, I made my first ever ‘professional’ voiceover recording.

It was for a training video and the producer gave me a quick lesson in acoustics; we made an ‘igloo’ out of mattresses and pillows in a canteen – and then we got to recording. When you don’t know what you don’t know, you can have a ‘bash’ at pretty much anything and not worry about the outcome. Indeed at the time I was pretty happy (as was the producer).

But then, a few years later, I started learning about voiceover myself and, before long, one of the elements of the process became an elephant in the booth.

The mic was making me sound terrible.

It was highlighting horrible noises, embellishing errors, amplifying imperfections, and generally making me sound terrible. Flipping microphone. I would step in front of it – and we’d eyeball each other. She would say to me, “Go on – try and sound good, and I’ll mess it up for you”. And she was succeeding. Every session was a battle, every recording a fight.

But then – I went back and listened to those early recordings, and I realised something:

The mic didn’t make me sound terrible – it was doing exactly what I had invested in it to do. It was my ears – they had become educated. I was hearing things I never heard before. I was becoming frustrated at an apparent lack of quality – when actually it was because I was now aware of it.

Some of those things would get better with practice, and they did – and some of them were just ‘my sound’.

If you know me – you’ll know that one of my favourite phrases is:

grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.

I thought about this phrase, and considered what I wanted to change.

And then something happened – I learned to love my mic.

Not an ‘obsessed with the technology’ kind of love. But I learned that the mic was the conduit, the link, the solution – not the problem. The mic was my servant, it would do whatever I asked of it – and reproduce faithfully exactly what it heard.

And our relationship changed. It wasn’t the thing highlighting the faults – it was the thing helping me to channel what the client or director wanted. Yeh, sure, some imperfection was going to go along for the ride too – but it was far outweighed by what was good.

The mic was HELPING me to sound good, not the other way round. And like when you learn anything – every visit to the booth meant I was getting better. Suddenly, the mic wasn’t something to be afraid of – it was my partner.

I firmly believe that as soon as that switch was flicked – it was all change.

So when I go into the booth now – I do it with a little buddy, who is on my side, who wants to help me sound the best I can, and who faithfully ensures I do.

Love your mic – and it’ll love you back.

Have a GREAT day.




5 thoughts on “Learning to love your mic

  1. J.S. Gilbert

    Which just begs the question, “Have you gone out and tried using other microphones and/or mic pre’s to see what you sound like on them?”

    Somewhere between the land of the “microphone micro-managers” and the land of the “Hey, for $39.95, I sound pretty good.”, is a world of difference in both microphones and the devices you use to get them to work with your computers.

    When I first started doing voice over in California, there were no home studios and the microphone almost every studio used was an AKG C-414, which in retrospect, almost every engineer I know says should never have been used for voice over. Few people sounded very good on it and I knew I wasn’t one of them. So, I purchased a Neumann U67 and would actually bring it with me to studios. I then found out many studios did have this microphone or the Neumann U87. The U87 was a little brighter and I preferred the punchier “deep’ aspect of the U67, but either worked well and were both miles better for me than the AKG.

    While I don’t think I was responsible for it, a few years later, we started seeing the AKG microphones go bye bye and the pro studios would use the U87 for voice over duties.

    20 years later, we say this change to most of these studios using a Sennheiser shotgun microphone. And while not necessarily “better” than a U87, the Senny has some benefits.

    There was no way I would ever make friends with the AKG C-414, which in stereo pairs is an excellent piano mic, (I’m not a piano) but not so good for the majority of voices as a v.o. mic.

    Now, I should say that there are some rare exceptions, perhaps 5%, and mostly female, that I think sound good doing v.o. on that mic. So, they can make friends with it, or not, but I’m not.

    And that’s not even going into the differences between the myriad choices of mic pres, interfaces, etc. Try a nice $3,000 tube pre from Manley or Millennia or Avalon or a solid state interface from Sound Devices, RME or Apogee or any one of a number of solutions from $25 to $25,000 and you’ll get lots of different “sounds”.

    And then in the end, does it really matter if you’re friends with your gear, if the engineers, producers and clients aren’t?

    1. steveoneillvoice Post author

      Hi J.S. and thank you for the insight, you clearly know your stuff regarding the hardware. I suppose my thoughts were less about the specific mic, and more in terms of getting used to my sound – and the learning process around that.

      That being said, your comments also add into the mix the technical aspect of finding the ‘right’ mic for ones own voice – and there are plenty of options aren’t there!?! A full and varied subject too – one I’d love to hear more about from your experience.

      Thanks again for taking the time to comment – it’s really appreciated.

      Steve .

  2. dabvoiceovergal

    There’s nothing quite like a personal story, a great quote, and some sound advice! Especially when it’s coming from someone who expresses himself so well. I loved this, SteeVO. 🙂

  3. J.S. Gilbert

    Thank You Steve, and I do appreciate your viewpoint, as much as I have seen many voice talent convinced they weren’t working because of the equipment they were using (or weren’t using). Sometimes this is the case, but very often it isn’t, as we all seem to be convinced that some new microphone, plug-in or other thing will be that magic bullet.

    Again, if your agents, casting people and clients say you sound “fine” or “good”, then you do.

    It only further proves the point, that on any given day, despite my vast amounts of knowledge, skills, high priced equipment and ability to make an incredible meatloaf, I know I am inevitably going to lose the odd job hither and yon to some fellow who is perhaps auditioning and working using a USB Blue Snowball microphone from the confines of his coat closet.

    It’s a bit of a conundrum, so much as the combination of choices available, in terms of equipment is staggering. The requirements that any given recording space may have in terms of acoustics and sound isolation is mind boggling. And the term “acceptable sound quality” very subjective, depending upon the client.

    So, if the powers that be say you sound fine, then that is most certainly the time to make friends with your microphone. And if you’re not working as much as you think you should, then investigate some other avenues.

    As for figuring out what road to take, I tend to think there is more good stuff out there at all price points. There are far too many personal issues to take into account besides budget.

    Will you be recording near your equipment or in an isolation booth? Will you need to ever have more than one person on mic? Do you want to learn as much as you can about sound and engineering or have the simplest available solution? Do you want the ability to record on an iPad or Android tablet. Do you need to have an option to record while traveling; in a hotel room, etc.?

    These are just a few of the questions one needs to ask themselves. There are also lots of great sights like “Gearslutz” and many online reviews and publications. There are also individuals whose experience and backgrounds make them valuable resources (yes sometimes for a fee) to work with you to develop a sane approach.

    I’m always happy to make some suggestions or give my opinion, but it really is just an opinion.


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