Is Mic Placement Becoming A Lost Art?

2012 Apr 23, 2012

Sometimes I’m shocked by the types of questions people ask me. I work with and teach a lot of beginner recording engineers so I’m used to simple, foundational questions. That’s not the issue.

What scares me are the types of questions that go something like this, “Should I move the microphone around to get the sound I want or should I just leave that to EQ in the mix phase?” The fact that this question is common reveals something about our generation of audio engineers: mic placement technique is becoming a lost art.


Via Marc Wathieu Flickr

Where You Put The Mic Matters Most

Where you choose to place your microphone(s) for a given source is the most important decision you’ll make in the studio. More than which mic you use, which room you record in, or even which instruments or musicians you record, mic placement is paramount. I can say this confidently because nothing can affect and determine the final outcome of your tracks more than where the mic goes.
The slightest change in angle, the smallest tweak in distance of a microphone to an instrument can completely alter the captured sound in your DAW. This is why good engineers become very particular about the mic being exactly where it needs to be. Of course there is no magic formula to know where to put the mic every time, but before anyone even thinks about hitting the record button, you should be absolutely OK with where your mics have ended up.

Your First Line Of EQ

Once you have your instrument or vocalist sounding the way you want in your room then you must think of mic placement as your first line of EQ. Do you want a beefier guitar tone? Adjust the mic accordingly. Need more attack on the piano and less sustain? Move the mics. Need less harsh cymbals on the drum kit? You guessed it, move the friggin mics. You never want to rely on EQ, whether on the way in or later in the mix, to determine your sound. That’s what microphones are for silly!

The problem comes from two mindsets: First we believe that it’s less about where the mics are and more about the price tag (or quality) of the mics in question. Not true. Second mindset is that we believe that as long as a sound is captured, the sculpting of the sound is left for the mixing phase. Not true. The incremental improvement in audio quality that you might hear in a more expensive microphone can never rival the vast difference you’ll hear by simply adjusting the mic placement.

Let’s Be Old School

I really don’t want to see our craft as audio engineers, even hobbyists, fall apart as naive people reach for expensive plugins to “fix” their recording mistakes. I’ve been there, done that, got the t-shirt. It’s not pretty and it doesn’t make for good music. Let’s not join this “new school” of laziness in the studio but rather let us focus on being “old school” in the sense that we use microphones and mic placement to capture the sounds we want. I know it sounds crazy, but it’s worked for decades and it will work for you.

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