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Microphone choice and placement: At the core of the recording arts

Revisiting Recording Fundamentals

I decided to start getting some of the things that I have learned over the years as a professional recording engineer down on paper (and video). It seems like there is more confusion and lack of direction in the “studio” these days than at any other point in time. The reasons for this could use their own article and video series. I won’t belabor these points however. I would rather be a part of the solution to this problem.

Some people might argue that the art form of recording music (The Recording Arts) is going the way of the Dodo. My view is that any real and useful education in recording must include a thorough understanding of the fundamentals of classic recording technique. What issues did the original lab coat wearing recording engineers (with degrees in electrical engineering) face? How did they overcome these obstacles to capture timeless recordings? Is this hard won knowledge of value to us today?

The limitations of technology for early recording engineers were such that track count was limited. Perhaps one track was at their disposal! Mono. No panning. No blending of elements with faders. The entire recording needed to be captured with ONE microphone. How might this be done to maximize the quality of the recording, blend of instruments, and overall fidelity of the recording. In short, the entire success of the recording came down to mic selection, and mic placement. Because their was only one microphone and one track, capturing many instruments playing at the same time, the following conditions were absolute in importance:

  1. The group could perform the piece TOGETHER, very well.
  2. The individual instruments needed to be placed in the room such that their relative balance was being captured in a way that was pleasing to the recordist.
  3. Proper gain staging was implemented to maximize the fidelity of the recording.

Points 2 and 3 are within the recording engineers domain, and are of paramount importance today, just as they were way back when.


Why is microphone choice and placement of core importance to making recorded music?

  1. Capturing the source: The microphone is the first place that engineers get to shape the tonality of the individual instrument, and ultimately the sum of its parts, the finished song.
  2. Power of intention: Diligently focusing on tone and dynamics at this first stage forces the engineer/producer/artist to clearly define the aural “vision” of the final piece as soon as possible. As such, arrangement and mix work becomes simplified.
  3. An understanding of equalization, compression, and space develop here at the source through placement and mic choice. This enhances our ability to listen for and use these in processes later on, should we need them.
  4. It is SO Much Fun: For both gear-heads and recordists there is nothing more fun than collecting an arsenal of microphones to very easily shape your recording from the beginning. Old, vintage, borrowing, trading, buying, selling microphones can be fun!

Please checkout my video on microphone placement, which illustrates how mic choice and placement impact the sound of  your recording. Please comment below on your findings with mic choice and placement below!

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