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How to Record – Lesson 6: Microphone Placement Basics

Transcript
Hi, it’s Warren Huart here. I hope you’re doing marvelously well, and today in lesson six of our How to Record series, we’re going to talk about microphone placement.

What we’ll do is I’ll just show you a couple of basic ways that you can record different microphone positions, and different patterns that you can use. You know, cardioid, and hyper, and omni, and all of that kind of fun stuff, and we’ll try different techniques for recording.

As ever, please subscribe, if you go to producelikeapro.com and sign up on the email list, you can get access to our Vimeo account, which has got some behind the scenes recording at Sunset Sound, and a couple of other places showing piano, and drums. Also, you can — you’ll get some free drum samples, you’ll get a session you can edit. There’s also a session you can mix and win a DRS EQ from Phoenix Audio.

There’s a whole bunch of fun stuff, plus a couple of songs to download for free, so please sign up for the email list at producelikeapro.com.

Okay, so let’s get started. Let’s look at different techniques in recording instruments. Let’s do — let’s do some electric guitar first.

Okay, so pretty straight forward here. We have a speaker here, which unfortunately, we can’t see very well from in here. In the center here is the soft dome, and that’s the brightest part of the speaker, and as you move out, it gets darker. I’ve talked about this in a couple of other guitar miking videos, so if you want to get really into depth in guitar miking, look at the other couple that I’ve done. There’s one where I’ve done a lot of different miking techniques.

But anyways, so basically, the way I’ve got it here is I’ve got it pointed essentially at the center.

[guitar, mic at center of speaker]

And this is an SM57. It’s a cardioid microphone. It has a nice presence lift between sort of 3-7kHz, it’s got a nice lift. It’s really great for guitars, great on snare drums, etcetera. And then, you know, if you don’t want it so bright, you can move it to the outside here. That will be a little duller sounding.

[guitar, mic pointed towards outside of speaker]

Okay, so we can also move the microphone back considerably, and get a more even sounding tone, but you know, on the 4×12 here, we’re probably going to get all of the speakers going at once.

[electric guitar, mic placed back]

I remember once I used to sell recording equipment, and I remember a kid coming in once and asking me — I was probably a kid myself — coming in and asking me how to get a great guitar sound, and I sort of — we were talking about different ways of recording, and he said to me, “Well, I love the way it sounds when I walk into the room,” so I was like, “Let’s pull the microphone back to where you’re standing when you walk into the room.”

So you know, if you bring this back a reasonable amount, you’re going to get a little bit more room tone in here. Not as much as if we’d mic’d up the room, but this will give us maybe a bit more ambience. Just a bit.

[guitar, mic far from cabinet]

So you’re going to get a little bit more of what’s going on around here. This might sound a little cloudy, compared with up front. We go back up front. We’re not adjusting the gain, so the levels are going to come up and down. Just a quick comparison.

[electric guitar, right on speaker]

That’s a lot more up front and in your face. I think for most modern rock, 90% of the time — 99% of the time, it’s going to be a single mic on the driver like that on the speaker.

Okay, so what we’ve got here is a little XY. We’ve got a pair of these Lewitt LTC-550s. The reason why I’ve chosen these, frankly, is because they match really nicely. You can buy them singly or in pairs, it doesn’t really matter, and they both match identically, so I use them a lot for stereo miking.

So this XY configuration here, with the two LCT-550s, the reason why they’re like this, and if you know, they’re capsule to capsule, is basically to cancel any phase issues.

Now, they may be seeing the sound in two different directions, but they, in the middle, will be perfectly in phase, because the sound will be hitting at the same time. So it’s important that the capsules are on top of each other, and that they are basically seeing the sound in the same distance at the same time. So we’re going to stereo mic the acoustic. We’ve got it going across the body here and across the neck here. It’s nice for, you know, finger picking kind of stuff.

[acoustic guitar]

You get kind of a bounce between the two mics. You know, there’s more bottom end coming off this side, because it’s going to be closer to the sound hole, so you’ll probably find…

[acoustic guitar]

You’ll find it’ll feel fuller on one side than the other, because of that.

[acoustic]

That’ll be the left side for you.

[acoustic]

And then probably for some of the picking kind of thing…

[acoustic, picking]

Especially high up.

Or up here.

It will feel a little bit more even sounding down the middle, but the lower stuff will come slightly left.

So that’s the reality when using stereo miking on acoustic guitars, whatever you do is going to favor the sound hole a little bit for the bottom end, but I mean, I like it, you know, the only time I would ever do this, frankly, is if I was doing a singer/songwriter, and I wanted just a kind of surround of the acoustic, so if you’re doing…

[acoustic]

Something like that would work great, but for me, if I’m just going to do a single acoustic guitar in a track, and again, you can watch the video on expanded acoustic guitar recording, I would just use the one mic, and you can come in here between the 12th and 14th fret, or come off the body, as long as it’s pointed away from the sound hole. Those are my two favorite places.

With large diaphragms, I tend to record it between the 12th and the 14th, the smaller diaphragm, I’ll put it on the body and point it away from the sound hole.

[acoustic]

Cool. Well let’s hear this on a piano.

