Microphone Technique Basics

An example of bad mic technique...

When setting up in a studio or live environment various aspects need to be taken into account to achieve sonic success. Microphone selection is an important decision but not only is the type and brand of microphone important, but also how to place them for best results. A few centimeters can make the difference between capturing the perfect audio or serious phasing issues.

The three points discussed below will be the first in a series of articles giving you tips and advice on how to place microphones for the optimal for various scenarios. We will start with some tips for capturing vocals.

1. The Right Mic For The Job

This first point may seem obvious but using a microphone that is suited to the frequency range of the sound source is very important. If possible try to get a microphone that filters out frequencies above and/or below the highest and lowest frequencies of the sound you are recording.

2. Microphone Placement

Experiment with different microphone placements. Try positioning the microphone at various distances from your source and even when you have found the optimum distance, try placing the microphone at different angles. You will be looking to achieve a balance between the direct source and the environment around it. The closer you place the mic to the source the less of the environment you capture.

Often you will you want to eliminate the environment as much as possible, particularly in live situations which will require placing the microphone very close to the loudest part of the instrument, or isolating the instrument. Experimentation with the placement and isolation is the key to minimizing any undesirable elements, and capturing the desired audio.

The key to microphone placement is understanding the characteristics of what you trying to record and the room or venue you are in.

Various microphone polar patterns. Some microphones will allow you two select from a range of patterns.
Various microphone polar patterns. Some microphones will allow you two select from a range of patterns.
3. Use polar patterns to your advantage

If we take a vocal group or choir in a studio situation for example, an omni directional microphone will allow singers to perform as if they were live. However two cardioid pattern microphones placed back to back can also achieve this but with some obvious dead spots. However an omni directional mic can also be used to capture a single vocalist. In this example the microphone will pick up a lot of the room as well. This can be good or bad depending on your desired result. Adding more of the room can provide a very natural sounding reverb for example.

If a more direct sound is required it would be worth considering a uni directional or a single standard cardioid microphone for this. Other equipment such as baffles or acoustic treatment can be used to minimise reflections for a more direct sound. For those fortunate enough to have access an isolated vocal booth will eliminate nearly all reflections and produce what is commonly referred to as a “dead space”.

With these basic principles now set we can start looking at recording specifics. In the next article we will look at how to capture vocals.