How To Pick The Right Microphone For Your Content
There's a list of five things that I believe make a video great, in order of importance sound is probably at the top of that list. That might sound a little nuts, given that this is a visual medium, but if your video has poor sound quality there's a really good chance people won't stick around to watch it. Great sound is the easiest way to stand out from the video crowd.
Luckily, it looks like a lot of people have already figured this tidbit out; one of the questions I hear the most is what microphone should they use. My answer is always the same:
What are you planning to use it for?
There's a few different types of microphones, with price tags to match all budgets. How they work, what they're best used for and how they plug into your kit are all different too, so you need to be clear on what you intend to make with them, and how, before you buy.
Let me just also take a moment to say: I am in no way a sound expert. This is my opinion based on my experiences, if you want super technical answers then this is not the post for you. Okay? Okay.
There's two different ways to power microphones: one needs to be plugged into a power source, one actually doesn't. Which is which?
The Dynamic Mic
The non-powered microphone, and the more common microphone. These are the mics you usually see at live events or in the karaoke booth. These are really good, durable microphones, they just have a little trouble hearing high frequencies. So if you have a lot of treble in your voice, this mic won't be so great at making you sound exactly like you, just mostly like you.
The Condenser Mic
This is the powered type, but not into a wall socket please. Condenser mics use phantom power, which means they draw power from the device they're plugged into. USB mics will draw power from the computer you plug it in to but it may mean that your laptop needs to be plugged into the wall before your microphone will work. Check that before you send back your new mic because it doesn't appear to be working.
The downside to condenser mics, beyond the higher price tags, is that they pick up all the sounds. Because of this they're usually used in controlled studio environments rather than live situations.
What you're going to plug your mic into will determine which type of kit you end up buying. Check what your camera, computer, phone or sound recorder needs before you go out and buy a microphone.
It's also worth noting that you may need a separate sound mixer or recorder, so take that into account when you're budgeting for your sound kit.
Microphones also come with different recording patterns. Basically the direction they pick up sound can be different, so depending on how you want to use it one recording pattern may be better suited for you than another.
Omni means everywhere, in the case of a microphone it means the mic will pick up sound from all directions. That means front, back, top, bottom - it's all picking up sound. Not so great when you're trying to record a podcast and someone drops something in the other room. Chances are good the mic will pick up the sound of that glass shattering. This is a really common type of mic, and as long as you can control the ambient noise levels around you, you can get away with it.
A pretty obvious one; this is where the mic only records sound from whatever it's directly pointed at. Typically these types of mics are called shotgun or gun mics. They're usually a long thin wand-like microphone that sits on a pole or are attached to the top of the camera. These are expensive types of mics, but great if you don't want your microphone to be in shot when you're shooting a talking head video. Only problem is, if you move out of its line of sight, it won't be able to hear you any more.
Think heart. This type of mic picks up sound really well from the front, but not at the back. If you draw out its pattern of recording it'd look a bit like a heart with a soft bottom. These are the other really common type of microphone, and are the best choice for recording sound in a room that hasn't had any soundproofing put in. Added bonus, they give you a bass boost the closer you get to the mic.
the lavalier, lav, lapel or clip mic
These little tiny mics are perfect for anyone that's going to be walking and talking, especially if you get one that plugs into a smartphone or is wireless. Food bloggers, if you're filming a demo cookery vid then you need one of these little suckers. Because the lav mic is clipped to you, rather than held or positioned in front of you, it'll record your voice as you move around with no loss of quality. The downside is they may produce a separate audio track that needs to be synced up to your video in the edit (depends if you're plugging it into anything other than your camera). This is actually super easy to do, but is intimidating to newbies who don't know the clapping trick (which is pretty vital for making it work) and so it's generally avoided by most home video makers.
As you can see there's more to choosing a mic than just the price and the colour. But if you are after a clear recommendation?
Go with the Rode SmartLav+ Lavalier mic if you're just starting out and want to do talking head videos, video demos or single person podcasts (no interviewees). It's a good starter mic, not too expensive for the sound quality you'll get and it plugs directly into your smartphone so you can walk and talk if needed. Once you're sure you want to continue making video or audio content, then you can evaluate what other mics may be better suited for your specific needs.
What mic do you use for your content, and what do you use it for?