Category Archives for Microphone Technique

Microphone technique – Where to put the mic

Microphone technique or placement is one of the most artistic steps in the whole recording process. But how do you know where to put the mic?

There are people who seem to master it naturally, and others who seem to struggle after much practice. There are hosts of different ways to use it. But what is it?

Microphone technique is how you position the microphone while you are recording. Very simply, you want a spot where the mic will pick up the singer or instrument. Apart from that, do what you want!

What's the reason for it?

The main thing that microphone technique addresses is the need for different sounds from different people. Recordings would sound boring if exactly the same technique is used for everything! It's the same reason that we don't use the same microphone all the time.

Another thing microphone technique addresses is the frequency spread of the human voice or other instruments. When you sing, your voice projects the sound from your mouth. But, when it leaves there, it splits. The lower frequencies tend not to go far, and it sounds different depending on where you place and point the microphone.

Try it! If you can record yourself, do it. Try positioning the mic in front pointing straight on. Then take it down to chest height and point it at your mouth. Now point it over your shoulder, about ear height.

Record yourself singing in each position. Can you hear a difference in the recording? Try some other positions. Be creative! Place the mic to the right and left of your mouth, about 6-8 inches away, pointing at your mouth. Try it at eye level, center and to the sides, pointing at or not pointing at your mouth. Just for the experience, try it above your left shoulder pointing out front and slightly to the right.

There are no rules in microphone technique. Everyone does it a different way, but no one is wrong. The key is experimentation – try various ways to see if you can get a better sound.

After you try for a while, you'll see that microphone technique and placement is an art. There are guidelines, but no hard rules. It takes creativity.

So what are some guidelines? Glad you asked.

Practical guidlines for microphone technique

Now, let's look at some techniques used in microphone placement to get us started.

Try starting with the mic about 12-18 inches away from the singers' mouth. Aim it up just slightly to avoid plosives. See if it makes any difference aiming it slightly up or down.

I recently read to take an omni-directional microphone and aim it straight up. Put it just below the singer’s mouth, a few inches away.

That’ll eliminate plosives and get a nice open sound. With an omni you won’t get the proximity effect, so you can put it closer eliminate the exaggerated bass response. (More on plosives and the proximity effect below.) I haven't tried that one yet, but I'm anxious to.

For a throaty sound, try placing the microphone higher than the mouth. Point it down, aiming towards the throat.

My favorite for avoiding plosives — put the microphone in the 2:00 position and aim it at the mouth.

Do you have a good microphone technique tip (or maybe even question) that should be here? If so, please email me and let me know.

What are some other practical things you should think about in microphone technique? Here's a few we'll look at:

  • Plosives
  • Proximity effect
  • Volume adjustment
  • Room acoustics
  • Sound character

Plosives

Plosives — what are they? A plosive is when a person sings a p or b. This creates a puff (explosion!) of air that hits the diaphragm of the mic. That makes a boom or thud, and is recorded!

Do you know what a video camera sounds like outside in some bad wind? That is the sound of the air hitting the microphone. In the same way, when you have your singer too close to the mic you will get a boom whenever a plosive comes up.

Try getting a pop filter for your mic if you have problems with this. A pop filter takes the air and aims it away from the diaphragm while letting the sound through.

Proximity Effect

The proximity effect is noticed principally on cardioid microphones. As the sound source (your singer) gets closer to the mic, the bass frequencies are picked up louder. This tends to exaggerate the lower stuff, making a boomier sound.

You can use this to your advantage, though. To a point, you can make a voice sound fuller and more flattering by using the proximity effect on the voice. Just bring the microphone in closer to where it sounds good.

Volume Adjustment

When you're voice recording, make sure to adjust the volume correctly so the vocal doesn’t sound distant. If you have the preamp set too low, the recording will seem far away. Unless you want this sound, try to avoid it. (You can always turn it down later in the mix.)

When setting your preamp, you want to have the best signal to noise ratio you can get without clipping. (Clipping is when the signal gets louder than the maximum.) Of course, keep it balanced. I usually allow some headroom so a surprise peak doesn't ruin the track. I would rather have a track recorded 6 db to quiet than .01 db to loud.

