We’ve mentioned plenty of times in this blog about how you can get some great original sounds quickly and easily by taking a microphone and recording instruments, found sounds and more in the comfort of your own studio setup. Only a few years back, most producers would learn their trade as general dogsbody in a local studio – setting up microphones, compressors and amps for a couple of years until they’d fully learned their trade. But in the age of the laptop producer, that’s not so common, and simply recording a few instruments can be easier said than done – and setting up a mic for the first time can be a daunting prospect for the novice. So let’s consider a few tips that will help you get things moving along smoothly!
First off, let’s think about what you’d want to record – probably something that the average musician might have around the house. Some bongos, a shaker, possibly a guitar if you’re feeling adventurous. Whatever you start with, it’s important to remember that the microphone placement is key. Get this wrong, and the big hefty drum you brought back from holiday that one time can start sounding like a tin can.
So to start with, you want to get things reasonably up-close. Most microphones produce what is known as a ‘proximity effect’ which means that when the mic is close to the sound source, the lower frequencies are emphasised. So be aware of this, and use it if you want to get a fuller sound – but be careful, as it can add muddiness too! If you’re recording a set of bongos, try placing your microphone about a foot (30cm) above the drums, in between the two, and facing (not pointing) down towards them.
How to tell when the microphone is ‘facing’ the drums? Well, most microphones are directional (to an extent); so the front of the mic will be marked with a metal dot or a sticker. So for ideal results, you should normally have the sound source in front of the mic (think of a singer in a booth), rather than going into the top of it (as you often see when interviewers on TV just lean the mic over towards their interviewee).
This will give a good all-round sound for your bongos, and you should consider what things might sound like with the mic elsewhere; off to one side will mean that one drum is louder than the other, below them will give a boomy sound which lacks the detail of hands on skins. Putting the mic far away will give you a reverby sound as, reflections come to the microphone at almost the same time as the direct sound. Similarly, if you’re recording a shaker, it should be across the front of the microphone, and quite close.
Guitars can be a trickier proposition – but an electric guitar is easy to mic up. Simply plonk the microphone facing the amplifier, and adjust the distance to taste. The sound of an amplified guitar is not usually a subtle one; the amp will compress the sound and rub off any subtleties, making the job of recording it that much easier. Acoustic guitars, on the other hand, might be best left until you have more experience – finding the right blend of warmth, detail and fret noise can be a difficult task.
If you’re just recording some simple instruments, you won’t need a pop shield; these are really for vocals only – so that’s one less thing to consider at this stage!
If you don’t have a microphone, but are thinking of getting one, then there’s one major consideration to take into account; what type. There are two main types of mic – dynamic, and condenser (sometimes called capacitor mics). Dynamic microphones are usually cheaper, and much more hard-wearing – they’re what you see singers using on stage for instance (they won’t break if dropped) and can handle high volumes without a problem. They’re ideal to get started with. Condenser microphones are more expensive, but can offer a much nicer and more detailed sound – ideal for acoustic guitars or vocals. But they are physically delicate, and not recommended for stage use – and if you put one inside a kick drum, for example, they may be damaged by the high sound pressure levels. Condenser mics also need ‘phantom power’ – a 48 volt power supply, which is supplied down the mic cable. Most decent soundcards and mixing desks will be able to cater for this, and have a button marked ’48v’, but it’s worth bearing in mind just in case.
Getting started with a microphone doesn’t need to be too intimidating – just start small, with a simple instrument, experiment to find the right mic placement for your track, and try to play consistently. You’ll find an it’s an easy way of adding fresh sounds to your beats, and opens up a whole world of new sound sources. You may even be recording hit vocalists before you know it!
Categories: Basic Production