Recording Spoken Voice

Recording Spoken Voice

I had the opportunity of assisting Johan Deecke in recording a presentation he had prepared. In return I had requested his assistance in recording some acoustic guitar for a project I was working on, which was a convenient exchange. This was also a great opportunity to extend my knowledge of recording methods. Although I had recorded vocals previously, I soon realised that vocals spoken rather than sung needs a different approach. The session was recorded on the Neve 75 Custom Series console.

Johan reading speech

Johan reading speech

Microphone Choice

There are several things to consider when approaching spoken voice recording. Originally we'd considered using a U87, but upon this not being available we saw the Rhode NTK as a quick compromise. During the soundcheck Johan and I discussed whether the NTK was appropriate to the desired outcome. The NTK is incredibly transparent with clean mids and practically no bottom end, but highlighted the sibilance in his voice. If this were a musical production I would have stayed with this mic as it would allow the vocal to cut through the mix. However, in this instance there would be no other intended sounds during the spoken word sections and as warm a tone as possible would be desired. It was decided that the transparency of the NTK would be harsh and distracting to the listener.

Our next choice was the Shure SM7B. A prominent microphone in podcasting and radio, known for its warm tone and good isolation. This mic sounded great from the get-go, enhancing the warm mids and removing any sibilance. It was also noted that the NTK had much sharper transients than the SM7B. When comparing the waveforms of recordings with each microphone the SM7B looked almost as if it had been compressed. This consistency would make the mixing stage much easier.

As Johan was reading from a page, he required adequate lighting. This had him standing closer to a wall than what is ideal. The SM7B, being an insensitive microphone, meant that we need not worry about reflections from the wall and would also not require a baffle.

Microphone Placement

Johan speaks with confidence and clarity so I really wanted to capture that as best as possible. He speaks predominantly through the right side of his mouth, so by aiming the mic at his mouth but slightly to the right side of his face removed any plosives negating the use of a pop filter. After a couple of practice runs I noticed that a few seconds into speaking he would raise his head more towards the ceiling. I raised the mic and pointed it down at a slight angle. This removed any nasal qualities and concentrated on the clear "throaty" tone. 

Performance

Although being a confident speaker, unfortunately Johan can't stay still when speaking at length. A trend I noticed is that he would slowly shuffle forward and to the left. For the start of the speech I instructed him to stand with the microphone almost directly in front of him but off-axis. This way he would be in a primary position for the majority of his shuffling. After about a minute of speaking - and in breaks between passages - I would direct him back to the starting position. Kind of like an old typewriter. I contemplated marking an 'X' on the floor in an attempt to keep him in one place but we had a good take recorded before this was necessary. 

I was pleased with both Johan's and my own ability to adapt to the situation. He was more than happy to take on any advice I gave in relation to his performance, which made for a very smooth and pleasant experience. I, on the other hand, realised that having Johan stand as a statue would have taken away from the performance. I believe I found an effective work-around, which also assisted in saving time, making for a quick and painless session. On reflection I realise that what was a fairly smooth hour long session could have have been a fifteen minute session (with appropriate planning). More research on the equipment available to us would have saved us some effort and time as we could have made a quick decision on microphone choice upon learning that our preferred choice was unavailable. Also choosing several suitable microphones prior to the session in anticipation of equipment not being available would have made the session even more efficient.

It was a pleasure to assist on this project and I'm glad to have acquired some new knowledge in recording vocals and the opportunity to reflect on my own skills as an audio engineer. Johan has graciously allowed me to showcase his finished track "Simulacrum in music - Baudrillard and the Theremin," which can be heard below.