Room Acoustics

The closer you have the mic to the singer, the less of the room's acoustic you’ll have in the track. This can be good or bad, depends on what effect you’re trying for.

My first thought says to eliminate as much of the room acoustic as possible. Then you can use a reverb unit to get precisely what you want. But if you’re in a room that sounds good, go ahead and use that.

Sound Character

When you are getting a microphone placement for your singer, make sure to move the mic around sideways and up & down to see if you can get a better sound. Get closer and farther away. Change the angle and experiment with different polar patterns (pickup patterns).

When you do that, you'll notice the sound changing character. A breathy sound close, more natural farther away. There are a lot of different subtle voice character changes in relation to position to the voice. Try a few to see what you like!

Keep in mind the style and spirit of the song. Some songs need a different character of voice (i.e. bright and bold vs. soft and dreamy). The singer can also change positions and vocal techniques during the song to change the character.

This is the real art in mic placement and technique. There is no shortcut to this other than experience. I wish it weren't so, but it is. I could give you pages of rules, and you could use them, and maybe even get decent results, but it is no substitute for actually trying them yourself.

What's next?

There's a lot you can do in the world of microphone technique. As you explore it all, keep in mind rule #1 of microphone technique:
  • Rule #1: There are no rules in mic technique!

Use the guidelines presented here and many other places on the web. But remember — use them only as building blocks.

As you progress in your experience, sometime you will want to record a group of people, or an ensemble. Be it a duet, quartet, small ensemble or choir, you'll probably get the opportunity sooner or later.

But how do you record that? What microphone techniques do you use there?

Simple. See Choir and Group Microphone Technique.

But what if you record to computer? What's next then? There are many options available for processing vocal recordings. Check out these at the computer voice recording page. 

When You’re Recording Singing, Examine Your Singer!

This article is the first in a series of 6 parts on voice recording. The series starts here.

Ready to start recording singing? Great! Where do we start? For starters, let's talk about the first step in recording a singer, the singer to be recorded!

When we have a problem, we look back to see where it might be coming from -- not further ahead. To find out what happened, we need to see what happened previously.

That principle is a good one to follow in recording singing. When you get voice recordings that you don't like, don't spend hours trying to fix them, but try looking further back in the recording chain.

The furthest back you can go when you're recording singing is the singer. So, let's start there.

When you want a good voice recording, you need a good singer. That seems like stating the obvious, but it is very important in getting good results!

What all is meant by a good singer?

When I say a good singer, I mean someone who knows how to use their voice to communicate. That means their technique — how they sing & how they sound.

This takes knowledge and practice, just like playing an instrument. Someone who has never sung before won't be able to do justice to a Beethoven song the first time in the studio!

I can hear you saying, "What! He's telling me about the singer! I want to learn how to make them sound good!"

I know what you're saying, and I can understand. But remember the cake thing? If you don't make sure that the raw material (the singer) is solid in quality, you can't expect the finished result to sound as good as a Josh Groban CD.

Everything else you do to the recording after tracking is trying to fix what didn't get right the first time. You don't have to do that. Just leap frog everyone else by using quality singers!

But, what if I can't? There are many reasons that will give you less than desirable singers. Like what? Like the people who want you to record them. Say they aren't really good to start with. What can you do?

The most desirable thing to do is to tell them they need more practice. Go practice for a couple of weeks and then come back. Then they'll be practiced up, and the recording process will be so much easier and fun!

But sometimes that isn't an option. In that case, you don't have much choice. Let it to the producer or the singer to decide if it's good enough, but be sure to let them know what you recommend. 🙂

If you do get high quality singers to record, I can almost guarantee that you and your singer will be much happier and prouder of your work!

All in all, this is a very easy thing to overlook when recording singing. Why? You have your eyes set on the technical aspects of recording, not on the raw material! But remember this, if you want your singer to sound good, he has to be good!

So, don't skip evaluating the singer while recording singing.

What's after recording singing? Let's look at vocal mics...

Or, go back to the recording voice overview.

