The Born Freelancer on how to get a great sounding interview – Part 2
This series of posts by the Born Freelancer shares personal experiences and thoughts on issues relevant to freelancers. Have something to add to the conversation? Your input is welcome in the comments.
Yesterday I began my series of tips to give you better sounding recorded interviews. Today I continue the topic, covering what I think is one of the most important elements in achieving a superior overall sound – your choice of microphone.
TIP: MICROPHONES RULE!
A good microphone is a most worthy investment (assuming you can use an external mic and not just the one already built-in to your recording gear of choice). It is very possibly the best investment that you will ever make if you want to make good quality recordings. A cheap microphone will result in cheap-sounding interviews. If you are recording strictly for your own reference, say for a print interview, this is of less concern. If you are hoping to sell your interview for broadcast, a good quality microphone is a must. I have several different mics I have used over the years, each with its own specific characteristics and ideal uses. It is hard to make any specific recommendations although for the record here are the three favourite mics in my collection. I’ve had them “forever” and as such I’m well aware that there ARE possibly better and cheaper options out there today… although a good quality mic will always serve you well and will stay in your working kit a lot longer than some of the recording gear to which it is connected!
* The Sennheiser MD-421. Highly directional sound (to eliminate unwanted background noises as much as possible) with a “frequency roll-off” to adjust for speech or music. This is absolutely my first choice as my go-to mic for broadcast use. Excellent clarity and frequency range. I can use it indoors or out, on a mic stand in my home studio or hand-held on location, for speech or live events. Its only drawback is that it looks rather imposing - so I familiarize my subjects with it beforehand so that they do not feel intimidated by it! It definitely requires a windsock due to its sensitivity.
* The Shure SM-58. Highly directional. When I want something extra rugged for problematic location work (such as lousy weather) this is my backup mic of choice (using a windsock again.) Seemingly not quite as high-performing as my Sennheiser, it is still very good especially for hand-held spoken word interviews that will be cut down and used as excerpts or clips. Mic cord noise can be an issue (but see my tip on reducing that noise). A good solid alternative choice for my location work.
* The Sony ECM-909. This is a very good multipurpose stereo mic. Its small size makes it ideal when I’m traveling light. It can be used in two modes - directional for interviews or 120 degrees to achieve a wider stereo ”picture”. It is therefore ideal for recording on location in stereo when I want to capture the sounds of a place – either carefully managed in the background of an on location recording or else recorded separately and layered in during post-production. Its only drawback is that I find it lacks the “punch” or “bite” of my Sennheiser for longer form spoken word interviews (as it is not so good for recording lower frequencies) although that is a pretty subjective matter. I use it frequently when I am recording only as a reference for some print work – but it still generally gives me good enough quality sound for the later option of broadcast use, if I have positioned it accurately and used it properly, usually providing good sounding clips or extracts from any interview.
You may not think you need a separate mic if your recording gear has its own built-in one. However, a good quality stand-alone mic will almost always be of better quality in certain features than its built-in counterpart. Having an external mic as an option will give you greater flexibility in dealing with a variety of recording environments and circumstances especially for broadcast use.
Next week – more specific microphone tips that will help you achieve high quality recorded interviews.
(Note: All microphones referenced above were bought and paid for by me many years ago.)