CTA Classroom: Making Interviews Successful

Maybe this never happens at your church, but at ours, we regularly have people on stage being interviewed. Sometimes they are telling their story, sometimes they are talking about or announcing a new ministry, other times they are reporting on an event or outreach we had. The one thing all these people have in common is that they are not used to being in front of people, nor do they really know how to properly use a mic. Added to that, they are rarely in the room early enough to get a good sound check on their mic. This has been the case at almost every church I’ve been a part of, and as such, I’ve developed some ways to handle those times and make it work.

Now, in an ideal world, these guest speakers would arrive plenty early, we’d show them how to properly hold a mic, they’d talk at actual level and we could dial them right in. Maybe you can get that to happen in your church (and if you do, would you mind writing a guest post explaining how you did, so we can enjoy that too?). But chances are, your church is like mine and the first time you hear these folks on the mic is the first time the rest of the congregation does, too. 

Check the Mic Anyway

We always line check our wireless, and when we have non-professional talent speaking into those mics, we make sure to hold the mic further away than we should. That serves two purposes: First, you get the gain set correctly. If you set it up when the mic is held right up to the chin, when the guest holds it mid-chest, you’ll be way too quiet. Second, it tells you if you’re going to deal with feedback. If you do, ring it out. Give yourself as much gain before feedback as you can get. Make sure whoever is checking the mic tries speaking at loud and soft volumes so you know how it sounds. And you’ll know where to set the compressor threshold.

Chose Your Mic Carefully

We normally use Beta 87s for these interviews. Now some may disagree, but I find the Beta 87 a great announcement mic. The patter is pretty wide and as a condenser, picks up well. The mic is very tolerant of bad mic technique, which these guests often have. Because of our room and where the PA is located, I don’t have major issues with feedback. I would recommend experimenting a little to find out which mics give you the best combination of sound quality versus pickup flexibility versus gain before feedback. Chances are you won’t get these folks to hold the mic right on their chin, so pick something that works 6-8 inches away.

Compress Like Crazy

I tend to be pretty aggressive with compression for guests like this. The reason is simple; they don’t typically know how to properly hold the mic, and they tend to be all over the place in terms of level. Often times, a guest will start with the mic close, and as soon as they hear themselves out of the PA, they back it away, thinking it’s too loud. I shoot for hitting 4-6 dB of gain reduction all the time, and boost the output gain back up to make up the level. I tend to go with a little higher ratio to make sure if they suddenly get excited they don’t get too loud (think 3:1 or maybe 4:1). For an interview, I’m not worried as much about absolute sonic purity as I am intelligibility. Chances are this is a 3-5 minute deal, so I tend to worry less about getting it sounding “perfect” and more about just making it clear. 

Ride the Fader

I tried to come up with a way to illiterate that better but failed. Sorry. I always keep my hands on the fader for these mics. When the guest is not speaking, I’ll typically pull them down to -10 to -15 just in case they do something crazy with their mic. I don’t turn them all the way off for two reasons: One, if they suddenly start speaking, going from off to on is going to be abrupt, and two, it’s a lot farther to move the fader, and as such takes longer. Watch them as they talk. If you checked the mic at 6” from the mouth and they start off closer, set the fader at -5 when they start. But be ready to push it up as they will likely back off. If they move the mic around a lot, ride the fader a lot. The compressor can only do so much, you have to work it, too. If you know the people who are speaking, take a guess as to how loud or soft they speak and set the fader accordingly. In situations like these, you have to use every clue available to make it sound good. Pay close attention, and you’ll do well.

In a lot of ways, these little interviews are guerrilla audio. You’re working under far less than ideal conditions and simply have to make the best you can with what you’re given. Don’t sweat it too much, and be sure the people can be heard.