Voice Recording – Prepare Properly For Success

Have you ever wondered how the pros get such good voice recordings? Where do they come up with the lush sounds? What are their techniques? Better still, how can you use them to get outstanding results yourself?

There are a few things that are necessary for your voice recording to sound its best. Think of it as making a cake. You mix the eggs, flour and sugar (plus all the other stuff) together and bake it. The cake is the finished product — a combination of the ingredients.

Suppose you skimp on the quality of your baking ingredients. Or, you just skip one all together. What would happen? The cake would flop! If you don't follow the recipe, you can't expect a prize-winning cake.

In the same respect, you need the correct amount of emphasis on each part of the recording process to make a masterpiece vocal recording. 

Don't skip any steps either. What would happen if you forgot to add flour to the cake? Instead of rising nicely, you would get a flat, hard chunk of dough – not really appetizing!

If you were making the cake, you would go to the recipe book and look for the one for a cake. But, there is no "recipe book" for vocals. How do you know what to do?

While there are no "recipe books" on this subject, I will help you come up with a strategy plan to achieve results that you are proud of.

To start, what are the necessary ingredients for a good voice recording? I would recommend these:

  • a good singer
  • a good microphone
  • a good preamp
  • good mixing techniques

In some ways, this is like the recording process outlined in another article. This one is geared more on the step of recording, but it would be good to check out this article on the recording process.

You can probably skimp on any one of these items and still make a vocal recording. However, by lowering the quality of the components, you sacrifice the quality of the finished vocal sound.

Are you all ready to start? Great! I am too. But before we begin, I need to let you know something.

All the suggestions and instructions are provided as suggestions. I can't guarantee that you will get stellar results the first time you record voice using these instructions.

Remember that recording, especially voice, is an art. There isn't a formula to get a good sound. However, there are techniques and tips that can help you get off to a good start.

Let's look at these suggestions for good voice recordings...


Bedroom Recording – Gotta Start Somewhere

Starting small - bedroom recording

Bedroom recording = the art of making a digital recording in a bedroom. One does not need a studio to begin recording, and what more available place than a bedroom? Family rooms, basements, and other rooms work just as well, but for this article, bedroom means any room in your house that will be used as a temporary studio. 

What are the things to consider when setting up a bedroom recording project? What will the challenges be? I've done some recording in bedrooms and basements before, so I'll share the things I learned. Among the things to think about are acoustics, noise, and monitoring. Let's look at these. 

Acoustics
Acoustics means the science of how sound works as it bounces off different surfaces, and of how materials absorb and diffuse sound. How does this affect us in bedroom recording? Plenty. The reason studios spend so much to put up treatments on the walls is primarily of acoustics. Nasty reflections make a nasty sound, and controlling those is part of how you can get a better sound. 

In a bedroom recording studio, we don't have the money or facilities for acoustic treatment, but that doesn't mean we can't do anything. Let's do a quick crash course in acoustics, then apply this to our bedroom. 

Acoustics Crash Course
Sound travels in invisible but audible waves of varying frequency (cycles per second). We say a sound is low pitched if the frequency is slower, or we identify high frequency sounds as high pitched. There are different strengths in different frequencies, ie., one frequency is not like another. The lower sounds tend to be stronger and will pass through materials much easier, while higher sounds will reflect off hard surfaces much quicker and will be absorbed by soft surfaces. This is why you can hear the bass but not the higher sounds outside a car - the lower frequencies pass through the frame but the higher ones are reflected around inside. 

Applied to the Bedroom Studio
Let's start with the easy stuff: the highs. Hard surfaces reflect highs while soft surfaces will absorb. If our goal is to tame high frequencies, we need to drag soft stuff around, like mattresses, sleeping bags, and blankets. I sang with a quartet (someone else did the recording... bummer) and we recorded in a basement. We set mattresses on end for the "walls" of our bedroom recording studio, and used blankets to fill in the ceiling and remaining wall. The mattresses are denser than blankets, so they took care of some lower stuff, but not all. It was quite a neat experience, and basically anyone can do it. 

