Having the right mics in your arsenal is of utmost importance for any live engineer, whether out on the road with a touring act, working in-house at a local venue or house of worship.
In this article, we’re going to look at the main sound sources to consider and at some the microphones available that are right for the job.
The main elements of the drums you’ll be looking at miking up are kick drum, snare, toms and overheads. Sometimes not all, but you’ll want to have something for each to keep you out of trouble.
With the kick drum, you want to pick up a balance of low end and the attack or “click”. The industry standard AKG D112 MKII has a frequency response that does just this and brings a nice balance between lows and highs. Some engineers like to have a choice of inside and outside mics on their kick drum, giving them the ability to blend the two to taste. Something like the Sennheiser e901 “plate” mic is a popular choice for inside placement.
As for the snare drum, you’ll be aiming to get the body of the snare, giving it weight and not sound thin, plus some crack, so it can cut through the mix. The Shure SM57 is a tried and true snare mic, with a definite boost in the upper mid-range. The AKG D40 gives a great frequency response, with slight boosts and nulls just where you want them, whilst the Sennheiser e904 offers a very flat response to work with.
There are lots of mics suitable for toms and the aforementioned AKG D40 and Sennheiser e904 are solid choices that include clips to clamp onto the rims of each drum, very handy. Audio Technica’s ATM230 has a hypercardioid polar pattern, which is great for keeping the focus on the drum and rejecting other parts of the drumkit effectively.
Overheads will tend to be condensers mics which are perfect for picking up cymbals and hi-hats. Compact and affordable options like the Rode M5’s or AKG’s P170’s pencil style condenser mics are good all-rounders. For those who can stretch the budget, a Neumann’s KM184 stereo set or matched pair of AKG’s C214 are tasty options.
Sometimes you’ll need to place a mic in front of an acoustic guitar because they either don’t have an in-built pickup, or it does, and it simply doesn’t cut the mustard. You can choose from either dynamic or condensers mics with both yielding solid results. A small diaphragm condenser will give you a detailed top end, and the AKG C1000S MKIV would be a great choice, with its variable polar patterns giving you essentially more control to tailor the sound. If a dynamic mic is more accessible then an SM57 will work nicely, but for some real “condenser like” detail and nuances, the Sennheiser 441 is an ideal choice as a high-end dynamic for acoustic guitars.
Knowing your amps and mics response is going to help a lot with what mic you might choose for a guitar cabinet. Most engineers are going stick with trusty dynamic mics and the SM57 is a familiar choice. For a slightly different frequency response (and look) the Sennheiser 906 is a good all-rounder, alleviating the need for a mic stand plus offering 3 different EQ curves.
Matching a vocalist to a microphone is like matching a wine to a meal, some flavours work together and others really test the palette. Knowing your mics and your vocalists will help a lot here. If you’re working with a vocalist who has great mic technique, then they will probably benefit from a more focused microphone. However, a singer that moves the mic around a lot is probably going to benefit from a mic that has a better off-axis pickup.
There are simply dozens of choices for vocal microphones, dynamics and condensers alike, and we’ve covered a bunch of them in a previous article which you can check out here. A few popular dynamic choices include the AKG D5, which cuts through the mix like a hot knife through butter. The Shure Beta 58A offers higher output and sensitivity to that of its SM58 sibling, whilst the Sennheiser e945 has rich top-end detail and good off-axis rejection. All of these mics employ a super-cardioid polar pattern, giving a focused response. There’s also an abundance of cardioid mics out there to check out.
Handheld condensers can give you cut and detail for a vocal that just can’t be achieved by dynamic mics. There are some high-end contenders here such as the DPA Defacto: II or AKG C636, as well more affordable options such as the Rode M2, AKG C5 or Sennheiser e965, all offering unique features of their own.
We could go on all day about other mics for different sound sources but these are sound sources you’re going to encounter the most so hopefully, we’ve left you with a few options to consider when looking at your next live mic purchase for your tool kit!