Choosing a microphone can feel like a daunting task. There are so many factors that go into choosing one: how it picks up your voice, how it works in an environment, the price point, the ease of use, and so on. The truth is, there is no way to 100% know which microphone will be best for you until your start playing with it in your space. With that said, there are some suggestions to help you make your pick.
Generally speaking, there are two kinds of microphones: condenser and dynamic. While relatively similar, the major difference between the two is that dynamic microphones pick up less ambience than condensers, but the condensers have more functional sensitivity when you really need it. This is an oversimplification, but if you’re recording in a home or apartment with noisy neighbours, you may want to err on the side of caution with the dynamic, especially if you’re just starting out.
Next up is plugging it in. To keep things simple, many beginners pick up a USB microphone which offers out-of-the-box functionality, and assuming you can plug in a USB right on the first (or second) try, you’ll be golden. This ease of use comes at a cost, as these microphones traditionally lack the same ability to capture the range of your voice as XLR (more on that later). Still, they’re an affordable and quality option and in recent years have jumped in quality.
USB Mic Suggestions
If you’re looking to move beyond USB microphones, you’re going to be looking at XLR. An XLR uses a 3-pin jack instead of a USB port. The quality is what you’d expect of a broadcast standard, but with the higher quality comes a higher cost. You’ll also need additional gear like an audio interface to plug it into your computer.
XLR Mic Suggestions
- Focusrite Scarlett-Solo Gen 3 USB Audio Interface $159 CDN
- Behringer U-Phoria UMC2020HD USB Audio Interface $199 CDN
- M-Audio M-Track 2X2M | 2X2M USB Audio Interface $189 CDN
One last thing: before you set up, just make sure you have the right size XLR cable to connect the microphone and the audio interface.
To compliment your microphone’s features, you’ll want to make a few changes to your environment to better enhance the sound of your voice and keep your recordings coming out crisp and clear.
Isolation filters are a fancy way of creating suitable recording spaces by decreasing room ambience. This can either be a panel bought on Amazon, or a bunch of really heavy blankets draped over boxes to insulate the space. If you hop onto YouTube and look up isolation filters or recording shield box, you’ll find a few do-it-yourself ways to improve the quality of your recording and get rid of that ‘hollow’ or ‘flat room’ sound.
If you’re going to be performing in an intense role, you may want to warn your neighbours and family that the sounds coming from the closet are indeed human. Nothing interrupts a voice recording session worse than the sirens of very real emergency teams coming to rescue the screaming, uninjured, individual you’ve been playing.
You may also want to purchase a microphone stand, pop shield, headphones, and shock mount for your in-home recording studio.
- A microphone stand will make it easier for the microphone to be in solid range of your lips (rather than you leaning over which squishes your diaphragm).
- A pop shield is to prevent the puffs of air that you make when using plosive letters like ‘b’, ‘p’, ‘t’, or ‘s’ from reaching the microphone. They’re relatively cheap and a good investment, even if you’re just starting out.
- Headphones are obvious — they’ll help you ensure that you’re getting decent recordings as you go. Nothing hurts more than spending a whole day crushing your lines and then realizing that there was a hissing or crackling in your setup because something wasn’t plugged in right.
- Shock mounts prevent vibrations from travelling through your stand and into the microphone. “But what vibrations?” you might ask. Well, if your microphone is sitting on your desk next to your laptop, the humming of the computer will shake your microphone and give this background low-grade humming noise that can be pretty distracting.
Before a word leaves your lips, you’ll want to review the Casting Call Documents. Here at Cold Open Stories we divide this into two parts: the Character Biography and the Dialogue Samples.
Character Biography is meant to provide you with the background, context, and history of the character. This is where you’ll pick up clues to the tone of who this person is.
Dialogue Samples are the lines you are expected to read in the audition piece. Some may be straight from the script, or they may be written to provide the range or personality of the character.
In scripts you’ll sometimes encounter words that you have no idea how to pronounce. That’s alright — but try looking it up or seeing if there is an attached pronunciation guide with the Dialogue Samples.
When it comes to making strong choices for acting, we have an affinity for the American theatre actress Uta Hagen. She conveniently distilled 6 steps to performing a character, all of which we share with you to help you get into character.
Step 1) Who Am I?
- What is my present emotional state?
- How do I perceive myself?
- What am I wearing?
Step 2) What Are The Circumstances?
- What time is it? (season, day, year)
- Where am I? (city, building, landscape, room)
- What surrounds me? (the weather, condition of the place, objects)
- What are the immediate circumstances? (what just happened? What do I expect to happen next?
Step 3) What Are My Relationships?
- How do I stand in relation to other people in my circumstance?
- Are there other people in the space with me? How do I relate to them or change how I speak with/to them?
Step 4) What Do I Want?
- What is my objective or want?
- Is this want a need or something I wish to have? Do I differentiate?
Step 5) What Is My Obstacle?
- What is in the way of me getting what I want?
Step 6) How Do I Get What I Want?
- What is my behaviour towards getting what I want?
- What have been my actions, and what am I doing to get it in the present?
- Get Physical: Many people assume a rigid or still posture behind the microphone, thinking this will give them a better performance. While this is somewhat true from a technical angle, many people exaggerate this pose and wind up with flat or constrained performances. Before recording simply take a deep breath and stretch your body. We suggest recording in a standing position if at all possible.
- Warm Up: There are many ways to do this: forced yawning, classic tongue twisters, or humming with lip thrills. The point of all of these is that you want to loosen your facial muscles and get your vocal cords de-stressed and into an elastic state. Pull your tongue out as far as you can, look in a mirror and stretch your face into multiple expressions, and jump up and down to get your energy heightened. All of this can contribute to a more dynamic performance.
Find a quiet place to do your recording!
Okay, with that out of the way…
Your audition is a “cheat sheet” for the casting director to see how much work you’ve done building the character, your ability to expand on the character should you be cast in the role, and your ability to take written direction and turn it into a performance.
Before going any further, let’s be honest – in life you are very rarely going to nail something on the first try. That’s alright! This doesn’t mean your performance is mediocre. Sometimes it takes a few tries to get into character. This is why we recommend that you record multiple takes before submitting and don’t be afraid to submit 1-3 takes in a single file.
We hear a ton of people, and if you can give us a few brief samples of your work it will give us a greater understanding of which role may be a good fit for you.
Finally, don’t be afraid of rejection. There is a perfect role for everyone, and sometimes it takes a little bit of persistence to land the right one. Don’t be afraid to audition for multiple characters, either. From a casting director’s point of view, this doesn’t look greedy, but instead shows an interest in the project and a willingness to try out a range of characters and voices.