This month we continue to explore microphone placements for recording. Last month we finished off by looking at some techniques for the kick drum and addressed possible phasing issues when using more than one microphone. We will continue on from here and tackle the rest of the drum kit. Keep in mind that these articles are to be used as a guide to help you understand microphone placements a little more and therefore just scratch the surface of what is out there.
When it comes to miking the snare, it is common to place a microphone at a 45° angle over the top of the snare. From there you can then angle the microphone depending on what sound you are trying to capture. Point the microphone closer to the edge of the snare and you will pick up more rim sound; point it to the centre of the snare and you will get more of the body sound. Another microphone may also be used on the bottom of the snare. Placing it here captures the sound of the snare beads and blended together with the top microphone can yield some pleasing results.
These same techniques can be applied to the toms. In this case, when the microphone is pointed to the centre of the tom it captures more of the initial hit, whereas pointing the microphone closer to the edge of the drum will capture more resonance. Another technique for toms is to remove the bottom skin and place the microphone inside the drum shell, resulting in a different sound again.
There are numerous techniques for placing your overhead and room microphones when recording drums, but rather than boring you with each of them I will instead focus on the important attributes of these placements. Thinking back to last months issue we asked ourselves, “What am I trying to capture?”. This applies when placing our overheads. The closer the microphone (the more ‘overhead’ it is), the closer the sound. Place a microphone right over your cymbals and your recorded track will contain a close cymbal sound. Place it at the back of the room and it suddenly becomes a room microphone, with the recorded track containing the cymbals at a distance as well as the sound of the room.
Overhead miking techniques will almost always include the use of two microphones. This creates a stereo image rather than having all your cymbals in mono. A few of the more popular stereo microphone techniques are listed below, for which more information can befound online:
Stereo 180 Array
It is not uncommon for a combination of techniques to be used, especially in large recording studios. Like any instrument it is just a matter of how much room sound versus
source sound you want. I’d encourage placing yourself at various spots around the kit and the room. What you hear will be a close guide for what the microphone will capture. If you hear a sweet spot then place the microphone there and see if it sounds good when recorded.
Moving away from drums we come now to electric guitar and bass. Both of these instruments can be D.I.’d, which can create some great sounds, but this article will focus on the miking of electric guitar and bass cabinets.
Before placing any microphones it is important to listen to the sound coming out of each of the speakers. This is done for two reasons – to make sure that everything is working as it should and that there are no tears or damage to the speaker and; to make sure you are miking the best speaker within the cabinet. No two speakers are the same and by placing your ear close to each of them you can quickly determine which of them is the better speaker.
The option surfaces again as to whether we want make use of close miking, room miking or a combination of the two. Again, it is depended on the sound you are trying to capture, but if you are not recording in a great sounding room, as most of us aren’t, then there is not much point in using a room microphone for guitar and bass. The most common close miking techniques are to place the microphone directly at the speaker, about an inch or two away from the mesh. From here we can move the microphone up, down, left and right to capture different sections of the speaker. Closer to the cone will give you a harsher and crispier sound, while away from the cone will yield a warmer tone. You can also move the microphone off-axis from the speaker, resulting in a different sound again.
As soon as more than one microphone is used we introduce phasing issues. As mentioned in last month’s article, the best way to determine whether the microphones are in phase is to listen to the recorded sound and move one of the microphones closer or further away from the source until they are both full sounding when played together. Once a microphone is more than 3-5 feet away from the source it is considered a room microphone. Another technique is to place a microphone at the back of the speaker cabinet. This is more popularly used for bass as it picks up more of the low end resonance.
Again, a combination of these techniques can be used to achieve the right sound. At the end of the day you are only limited by the number of microphones you have. Don’t be afraid to experiment and try out a few different techniques or perhaps even invent one yourself. Please remember to always wear ear protection when exposed to loud noises for an extended period of time. Next month we will discuss microphone placements and techniques for acoustic guitars and vocals.