If you’re smart, then you know by now that the key to a great recording and ultimately a great mix (besides having a great song and a great performance) is getting the right mic placement. Where you point the mic makes a HUGE difference to the tone of your recording. But there is one key to getting the best mic placement possible for a given situation that many people miss: you need to not care what it looks like.
Via recordinghacks Flickr
But It Doesn’t Look Right!
Inherently this is how we typically setup the microphones for recording something. Pretend we’re miking up a drum kit. We think about how we’ve seen drum kits miked up before (perhaps on stage somewhere or in a magazine article) and we proceed to put the microphones where they look “right.” We point a mic at the kick, one at the snare, a couple over the cymbals, etc. The problem is we’re thinking too much about what the mics look like on the kit, and not what the mics are looking AT. Big difference.
What matters is how the drum recording sounds in the DAW, not what the mic placement looks like. So the best thing you could do is stop caring about whether the mics “look” right to you and instead move them around, listen back, and then determine when they “sound” right, even if you arrive at a very odd looking placement.
Invent A New Mic Technique
So many of the mic placement techniques that are popular today were completely made up by creative people in the studio years ago who were just trying crazy stuff. Glyn Johns, Recorderman, stereo techniques like mid side, you name it. Someone at some point had to try something bizarre and see what it sounded like.
We now focus on what those techniques “look” like, but they were invented by someone in search of a sound. You can do the same thing. Take your existing mics and go crazy. Do something totally weird and “wrong.” Break all the rules and just do one thing, listen back and take note of what you hear. Instead of learning a 40 year old technique, you could invent your own!
Check out this brief video of Glyn Johns himself explaining his famous drum mic technique. Listen to how he describes the setup and why most people doubt its effectiveness.
Begin Training Your Ears, Not Your Eyes
The simple key to getting great recordings is to train your ears to hear the difference that a few inches and a new angle of a microphone can make. Setup the mics, record a bit, and listen back. Close your eyes if you must. (You’ll hear better that way) Forget what looks cool or looks right. Instead be satisfied with the prize of what sounds right to you, no matter where you have to put the mic to get it.
It’s hard work, but it cuts down on mix time and gives you a better track and a happier life at the same time. No tricks, just common sense.