The not so easy stuff is the low frequencies. They are much more powerful and require more elaborate schemes to control them. For a bedroom studio, probably old mattresses will be the most efficient things to use, because more control will require other treatments starting to cost more. For more about this, see the acoustics page.

Noise
Another problem we will have to deal with in a bedroom is noise coming in. Noise comes from many places, from cars and airplanes to air conditioners and refrigerators. The nasty thing about it is that it is often missed during recording. It's hard to control such noises, but proper planning goes a long way. 

Let's look at two different types of noise, uncontrollable, environmental noise, and controllable device noises. Uncontrollable noise comes in the form of passing traffic (cars, trains, airplanes) and weather. (There may be other sources, we'll just look at these two.) There is little to do about these noises sneaking into your recording. For traffic, you'll either have to work around it during recording (by stopping when it occurs) or schedule bedroom recording when the traffic patterns are lower (like at night or early morning). Controllable noises are much easier to fix - just turn them off! An air conditioner? It's gotta be off during recording (turn it on between takes or just sweat it out). Fridge? Turn it off. Computer noise? Locate the computer away from the mics, and put some sort of gobo between them. Neighbors? This is a little tackier - you could ask them to be quiet, or try to schedule a time to record when they are away. 

The biggest step in eliminating noise in your recording is also the first - be ready for it. Listen for it. Listen without headphones in the room where you'll be recording in. Learn to identify sounds and hear what all is going on. As I type, I can hear an air conditioner, an audio program playing downstairs, cups being put away from the dishwasher, a washing machine, and the keys of my laptop being typed. It is only when you can identify noises like this that you can work to eliminate (or minimize them). 

Monitoring
Another challenge in working with bedroom recording is monitoring, or listening to your material. You need some way of accurately hearing what has been recorded to make decisions about EQ, mixing, and evaluation. 

You might want to use a set of earbuds to do it, but I would recommend you get a pair of pro or semi-pro headphones. Earbuds are so very small, and the fit is usually not consistent, so the sound is not dependable. Besides, the drivers are so small in earbuds that lower frequency sounds are not reproduced very accurately. I would try something like the AudioTechnica M40 headphones. I've used my pair for years (and all but wore them out!) and absolutely love them. Or look at the Sennheiser 280 headphones. I've tried them already, and liked their sound. 

To go further in monitoring, consider a set of studio monitors. There are some affordable speaker systems that allow you to have a different perspective on your sound than headphones can offer. When I mix I use both monitors and headphones. The monitors are my main listening devices, but headphones allow you to get closer and listen for super small things. (Headphones work better for listening for noise in recordings.) The speakers I use and love are the Event TR6 Tuned Reference speakers. They are active, so you don't need a separate amplifier. 

Let's go a little further on the what gear you need to record. At first, everything feels so confusing (a mic and a what?), but really it's simple. Hop on over to Recording Equipment for a primer on what's available and what a small studio needs.

Well, hows that for a quick survey of bedroom recording? We talked about acoustics in the room, noise in the recording, and monitoring the mix. It's been fun for me to gather this information together, and think about it again. Even for those of us that have done it before, it's good to review. Reviewing and repeating is how one learns. 

Do you have specific questions you would like me to talk about in this page? Please let me know! Contact Bedroom Recording.

Choir mic technique – ways to record a choir

Just what exactly is choir mic technique? Simply put, it is the skill and technique used in placing microphones for recording choirs or ensembles. It is knowing what mics work best, where to place them, and using various microphones, placement, and room space to make the choir sound their best. 

Just as there are many possible "right" ways to record anything else, there are many ways to use your choir mic technique skills. As you learn and gain experience, you'll find ways that really don't work the best, and some ways that are worth trying again. But the quest for a perfect setup will never be over. It's kind of like life - you never get done, even though we run out of time. 

Sam Ash Quikship Corp.

In this article we will look at several techniques and methods for choir mic placements and choir mic technique.

Mic placement techniques for Choirs

For the sake of this discussion, when I say choir it will mean a vocal ensemble of about 10 to 50, or even higher. You can use these principles on instrumental ensembles, orchestral or non, but I will be specifically applying them to a choir. Even the size of the choir I gave is a wide range, but the principles still apply, even with a larger group. 

