It's a lot more fun to buy something new than it is to work with what you've got. This may be the reason why so many podcasters think "a new microphone" will make them sound better.
The truth is, a new microphone may be what you need to have a better podcast. Regardless of your hosting ability, you won't sound great if you're recording via a mobile phone or something not made for the job. If this is what you're doing, you'll probably benefit from getting a new mic.
Also truth -- decent mics that work well for podcasting are cheap. So if you've got something the equivalent of this $100 podcast setup, you already have the needed equipment to sound great as long as you know how to use it.
You know who doesn't know how to use a mic? This guy...
I'm kidding. But only because the mic you see in this photo is for show and not even connected.
Jimmy Fallon has the same set up. So it's understandable that a lot of podcasters think this is good mic placement.
Don't be this far away from the mic when recording your podcast. If you are, you'll sound like you're in a bank vault.
Here are three "rules" to sound better with the mic you have.
1. Get close.
As a general rule, the way to get the best recording of something is to have a microphone as close as possible to it.
Does this sound obvious? Yes, but few podcasters actually do this when recording their voices. This is the why so many podcasts have that "bank vault" sound.
I use a "three finger" rule for mic placement. To to this, put your pointer, middle, and ring fingers together like a Boy Scout salute. The width of your fingers is how far your mouth should be from the microphone.
Is "three fingers" close? Hell yes it's close. Sometimes you'll move and your lips will touch the mic. If you want to sound like you're in control and know what you’re doing though, this is the way to do it.
2. Talk into the mic.
Another obvious rule that makes you say, "No shit." Way too many podcasters screw this up though.
Have you ever seen a live speaker who's doing a great job of speaking in the direction of the audience, but will keep talking when looking down at his notes or when facing away from the audience to look at and comment on his slides?
His voice fades in and out.
This lack of consistent volume is the problem I'm talking about. By not staying on mic while recording your podcasts episodes, you’re getting the same sloppy result.
It gets worse though. When people can't hear you, they lose the point you’re trying to make, they get frustrated, and they turn you off.
When you’re speaking, always keep your mouth aligned with the microphone.
3. When you breathe…
I once had a three-story house. It had flat roof with a deck on top of it, so whenever there was a roof issue, you’d simply walk out on the roof from a door on the third floor rather than from a ladder on the outside.
Had a guy come over the fix a skylight that had been broken in a hail storm. He was smoker with a lot of extra weight and simply walking from his van to my house seemed to be a lot of effort for him.
By the time he'd climbed the multiple flights of stairs to get to where he was working, he was completely out of breath. The huffing and puffing from him was so extreme that I wondered if I was going to have to call the paramedics.
The downside of being close to the mic and having it aimed at your mouth is that it can make somebody in normal physical condition sound very close to an out-of-breath skylight repairman. The closer you are to the mic, and the more sensitive the mic is, the more likely it will pick up unwanted noises, which include not only breathing, but also various pops and clicks from your mouth.
There are two solutions to help with this — a noise gate and a pop filter.
A noise gate, like a gate on a fence, only lets in what you want, which in this case is sounds of a certain loudness. Because mouth clicks and breathing are usually softer than your speaking voice, a noise gate can be set to help keep these sounds from making it to your recording.
A pop filter works as a diffuser, taking the focused breath coming out of your mouth and redistributing over a greater area, so it doesn't "pop" when it reaches your microphone.
An even better solution is breath control. Even if you have both a noise gate and a pop filter, it helps if you can reduce breathing and non-word sounds on your own. To do this, when you're breathing during recording, back away from the mic and turn your head so that the mic is less likely to "hear" you.
Your recording doesn't have to be perfect, but it shouldn't have so many problems it's distracting. Focusing on keeping close to your mic, keeping on your mic, and not breathing directly into the mic will give you the solid foundation to deliver your message in a way that is well-received.