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Digital Subscriptions > MusicTech > Oct 17 > HOW TO RECORD… EVERYTHING

HOW TO RECORD… EVERYTHING

It’s MusicTech’s ultimate guide to recording every instrument out there. The mics you need, where you place them – everything you need to know, in fact, to record perfect takes, time and time again, while avoiding the quirks and idiosyncracies of a diverse range of instrumentation. Andy Jones explains…

In many ways, this is the ultimate MusicTech guide – and it’s something we’ve been meaning to put together for years. The idea is simple: to detail the microphones and techniques you need to record the main acoustic and electric instruments in a band – but the scope is potentially enormous. There are a gazillion microphones out there, and probably as many ideas to get the perfect sound, as there are producers and engineers. As such, then, rewind to that word ‘guide’. While we’ll offer mic placement ideas, they are just guidelines. For every measurement, mic distance, angle and principle we suggest, the real detail comes with experimentation.

This is because the main rule when recording something – anything – is that if you think it sounds good, it is good! So we’ll throw in a range of well-researched suggestions, but there are lots of additional contributing factors; not least the room you’re recording in and the way your musician plays, that could (will, even) affect things… so use our suggestions as a starting point and experiment from there. As you get more experienced, you’ll learn which mics are good for what, and which suit certain voices and playing styles.

The overall goal when mic’ing anything up – and to make it sound good – is to strike a good tonal balance. This means that the same principles apply when you’re recording an upright piano as they do when you’re recording an acoustic guitar – indeed, some of the microphone-placement techniques we discuss for both situations are broadly similar. If you have just one microphone, try and place it between the bass- and treble-sounding areas. If you want to go stereo, then maybe aim one mic at the bass and one at the treble to get the bigger picture. So there are rules – but as we’ll see, there are also a lot of arguments.

We’ll cover five broad areas – vocals, piano, guitar, electric guitar and drums – but along the way, we’ll spill out into other amplified or acoustic areas, to hopefully cover most instruments.

One caveat: where we suggest actual mic models, these recommendations are based on actual MusicTech reviews, where our experts have tested the microphone in question in a variety of studio situations to conclude what it is best used for. There may be other mics out there that are as good, if not better, but our recommendations here come from what we have reviewed and the wealth of knowledge possessed by the people who wrote the reviews.

So, read on, as we cut through the discussion to bring you the definitive mic’ing up and recording guide for all instruments…

THE ROOM

A very general rule when recording anything is that the closer to the source you are – be that voice, instrument or amp cabinet – the more of that source sound, and the less of the room, you will record. Move further away and the effect of the room is increased, while the source decreases in volume. We’ll also see that the closer you are to the subject, the bassier the results. Both of these factors mean that, very often, people like to set up a separate microphone to record the room ambience and mix it in later. With drums and grand pianos in particular, this can be hugely important. There’s a separate feature on room acoustics and how it impacts with recording with different instruments, so in this feature, we’ll look at closer mic’ing techniques, but if you have a spare mic and channel, if you can, it’s often worth throwing it up and capturing the sound of the room.

ACOUSTIC GUITAR

This is surely the most common mic’ing scenario of the moment, thanks to the proliferation of singer/songwriters out there. It also means there are a host of different mic’ing techniques: from throwing up a single dynamic microphone that will take less than a minute to set up, to placing a couple of condensers at right angles, either horizontally or vertically, to offer both wider stereo experience and more depth in your mix. Indeed, condensers are generally the favourite choice, as they can pick up more subtle aspects of the acoustic sound.

Likewise, you’ll have as many arguments about recording in stereo or mono and which polar position to use. With stereo, the ‘for’ argument is that you get a wider and more ‘full’ sound, but those against it argue that you can simply double up a mono track and add a touch of reverb for much the same effect. As far as polar patterns go, well, omni offers you a more natural sound, whereas cardioid is truer, but perhaps less subtle. More people do seem to favour a cardioid pattern, but the truth is that no one is wrong if – guess what? It sounds good. We’ll try and give you a flavour of the simplest and most common techniques for all of the above…

MONO METHODS

MICROPHONE TYPE Small- or largediaphragm condenser with cardioid pattern

The soundhole might be the obvious place to aim a microphone at, but as this is the bassier part of the guitar, you’ll end up with a boomy sound. Actually, the shared wisdom among many recordists (not least microphone experts Neumann) is placing the microphone – a large-diaphragm condenser – at the 12th fret will give you a more balanced tone overall. Distance-wise, some will say to place it as close as three-to-six inches from the guitar. But again, this tends to give you a boomy or bass-heavy sound. Eight-to-12 inches away is a good starting point, as the argument is that it is the more natural listening position. Choose a cardioid pattern to focus the pickup a little more, and aim the pattern at the playing hand if you want to capture more of the attack and pick sound.

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About MusicTech

The new issue of MusicTech is on sale from Thursday 21st September where this month we go all out and show you how to record EVERYTHING! Across 12-pages we cover the best ways to position your microphones and accurately capture the vast majority of instruments you’ll ever need to record. To help you along the way, our Beginner’s Guide this month takes an extensive look into the world of dynamic, condenser and ribbon mics. Elsewhere we sate our inner geek with our in-depth interview with the pioneering Radiophonic Workshop, whose rich history begins way back in the early 60s, where they painstakingly created innovative soundtracks for the BBC, most notably the theme for Doctor Who. As if that wasn’t enough we’ve also assembled a special 24-page supplement full of our favourite reader and pro studio interviews, free with this issue.
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