Why Smart Engineers Wield Microphones With Purpose

2013 Nov 01, 2013

Struggling to get great recordings? It might not be because of your DAW, your preamps, or even your audio interface; but rather your mishandling of microphones. Think about it. The microphone is the most important piece of gear in your studio. Like the painter’s paint brush, the tennis player’s racquet, or wood worker’s saw, the microphone is the audio engineer’s weapon of choice.  Smart engineers know this, and so they wield microphones with intentionality and purpose.


Via Matthew Keefe Flickr

An Extension Of Your Instrument

Great musicians trip out about the quality and tone of their instrument. Guitar players want the best sound possible and they go to great length’s to get it. They tweak the strings, string height, pickup height, tone knobs, amp choice, cabinet choice, tube choice, pedals, and even amp volume to create the best guitar sound the world has ever heard. This quest for tone shouldn’t stop there.
As engineers we should view the art of mic placement and capturing recordings with microphones as simply an extension of getting great tone out of your instrument. The microphone is part of that tone chain and is an extension of the instrument itself. It’s the missing link between only a few people in a room hearing great tone and the rest of the world hearing that great tone.

If You Could Only Adjust One Thing

When you record, pretend like the only thing you can adjust is your microphone. Forget about preamp choice, converters, sample rates, DAWs, or expensive mic cables for a moment and instead focus on mic placement. If that reality sets in, you begin to wield your most important tool with more intentionality.

You start listening to how the mic is capturing each instrument. You hear flaws and can compensate for them with the twist of a mic. You begin viewing mic placement as a tone thing, your first round of EQ, as it were. This kind of thinking gives you more impact for your time. More bang for your buck. You’re actually affecting the tone and vibe of the recording in a noticeable and meaningful way.

Start With One Microphone

As much as I’m a fan of using multiple different microphones as a sonic pallet, you can start today with only one. That’s all you need. Do you have your $100 microphone? Good. It will work on every instrument you need to record. The trick is in how you wield it.

If your initial mic placement of something sounds too harsh, angle the mic 45 degrees and see if that smooths it out. If the tone is too thin, move the mic closer to take advantage of the proximity effect and get more bass. You get the idea. One single microphone can sound remarkably different when handled with purpose and an attentive ear.

Be A Smart Engineer

Getting great recordings has very little to do with gear. But the gear that really makes a difference is the microphone. And I’m not talking about how much the mic costs. What matters more than that is what you do with the mic.

Smart engineers know that they need to wield microphones well in order to get great recordings. So I would encouraged you to spend more of your time in learning how to better handle microphones in a recording situation than reading up on new gear to buy. It’ll go a long way.

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