6 Common Home Recording Mistakes [Part 2]

2011 Sep 02, 2011

I want you to make the absolute best recordings you can. That’s why this blog exists. One way to get better is to stop making dumb mistakes. We’ve all make them, but it’s time we make a course correction and get to better recordings. If you missed Part 1 of this series, head there now to see the first two big home recording mistakes. Then come back here and read on my friend!


Via Marcin Wichary Flickr

Mistake #3 – Out Of Phase Stereo Recording

It took me a while to figure this out when I was getting into recording, but if you can understand this concept you will have crisper, and punchier sounding recordings every time. If you use two (or more) microphones to capture a certain source (drums, acoustic guitar) as opposed to one microphone, you introduce a potential threat: your tracks being out of phase.

The idea is simple, without proper attention to placement the sound from your source could easily hit one microphone a few milliseconds before the other, causing it to be slightly behind in one track than in the other. The audio waveforms are therefore smeared as it were and you can have actual sound cancellation happening, causing your tracks to become hollow or thin. Not a good thing.
How can you fix this problem? Two simple ways: either place the mics in such a way that no phase cancellation is happening, or simply forget the stereo recording all together and use one mic. Here are some examples:

  • Use the 3:1 rule for stereo miking. This involves placing the mics in such a way that they are three times farther apart from each other as they are to the sound source (or the other way around).
  • Use an X/Y mic technique. An even simpler mic technique is to place the mics so their capsules (where audio is hitting them) are right next to each other, yet aimed across from each other. You will get a stereo image, yet sound hits both mics at the same time because they are in the same place!
  • Use only one mic. This is probably my favorite solution because it is fast, simple, and guaranteed to give you no phase problems. Recording drum overheads? Just place your mic right above the drum kit and move around to taste for the right cymbals to kit balance. Recording acoustic guitar? The same thing applies, one mic properly angled to pick up both the meat and the brightness of the guitar will sound perfect in your mix, rather than two phase-y mics.

Of course with using only one mic you don’t get stereo, but that doesn’t mean your mix won’t be a stereo mix. It will simply be comprised of many mono sources (as most mixes are) and they will be punchy, clear and phase free!

Mistake #4 – Miking Too Close To The Source

Whether it’s because of the ads we see in magazines or just lack of exposure to good recording technique, many home studio owners put their mics up way too close to the source they are recording. Specifically I see this as a problem with vocals and other acoustic instruments (like acoustic guitar, violins, horns, etc).

The problem with throwing a mic right up on your face is something called the proximity effect. Basically, with most mics that we use in the home studio having a cardioid polar pattern (i.e. it picks up sound primarily in front of the mic, not all around it) the closer we get to the mic, the beefier sounding we become. There is this buildup in low frequency information that occurs. Sometimes that can be desirable if you want more low end (let’s say a movie trailer announcer). But for tracking most  vocals and acoustic instruments it only makes things sound muddy and more difficult to mix.

Instead, simply back the mic away 6 inches to a foot from where you might typically have it and see what that sounds like. You may want to back off even more for louder instruments like horns. You’ll likely get a more natural sound recorded. One that sounds like the instrument does in real life. Of course this means more involvement of the room itself in your sound, but if you are strategic about where you place the mic you’ll do just fine.

Click here for Part 3 of this series

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