Okay, so what we have here on the LCT-550s again is a spaced pair. So now, you can put them in an XY here, quite frankly, it might give you a nice, accurate sound, and I probably would, but I’m giving you another version here. Quite often on grand pianos, I’ll do spaced pairs as opposed to XY.

So on this upright here, on my nicely out of tune upright, we’re going to do spaced pair. So what’s nice is like, there’s a bit of a crossover point around about here where they’re both seeing — so in the middle, let’s have a listen.

[piano]

That’s pretty central. We’ll play a middle C.

[upright piano, central playing]

You can check the phase with those. Of course, all the way up here…

[piano, high]

And down here…

[upright piano, low]

That nice out of tune piano note. I’m a much better guitar player than a piano player. Anyways, so…

[piano]

Cool. So that’s a spaced pair on a piano. You can obviously do the same thing with room mics, drums, etcetera. If I’m going to do room mics on drums, I always measure in phase to the snare, so you can put them a long way apart from each other, just make sure they’re both the same distance from the snare and you get a fairly accurate version of the drum sound.

We have the LCT-940 up, and the reason why I put this up is because we can change the polar patterns. So at the moment, it’s set to cardioid. So…

[piano, cardioid]

Cool. So that’s on cardioid. Now let’s try some fun stuff. Let’s go all the way to the far right, and that should give us figure-of-eight. Now, in figure-of-eight, it’ll pick up the front and the back, so what we’re going to do is we’re going to position it across the piano like this. It’ll be a little bit in my way, but hey, it’ll work for — it’ll work for the purposes of what we want to do.

Okay. So it’s now facing across the piano.

[piano, figure-of-eight]

My lovely piano playing there.

Okay, cool, so that’s picking up side-to-side, so it’s getting a pretty full view of the piano in that way. It’s going to sound a little cloudy I think, but I think it’s kind of cool.

[upright piano]

Okay, so let’s try moving it a little way back. We can come back — I don’t know about behind me, but back a little bit, and let’s move the pattern all the way to omni. Now, in omni here, it’s going to pick everything around, so we should get a little bit more ambience.

Now, bear in mind, we’re not in a very big, live room. This is a pretty small room where I have a small drum kit, the Ludwig behind me, and I have this upright, but let’s try it again.

[upright piano, omni]

Lovely! So that’s getting, like, the piano and everything else around the whole room, so it’ll give us a little bit of ambience. If we’re in a big, live room, or a very live sounding room, I should say, it might be kind of nice to do that. However, it might be kind of nice to do the opposite.

If you don’t want to pick up the ambience, you can go adjust it here to the super cardioid. We can move a little closer here, and we should get — not that you’ll notice an enormous amount, because like I said, it’s not a very big, live room, it’s not a very live sounding room, so it shouldn’t make a huge amount of difference, but this will get very focused, just on the piano itself.

[piano, super cardioid]

Cool! So — and to be honest, in most situations, I leave it on cardioid with a mono mic. I use a ribbon quite often in the front here, and I like the way it sounds. This is not a high quality piano, this is a very old, student model Baldwin, and it’s a great piano, but it’s got lots of idiosyncrasies. It’s not in tune perfectly, some of the hammers…

[piano, single notes]

Are a little, you know, there’s issues with it, but that’s kind of what I like about it, it has a lot of personality, so I don’t usually stereo mic it, but you know, I think doing something, generically miking it, super could be really good in a live room, in a very live sounding room, but I think most of the time, a cardioid in a position, probably about here is going to work for most of your situations.

Okay, wonderful. Thanks for watching. So that’s just some real basics on different microphone placements and different modes of the microphone. I think omni you could use — I use often in room mics. If you watched my Sunset Sound drum recording one, you’ll notice I use a 414 in the room set on omni. I use it as a talkback mic, but I also print it, and it’s basically a room mic.

So omnis are great for picking up kind of general ambience in the room. Cardioid is probably the most used microphone setting, most microphones come set cardioid. An SM57, for instance, is in cardioid. Most vocal mics, you know, like the LCT-550, which don’t have polar pattern changes, are on cardioid.

So hyper and super are going to be for very — probably very good when there’s a lot of other instruments around that could possibly bleed into your mic. Great for live use, you know, a lot of live microphones are set to hyper or super cardioid, so there’s less of the drum bleed or guitars bleeding into the vocal mic.

And figure-of-eight is kind of fun. You heard it there across the piano. You could try it across the guitar, an acoustic guitar as well. I know guys that use a Royer mic set on — you know, because it’s set in figure-of-eight, across the amp, and then put a 57 on and blend the signals. There’s so many different things you can do. We’ve really just scratched the surface.

So please, if you have ideas, express them down below, if you have questions, please ask me. Let’s have a great debate on this. Thanks ever so much for watching, and of course, subscribe, go to producelikeapro.com, and sign up for the email list, and you’ll get a bunch of free stuff. You’ll get some Vimeo — private Vimeo links where you can watch some additional videos. There’s also some free drums samples, you’ll get notifications of the competitions that we’re always running, and thanks for watching!

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Warren Huart

Warren Huart

Warren Huart is an English record producer/musician/composer and recording engineer based in Los Angeles, California. Learn more at producelikeapro.com.

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