Have you ever wanted to make your vocals sound gritty and distorted on purpose? What about mimicking a phone call or adding some comedic effect to a podcast skit? Well you’re in luck, because today we’re breaking down all the ways you can intentionally make your microphone sound bad!
Whether your goal is achieving a specific artistic effect or just messing around and having some fun, manipulating your mic to get that low quality sound is easier than you might think. We’ll explore techniques like adding wind noise, clipping the signal, radically EQing, and so much more.
So let’s dive in and get weird with it! By the end, your recordings will be so grating you might just have some angry bandmates or podcast partners on your hands.
Making your microphone sound horrible can actually be a cool artistic choice for certain situations. For example, many singers add a distorted megaphone or old-timey radio effect on intros to give a throwback vibe. Rappers and podcasters also use telephone filters to make short call-in cameo appearances. Even tv shows and movies will make voice lines sound staticky or blown-out for comedic effect.
But beyond specific use cases like those, messing up your mic quality can also just be fun! Who doesn’t love tinkering with equipment and seeing how strange you can get things to sound? With so many ways to manipulate audio these days, the possibilities are endless.
In this guide, we’ll cover techniques like:
- Adding wind noise or breathing heavily
- Clipping and distorting the signal
- Radically scooping EQ frequencies
- Using effects like distortion or convolution
- Adjusting computer and phone settings
So if you’re ready to capture some downright unpleasant audio, read on! Just be prepared for some concerned text messages later asking if your equipment is broken.
One of the easiest ways to degrade your audio is to add wind noise directly into the microphone. This creates an instantly recognizable muffled and blustery sound.
If you want to simulate speaking or singing outdoors on a windy day, simply set up in front of a fan. Position it off to the side so it blows directly across the top of the mic. Start with a lower setting and gradually increase the speed. You’ll hear the wind blast get more intense.
For even more dramatic effects, try using a brush or shaking a cloth right next to the microphone grill. This adds friction and gust sounds that are tough to listen to for long!
Some mics also come with windscreen covers. Take this off and expose the bare mic to the fan or cloth tricks above. The lack of wind protection makes a big difference in allowing the blasts to hit the element directly.
Finally, consider adding some wind sound effects or field recordings in post-production. Layering these under your vocals builds out a complete windstorm sensation.
Another way to quickly make your vocals sound amateur is to get too close to the microphone while recording. This exaggerates something called the proximity effect.
The closer you get, the more the low frequencies start to amplify. At the same time, being directly on the mic increases the sounds of your plosives, breaths, and mouth noises.
To try this out, take off any pop filter you have on your mic. Then get as close as you can, within an inch or two of the capsule. Now talk or sing. You’ll instantly hear a booming, murky sound as the low end gets hyped up. Any pops, sibilance, or breathing will also be way more prominent.
To take it up a notch, breathe heavily right onto the microphone grill. The sound of your breath will be loud and clear. Over-pronounce words to exaggerate the lip smacks and pops too.
Finally, add some proximity effect or bass boost in your DAW if you really want to turn your vocal into a muddy mess!
Capturing vocals in a noisy environment is another way to degrade your recording quality. Try setting up in loud spots like a busy cafe, office, or traffic area. The more background noise the better!
You can also artificially add sounds like fans, humming appliances, crowds, or tv static in your DAW. While recording, layer these under your vocal track. The key is finding loops and effects that sound natural so it seems like they are coming from your actual location.
Finally, a cool trick is to re-amp your vocals by playing them out loud in a room, then re-recording that sound. This adds real-life resonance and reflections from the space. Just make sure to crank the re-amp signal to overload the room. The distorted sound gets captured as you re-record the vocal.
Clipping and Distortion
One of the most common ways to get an intentionally bad vocal sound is by clipping or distorting the signal. This overloads the input and adds crunchy artifacts and saturation.
Start by raising the gain levels higher than normal on both your interface and microphone. Keep increasing until you begin to hear clipping as the signal peaks over 0dB. This will add fuzz and edge to your sound.
You can also drive the preamp, either on your interface or externally. Turn the level up until you get to the point right before the “red zone” where serious distortion kicks in. The extra saturation adds pleasing grit.
In your DAW, use analog modelers and saturators like tape emulation or tube overdrive. Drive the input while mixing to get the desired distortion amount. This warms up the tone and mimics an overloaded console.
Finally, slap on some clipping or distortion effects directly on your vocal track like bitcrushing. Get creative with other plugins too like distortion or downsampling to add more crunch.
Making significant adjustments to your vocal EQ is a powerful way to degrade the microphone quality.
Try radically scooping out entire high and low-frequency bands to keep just the mids. This telephone effect cuts bass, warmth, and crisp high-end. Or go the opposite route and cut narrow spikes in the mids for a nasal, hollow tone.
Take out all the lows with a high-pass filter for a thin, weak vibe. Or cut the highs with a low-pass filter to remove clarity.
You can also automate filter sweeps, compression, and EQ in real-time to create a pulsating effect. As different frequencies dip and swell, it adds a trippy warped sound. Using automation clips is a creative way to manipulate any parameter.
Using effects in extreme ways can quickly take your vocals from crisp to nasty. Here are some ideas to explore:
- Crank up the distortion, overdrive or bitcrushing to add crunch
- Use tube/amp modelers and push them into breakup
- Play with convolution reverbs using car speakers, phones, or vintage mics for unique IRs
- Get weird with modulation like flangers and phasers cranked to 100% wet
- See what happens when you absolutely drench everything in delay and reverb
The key is using effects in ways they aren’t normally intended. That means pushing amounts and settings to extremes just to see what happens. You never know what cool sound you might discover by accident!
Computer and Phone Manipulation
Modern voice chat apps and phone systems also give plenty of opportunity to destroy your audio quality:
On Discord, lower the bitrate setting all the way down. This introduces digital artifacts and distortion that sounds very gamery. You can also turn off noise filters which increases ambient noise.
For Zoom and Skype, disable the advanced settings like echo cancellation and automatic gain control. Intentionally create echo in your room and have these struggle to compensate.
Clip your computer’s microphone input by boosting the system input volume. Same idea for your phone’s mic gain if possible. This digital distortion can be cool for remote vocal effects.
Use something like VoiceMeeter to insert virtual cables and reroute your signal through questionable software. The results get weird quickly!
Finally, plug your headphone jack directly into your interface as if it were a microphone. Sing or speak into the ear cups to capture a filtered lofi sound.
A comprehensive guide to making your microphone sound truly terrible! From wind noise to clipping and radical effects, we covered a ton of techniques to take your audio into unloadable territory.
The most important thing is having fun and experimenting. Don’t be afraid to really push the boundaries creatively! You might just stumble upon the next vocal sound innovation.
But when you’re ready to return your equipment to normal, reference this guide in reverse. Following proper mic technique and gain staging is still important after all. Your listeners and engineers will thank you.
Now get out there, make some unpleasant recordings, and see what interesting results you can achieve by intentionally trashing your microphone’s sound! Just be ready to get weird.