The Big Secret About Mic Placement

2012 Apr 02, 2012

You know those magazine articles featuring interviews with professional recording engineers? The ones where they ask about what mics were used and where they were placed in order to capture that magnificent sound. There might even be pictures showing the actual recording session setup so you can see the mic placement for yourself.

Well, I have to tell you one of the big secrets of these professional recording engineers and their mic placement technique: Where those microphones ended up in the pictures is almost never where they were first placed.


Via Warren Rachele Flickr

The Half Truth Of Mic Placement

You see, when asked about mic placement, most audio engineers (myself included) will give you a half truth. They will tell you, for example, that they used a dynamic mic just outside the kick drum angled toward the beater head because it sounded perfect for the desired sound of the recording. And they would be half right.

The other half of the truth that is usually left out of the conversation is that where they initially placed the mic sounded awful. But that’s not relevant to a magazine interview or a behind the scenes documentary. People want to know where the mics ended up, not how they got there.

Why Is This Relevant To You?

I only bring this up because if you understand this concept it will help you make better recordings. The concept is this: even the pros, the best of the best, have to experiment until they get the desired sound. No one can always know without a doubt where to place a microphone for the best sound. It’s impossible.

You simply must try something, a starting point, and listen back to what the mic is hearing. If you don’t like it, you’ll have to move it and try again. Rinse and repeat until satisfied. All of us have to do this. But if you listen to an interview or read an article (even one of mine) and think that we somehow just “knew” that was the best place for the mic, then you’ll be misled.

Don’t Become Frustrated

If you are led to believe that there is a “correct” way to mic something up then when you replicate that in your own studio with unsatisfactory results you will be come frustrated and disillusioned. You might even begin to assume that your gear is the problem, as it surely isn’t the mic placement fault. You’ve seen the pros use this technique all the time, the difference must be the quality of their microphones.

Don’t fall into that trap and don’t become overly burdened if you aren’t happy with your initial recording attempts. It takes years of practice to get really good at this. There is no magic bullet, no shortcut to great recordings. Even with great mic placement technique, it just takes time.

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