Micing live instruments is more often an exercise in patience and experimentation. But if you’re in a tight crunch, these tips can help you get you the results you need in a jiffy.
Naturally, you need to understand your equipment and the potential problems and advantages of the space that you choose to record in before you hit the record button, and such knowledge can only really come from time and experience spent recording and getting to know your equipment and environment as intimately as possible.
The Importance of Your Space
If you can afford to do so, choose a relatively inexpensive, yet professional recording studio that has well-treated rooms and a nice, well-maintained selection of great-sounding microphones that will give you the results you’re looking for.
Additionally, such studios will also have engineers and technicians who can provide you with some handy tips of their own before you start recording. However, if you have to rely on less expensive means, then keep reading on!
5 Tips for Miking Instruments Like a Pro
1. For rooms that are relatively small, stick with microphones that have cardioid or hypercardioid polar patterns, as these will only capture a very narrow range of sound, which reduces the likelihood of room reflections interfering with the sound source.
2. If your room is untreated, consider purchasing acoustic treatment foam kits from sites such as eBay, Amazon, and classified sites such as Craigslist or Backpage. These tend to be very competitively priced and will help you to reduce excessive reflections and room nodes that will significantly mar the quality of your recordings.
3. For optimal results, make sure that your instruments are well-tuned and properly maintained prior to recording. If you happen to be musicians who are bringing their own instruments to the session, then that responsibility ultimately falls on their shoulders.
However, as a producer or engineer, you can provide recommendations or assist them in making sure that their instruments are properly configured so that their performances sound as accurate as possible.
4. Keep in mind that sticking a mic up close to an instrument will capture the initial transients, but not the “flame” or ideal texture of that instrument, where all frequencies are more or less in perfect harmony with one another. Every instrument produces its own unique envelope that features a key “sweet spot” (which is where the instrument’s envelope “sustains” just before it reaches the “release” stage).
When micing a guitar (either acoustic or electric), wear a pair of headphones as you slowly sweep the microphone around until you hear that full “bloom” (with an electric guitar, you should run pink noise through the amp or ask the guitarist to slightly adjust his pickup in order to create a sustaining “buzz” that you can listen to) where the guitar sounds just right.
5. Micing drums effectively presents a different set of challenges altogether due to the incredibly loud transient bursts of energy that a drum kit can produce. In this situation, where you position the floor tom in the room will determine the overall quality of your drum sound.
As this is a two-man job, grab your assistant (or ask the drummer nicely for his help), and have that person carry the floor tom around the room as you smack it intermittently. Once you reach a point where the floor tom sounds like it’s literally shaking the room (psychoacoustically, of course), set it down and have your drummer set up his kit around the floor tom. Every other part of the drum kit will fall into place quite nicely!
Simple & Extremely Effective
While these tips may seem basic, they will help you eliminate crucial issues that could potentially derail an otherwise enjoyable recording session. Nonetheless, don’t be afraid to experiment; if you find that a particular technique (however unorthodox) helps you to achieve the results that you’re after, then take note of it and use it as much as possible.
Of course, even if you can’t afford it now, I highly recommend getting some experience from within a professional recording studio, regardless of whether you’re a paying customer, an intern, or a student. The practical experience and knowledge you’ll gain from the professionals who live and breath audio day in and out will prove to be immensely invaluable!
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