Forget What You Know About Mic Placement

2011 Jul 25, 2011

There is a problem plaguing many audio engineers around the world, myself included: we think we’ve got mic placement down. Oh, sure you may have recorded a bunch of albums and found some success with your mic technique, but the problem lies in your stubbornness to actually listen to the source instead of relying on past experience.


Via Ervins Strauhmanis Flickr

What Worked Once, May Not Work Again

Everyone I talk to wants a quick fix. “Just tell me where to put the mic to record _____ and I’ll put it there.” I’m sorry to say people, it just doesn’t work that way. Oh sure, there are some ballpark ideas that have worked for me in the past, but that’s irrelevant information to you if that is all you go on.

There are simply too many variables in a recording environment (source, room, performer, mic, placement, preamp, etc) too easily replicate a sound over and over again. You have to start from scratch each time.

What Looks Good In A Magazine (Or Blog) May Not Work For You

The problem with magazines (and blogs like mine) is that we can only give helpful starting points and suggestions for mic placement. We can’t actually be there in your room with your gear listening to what you are hearing. If you were to simply take someone else’s suggestion for mic placement and execute it with no thought on your part, you likely won’t get the results you want. It’s sad but true.

What DOES Work Is To Use Your Ears

Here’s what you and I need to do each time we sit down to record: forget what you know about mic placement and start with your ears. Have the artist play (or sing) for a bit and actually go in the tracking room and simply listen. What do you hear? Where does the instrument sound its best? Its worst? Who cares how the “pros” are making things. What do YOU hear? Put the mic(s) up in that spot, record a little, listen back, and adjust as necessary. Rinse and repeat.

The best engineers are the ones who treat the recording phase as if it’s the very first time, exploring and experimenting in search of the best sound. The worst engineers are the ones who come into a recording session with a formula for capturing gold and don’t veer from that path one inch. Got it?

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