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!
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Lee started his career in recording with an auspicious goal - record tracks of his own voice singing in harmony. As a hobby project, it didn't have the funding to go to a studio and pay for someone to do it for him. Like many of you, he pulled himself up by the bootstraps to learn the art of recording.