Trying to figure out the best way to record that smooth saxophone solo? Or simply looking to experiment with various microphone placements? Whatever the reason, you have come to the right place. As an aspiring audio professional, you need to know how to properly use microphones. Thus, the question we will be asking today is – What is “microphone techniques”?
Professional sound engineers and producers in the audio industry are always debating on the best methods to record sound using microphones. Hence, in today’s article, we will take a deeper look into the numerous methods of recording in various situations. Find out why certain techniques will work well and why some others won’t. So are you excited yet? Then let us begin!
Introduction – The Importance
Microphone techniques are being utilized all the time in the world of audio. You will find them playing a vital part in music production (live and in the studio), recording speeches or presentations, and even in film productions. Audio professionals will choose a suitable technique, based on several factors:
- The possibility of capturing unwanted noise. This can cause significant problems, especially in live sound, where “audio feedback” may be hard to prevent. On the other hand, this could also be favourable, notably in situations where ambient sound is desired (audience response, room reverb).
- The choice of signal type that is needed for the production (Mono, Stereo or Multi-Channel).
- The nature of the sound-source. For example, an acoustic guitar will have a different acoustic response as compared to an electric type, which are again different than the human voice.
- Various unique situational circumstances. In some cases, the microphone cannot be in plain sight, or having one nearby may be an inconvenience. For instance, in film productions the microphone has to be positioned above the picture-frame (just out of view). This will always create a certain distance between the actor and the microphone.
- Potential signal processing options. If the recorded signal will be heavily processed during the mixing stage, then a different type of input may be required.
- The use of noise protection filters, such as “wind-shield” and “pop shield”, in order to minimize vocal “plosives”.
As you can see above, there are quite a few factors that come into play, when trying to pick the most suitable microphone technique for a recording situation. So how will you always be able to know, which is the best technique for different applications? Well, that will only come with a lot of experience and learning. But don’t fret, as we will cover enough information here for you.
Let us now look at the two topics we will be covering on microphone techniques:
- Basic techniques
- Multi-track recording
Fundamental microphone placement methods that are used for recording and amplification, can be further divided into several classes:
- Close miking
- Ambient or distant miking
- Room miking
- Accent (or Spot) microphone placement
Using this method requires a microphone to be positioned very close to a sound source (could be an acoustic instrument or amplifier), typically within three to twelve inches. This often produces a punchy, dry sound. Sound engineers often employ this technique in order to minimize extraneous noise (including room reverberation), and to improve a sound source’s isolation (to prevent audio spill).
Close miking is also very often used by live sound engineers, in order to reduce the chances of audio feedback within a sound reinforcement system. Keep in mind that this miking technique, often alters the frequency response of the microphone, especially for directional mics, which has a tendency of producing a stronger bass response (as a result of the “proximity effect”).
Ambient or Distant miking
Unlike close miking, this miking technique requires the microphone (usually a very sensitive one) to be positioned at a distance further away from the sound source. The ultimate aim of utilizing this technique, is to achieve a broader, more natural mix of the recorded sound source (or multiple sources), together with some ambience, including the organic reverberation of the room or hall.
Examples of some music productions that incorporated this method would include “The Jesus and Mary Chain’s” Psychocandy (except for the vocals), Robert Plant’s vocal performances on songs from Physical Graffiti, Tom Waits’s solo or lead vocals on his “junkyard” records, and also Mick Jagger’s lead-vocals on songs from Exile On Main Street.
This particular method employs the use of both close miking and distant miking techniques. It is said that the microphone used for distant miking (typically a condenser), should be positioned at a distance far enough, that the room’s ambience and reverberations transduce at the same, or even higher volume than the sound source itself. It is a standard technique used for recording rhythm guitars in rock music.
The rhythm guitar sound on Led Zeppelin’s “Communication Breakdown” is a well known example of a recording that uses the “Room miking” method. Some other popular examples include John Frusciante’s electric guitar tracks on BloodSugarSexMagik, Noel Gallagher’s lead-guitar sections on “Champagne Supernova”, and Billy Corgan’s guitar on “Cherub Rock”.
Accent (or Spot) microphone placement
Both distant and close miking techniques will produce sounds that are very different from each other. Due to this fact, when you use both techniques together under certain circumstances, it can be very challenging to try and obtain an organically balanced recording when mixing both sources.
A perfect example to illustrate this issue, is when recording an orchestra. Often times, there will be a section of the performance that requires a solo instrument within an orchestra to be closed miked, in order to give it a stronger presence. However, if the mic is placed too close to the instrument, it would produce a sound that is overly present and does not suit the more ambient, distant recording of the orchestra.
In order to remedy this problem, sound engineers will always try to come to a compromise in terms of distance. A microphone that is positioned close enough to an instrument or a section within the ensemble (but not too close as to produce an overly strong tone) is known as an accent (or spot) pickup. Plenty of experience is needed when using this method, as the placement and pickup choices must be carefully evaluated.
As a general rule when using accent miking, the level of accent signal that is blended into the main mix should sound natural and organic in relative to the overall sound of the orchestra. On top of that, a decent quality accent microphone should only function to improve the presence of a solo passage, and not make it appear as an “outstanding”, identifiable pickup.
Multi-track recording often consists of various sound sources miked separately, with one or multiple microphones patched to separate channels (on the mixing console). Ultimately, these separate channels are combined to two channels for stereo (or more for surround sound). The performances do not have to take place at the same time, and all tracks can be redone to fix mistakes.
It is common practice to add effects such as reverberation to each recorded track (or channel), and then have various signal levels routed to the left and right “main mix” channels, in order to properly position a particular track within the stereo sound-stage. Microphones may also be used to capture the overall effect, or just the effect of the performance room (otherwise known as “Room miking”).
This method of recording music allows for greater control over the final outcome, but there are instances where a recording is done only by two channels (stereo recording), as it is much easier and cost-effective, and can also give a more natural sound.
There we go ladies and gentlemen, we have finally come to the end of today’s lesson. Had fun? Well, regardless, I still hope that you people have gained enough knowledge on using microphone techniques.
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