Want to know a secret? The key to getting killer recordings is proper mic placement. Not too earth shattering you might say? Perhaps. But the truth is that most amateur recordings I hear (and used to make myself) are due largely to poor use of microphones. So today let me give you a helpful principle that changed my view of mic placement years ago, in the hopes that it will help your recordings right away. Always remember that microphones are like flashlights.
Point The Mic At What You Want To Hear
Forgive me for sounding simplistic, but to use a microphone properly you must point it at what you want to hear. Just as pointing a flashlight slightly off from what you are trying to see in the dark is foolish, so too is pointing a microphone slightly off of what you want to hear. If you think of a microphone as being a flashlight in the sense that it “shines” a metaphorical “light” wherever you point it (and with a fixed range at that), you will likely be more intentional about simply pointing at the part of the instrument or voice that you most want to hear. Make sense?
If the top of a snare drum is what sounds best to you and you have one mic to use to capture the sound of the drum, then point the mic at the top of the drum. Conversely, if you determine that the sound emanating from the side of the snare drum is the sound you most want to capture, then it would follow that you should “shine” the microphone directly on the side of the snare. What ever you need to “see” in your tracks, that’s where you should point the microphone.
Microphones Only Reveal What They Are Looking At
Let’s look at this concept from the other way around. If you aren’t getting the sound you want, remember that (like flashlights) microphones only record what they are “looking” at. Therefore you if what your mic are “showing” you isn’t satisfactory, then you should consider moving the microphone somewhere else. Even a slight angle adjustment is changing where the “light” is pointed and therefore will give you a different representation of what the instrument you are recording.
All too often “young” audio engineers will place a microphone somewhere based on a person’s (or website, or book’s) suggestion only to find that the result is not what they had hoped. They then jump to all sorts of misguided conclusions: “I’m just not a good engineer”, “I need better/more gear”, “I need a more complicated setup”, etc. Rather what they should do is simply admit that the microphone is not revealing what they want it to reveal and consequently it’s high time to move the darn microphone and try again!
What Are You Shining Light On?
At the end of the day, if all you take away from this post is that microphones are like flashlights, then I’ve done my job. Every time you throw up a mic, ask yourself this question “What is this mic shining light on?”. Try to imagine the beam of light coming from the front of the mic and picture what will be most “visible” in the recording. This one way of thinking will help you get better recordings over time, so try it!