First things first, we must begin with the recording space!
Working on the assumption that you do not have a sound-treated room available, the following advice might be useful!
You want somewhere quiet, with as little background noise as you can manage. You also want somewhere that doesn’t echo. To test for echoes, sit or stand where you’re planning to record and clap your hands. It’s a bright sound so any echoes should be pretty obvious.
Draw any blinds and/or curtains to minimise the sound coming in from outside and bouncing off the glass.
If your quiet spot has an echo, all is not lost. Grab some blankets, duvets, cushions, and hang them onto available surfaces. Drapey is good. Heavy, soft coats work well too, and cottony clothes on hangers.
PRO-TIP: Record into a closet. You will still need a microphone, the people of Narnia cannot help you there, but if you have a closet or wardrobe you can either comfortably get in or record towards, that will effectively dampen sound with minimal fussing about.
Here’s what we do NOW at Hanging Sloth Studios:
I record into a corner of the room into which I have pinned a wool scarf, with three drawing pins. Next to the corner is a window, which has books in front of it at the bottom. The window is hung with a noise-cancelling curtain I got for £20 on amazon. The wall without the window has a bookcase on it rammed with books and a fleece blanket.
The room has carpet and a plush little rug, and I record with my heavy dressing gown on with the hood up, with the mic as into the corner as is comfortable. that way, the curtain, the scarf, the bookcase and my hood dampen the sound pretty effectively and minimise extra noise we don’t want.
Compare Spirit Box Radio audio quality up to episode fifteen and the audio quality of Clockwork Bird. The EXACT SAME mic set up was used, I just recorded in a better space.
That said, let’s move on to that most crucial bit of kit: The Microphone.
Find the Mic for You
With enough work, any mic can be decent, but as a rule of thumb:
1. Steer away from laptop mics because they can pick up internal mechanism sounds.
2. Earbud mics generally suck, especially when they’re in your ears. They’re just too far from your face. You need to get up in the mic’s personal space.
3. With phone mics, get it as close to your face as possible, again. Right up in there. Don’t lick it, though. Just get it very close to your face.
HOWEVER, it is worth investing in a better microphone if you want to be doing Voice Acting or audio recording work regularly.
Before we get into specifics, I would say if you don’t have access to a sound treated space, opt for a dynamic microphone not a condenser microphone. It’s alright if you don’t know what that means, just look out for the first one in listings and ignore ones that are the second. Dynamic mics are better at cancelling out extra background noise. Condenser mics are very sensitive and temperamental and I wouldn’t suggest using them unless you can afford to soundproof your space pretty extensively.
First you want to ask yourself these questions:
1. What device do you record on? (Phone, laptop, etc…)
2. Do you want the mic to be good for things besides Voice Acting? (recording music, live streaming, etc…)
3. What is your budget?
You don’t need to have an absolute answer to all of these, but having at least a vague idea of an aanswer to these questions in mind will help you make the right choice about the kind of microphone you want to be using.
FOR RECORDING ON A PHONE
– If your budget is LOW, consider a budget button mic like this one. Button mics, or lapel mics, are the little teeny mics you’ve seen clipped onto people’s collars and shirt closures in YouTube Videos and on the news. I used this exact one to record two EPs. It’s better than built-in mics by miles, but firmly in the ‘better than nothing’ box.
– If your budget is MEDIUM, consider a mid-price button mic like this one. This is a swankier, more hard-wearing version of the one above. Rode are world-class in their microphones and this little baby mic is hard-wearing, versatile and gives surprisingly good sound.
FOR RECORDING ON A LAPTOP, PC or MAC
For this, you have to ask yourself another question. How much tech can you really stand to have in your space, and what level of effort are you willing to put in for better audio?
Option One: USB Mic
If you want as little tech as possible for space reasons or anything else, and you want a low-effort experience, you should opt for a USB mic.
Note: Not all of these mics come with a stand. Depending on where you’re recording, you’ll need either; a desk stand, which is a lil tripod and just hangs out on your desk; a fix-on boom arm (this is what we use) which fixes onto the edge of a desk or shelf and can be easily adjusted; or a full mic stand, which stands on its own and is adjustable to a variety of heights.
What sort of stand you need depends on a few things, like whether you prefer to record sitting or standing, how much storage space you have, and what your recording space is like.
Also note: Not all mic stand clips fit all mics. The clip is the bit of the stand that actually holds the mic. Some mics come with their own; it will list that in the details. Otherwise you can get a universal mic shock mount which will work for almost all mics.
Option Two: XLR Mic
If you’re more comfortable with tech, or you’re looking for a longer-lasting, more versatile mic, you might want to look into a mic with an XLR cable connection. This is the kind we’ve always used at Hanging Sloth Studios. Here are some suggestions:
As well as needing stands and clips, XLR mics need an XLR Cable of appropriate length, and a way to plug the XLR into your laptop. This last bit of kit is called an audio-interface, and comes with its own set of cables, and this is the bit of the XLR set up that makes it so much more costly in terms of space AND money, in a lot of cases.
For audio interfaces, I cannot recommend the Behringer UMC2 Mini highly enough. It’s cheap, it’s great at what it does, and it isn’t bad looking. It’s a bit fragile so if you’re going to be carrying it around a bunch, you’ll need to be careful with it, but otherwise, it’s a brilliant piece of kit. I used it with my original mic for Clockwork Bird, and I use it still with my Rode Procaster and it still does the job.
When I upgrade, it will be to a Focusrite Scarlett, but I don’t currently have the budget for it (because I spent the budget on the procaster).
I hope that’s useful! Happy recording!