You bought yourself a microphone… Now what? This isn’t the only piece in the puzzle you’ll need to get studio quality recording. Unfortunately, it’s not going to be that easy. Wherefore, here are some microphone tips from Rivington Music.
Home recording has become increasingly popular. There’s a wave of budget-friendly microphones being shipped over from China. Subsequently, this has only added fuel to the fire. That being said, many beginners are looking for ways to improve the quality of their recordings.
This guide will provide you with tips and tricks to increase the overall quality of your recording. This won’t require any additional gear, in most cases. Using the correct recording techniques is half the battle of getting a studio-quality recording. Let’s jump right in!
Types of Microphones
Condenser and dynamic are the two types of microphones to consider. Studio recordings generally use condenser microphones. As a rule, their internal moving parts are much lighter when compared to dynamic microphones.
The lightweight diaphragm of condenser mics enable them to accurately handle higher frequencies. Consequently, this makes them ideal for low sound pressure levels (vocals and acoustic instruments).
However, a dynamic mic must be used for higher sound pressure levels (SPLs). This includes miking amps and drum kits.
Condenser microphones require a power source. That can be a downside. Phantom power is required to polarize the capsule and operate the microphone pre-amp. This is accomplished through a dedicated phantom power supply or the mixing console. For those recording at home, you’ll likely use your audio interface to supply the phantom power.
Each microphone comes with at least one set polar pattern, generally. Some higher-end mics can swap polar patterns, but this isn’t always standard.
For those who aren’t familiar with polar patterns, the mics pick up sound differently from different directions. This feature is known as their polar pattern.
The most common polar pattern is known as the cardioid polar pattern, as a rule. These mics reject most of the sound arriving from behind and provide good isolation for anything in front.
A cardioid polar pattern is the best mic for the job, in most cases. Alternatively, If you want to record the room, using an omni-directional mic (which pick up sound from all directions) would be the better choice.
Microphone Sound Character
You may be familiar with the coloration of your studio headphones or your nearfield monitors. Coloration refers to the frequency boosting, or cutting, built into the headphones or speakers. The ideal set of monitoring headphones comes with a flat frequency response, as most know. In other words, no coloration.
However, microphones also come with an inherent frequency coloring. Some microphones have the mid range frequencies boosted to help improve the singer’s clarity. Conversely, other mics will have the high-end boosted to provide the singer with more presence. Similarly, some will boost the low-end to provide more warmth.
How do I know which microphone I should aim for?
It can take years of experience to gain the right intuition for mic selection. With that understood, here is a general guide to help you get started:
- Harsh voice: Look for a mic with a boosted low-end. Otherwise characterized as a “warm” sounding mic. Avoid any upper-mid range boosting.
- Lack of clarity: Find a boosted upper-mid range. These mics are also great for enhancing the sibilance of the singer.
- Thin voice: Boosted low-end. Helps widen out the vocals.
This, of course, assumes you have a few different types of mic on-hand. Some of the mic’s shortcomings can be made up by tweaking the recording environment, if this isn’t the case.
The Recording Environment
Musicians sometimes blame the low-quality of their recording on a cheap microphone. However, many issues when recording can be address within the recording environment itself.
DIY musicians don’t often have the funds required to do a complete acoustic treatment of their recording environment. As a result, this leads to unwanted reflections reeking havoc on the source recording. Cosequently, the recordings end up sounding boxy due to the inadequate absorption at the mid and low frequencies.
The best solution to this problem, surround the singer with acoustic absorbing material. Blankets actually work very well here, as a rule.
You may already have some acoustic treatments in place. However, a few acoustic panels on the wall isn’t going to solve your problem. Hang a duvet around the acoustic guitar player or vocalist. Generally, this will help add some liveliness without any coloration.
The alternative is to complete a full acoustic treatment of your studio. Here’s a great guide for those who are interested.
To result in the best quality recording, place the microphone directly in front of the source, as a rule. Usually, the closer the mic is to the source, better is the ratio of direct sound to reflected sound.
Aim for around 3 inches when using a cardioid condenser microphone. Besides, any closer and you will get accentuated low-end. Always remember, leave some room for the pop-shield, by the way. This prevents any of the “plosive” sound artifacts.
Instruments require a little more intuition, on the other hand. They tend to produce sound from the entire body of the instrument, for the most part. Compare this to the centralized location you find in vocals. As a result, placing the microphone too close to one part of the instrument, loses much of the instrument’s character.
Use the body of the instrument as a rough guide to microphone placement. For instance, grand pianos need to be at least a few feet from the mic. However, acoustic guitars only require the length of the guitar body.
In conclusion, you will be well off to use a condenser microphone with a cardioid polar pattern. Also, you need the appropriate sound character in an acoustically controlled environment. Follow these basic steps to be 80% of the way to obtaining a professional sounding recording.
As always, experiment with each of the suggestions above to see what works best in your situation. In brief, each mic, room, and voice brings a unique set of characteristics contributing to the recording quality. The best advice I can give, experiment with these microphone tips until you find something that works.
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About the author: Glen Parry has been playing guitar for over 15 years. He’s done everything the hard way so you don’t have to. You can find more advice and buying guides over at Audio Mastered.