The subject of choir mic technique, or choir recording and stereo recording are very intertwined - it's hard to talk about the one without mentioning the other. So make sure you check out the page on stereo recording for background info. 

So that out of the way, let's begin. 

There are two main schools of thought on how a choir should be recorded - with a stereo recording (or binaural), or each part separately. We'll discuss each idea, and I'll show you what I think as we go along. 🙂

Part by Part

When I say part I mean a section of the choir, like soprano, alto, tenor or bass (conveniently arranged in the acronym SATB). 

For choir mic technique in this method of recording choirs, each part has to be physically separated. We use a microphone for each section, and do a mixdown later, so we will end up with 4 tracks, plus any solos required. This method of choir miking has strengths and weaknesses inherent in it's design. 

First the strengths - you have much more control over the post-recording work of mixing. Each part is tracked separately, so you can adjust the levels individually. If the tenors just blasted a note at the end, just pull their part back in the mix, or if the alto should've come out a tad stronger in the middle, it's a cinch to bring them up a bit. 

Also, by recording separately, you usually move the mics closer to the group to avoid leakage. Therefore you will get a closer, or intimate sound (which is neither good nor bad, just a sound color that's available). 

The inherent weaknesses are as follows - you are not doing a true stereo (binaural) recording. This can sound good (I know of a studio that does the part by part method a lot and gets very good results), but it's not quite true to the source, it doesn't have a you-are-there character. 

While you are getting each part equally, you are not getting all parts together - when you mix, the tracks recorded at separate physical locations are brought together, many places to one, whereas a stereo recording is recorded in (roughly) 1 location, giving you a more realistic listening experience. 

The farther away the mics are from the singers, the more bleed you will get, or leak through of one part to the other microphones. This helps unify the sound, but defeats the purpose of mixing the tracks separately.

Stereo Recording

Choir mic technique using a stereo recording will sound natural, much more like a "you are there" experience. We have several mic placement patterns available for use, the most popular being XY, AB, ORTF, and Decca Tree. They use both cardioid and omni-directional mics. I'll assume you know what these are (to find out, see stereo recording.).

Choir recording mic techniques

There are a few different ways of doing this, but the most popular is to use an XY pair. Take two cardioid microphones and place the capsules at the same place, one right above the other. Angle them 90 degrees, so it looks like the corner of a square. (The diaphragms should be directly above one another.) Pan the inputs of the sound board to far left and far right. Ta-da! Your stereo signal! 

Now you have a stereo microphone pair setup and ready to use, but where should you put it?

Try starting with the mic stand(s) about 12 feet from the choir or group. I usually put the microphones high, and pointing slightly down. If I have three rows of people standing on risers, I aim the mics angling downward at the middle row.

From there, listen to the sound with your ear. Go ahead and stick your head in there, listening at various spots to find the "sweet spot". Move the microphones out and in. You probably want to keep them centered for your stereo sound. Try raising and lowering them too; that might yield an altogether different sound!

The most important piece of advice I have is experiment. After you do a few choirs, you will know what a good choir recording will sound like. This will help you a lot in setting the microphones up and listening for a good sound.

Spend enough time setting up. Don't try to rush — that will cheat your choir out of getting the best possible sound. Act like you know what you're doing, because you do! Choir mic technique is not learned in one session.

If you have more than one set of mics, try using a combination of stereo microphone techniques. Try using a ORTF pair closer to the choir, and a spaced pair further back. (More on ORTF and spaced pair setups in the stereo recording article.)

Other considerations that come into play are the room size, natural reverberation, and the size and quality of the group. Choir recording is very general — there are a million (I think?) different ways to do a choir recording, of choir mic technique.

My main tip is already stated: experiment. Take your time, and do it right the first time. Sure, you'll make mistakes, but learn from these.

Let me know your experiences and observations in choir mic technique. What helps you the most, or what one tip would you share with anyone considering choir recording? I'd love to hear from you, and you would help make the experience for others easier.

Return from choir mic technique to choir recording.