We’re back with the second post in a series by Matt, a fellow UJAM user and mixer extraordinaire. If you missed Matt’s first post, check it out. Now, where were we:
Tip #2: Location, Location, Location: Why Microphone Positioning Is Crucial To A Good Recording.
Think on this. If you wanted to tell someone a secret, you would probably get close to them and whisper in to their ear. Your voice and their ear would be pointed directly towards one another. You would not be on the opposite side of the room facing the corner and whispering. That would make no sense! You wouldn’t be able to hear them clearly.
In the same way, when you are recording, your microphone should be close to the source of sound and pointed towards it. Think of your microphone as an ear listening for the sound of your instrument (whether a voice, drum, or piano).
Here are some practical tips for microphone positioning.
Place the microphone at proper distance from your sound source. Every sound is different in how loud it is and what sort of tone it has. A string pluck is softer and more melodic than a snare drum hit. A drum is more abrupt than a person singing a smooth, silky melody. Despite this, as a general rule of thumb when recording in your home studio, you will want the microphone to be 6-12 inches away from the sound source. This allows for the microphone to be close enough to pick up all of the rich tones of whatever you are recording. You will not want the microphone much closer than that as you will begin to hear what is called the proximity effect.
Proximity effect is when a microphone picks up low-end bass frequencies because it is close to the source of a sound. These low-end frequencies often distort and cause a track to be “muddy” if you are not carefully looking for them and removing them. In the same way, if a sound source is too far from a microphone, the microphone will not pick up the low end frequencies in the sound you are trying to record. For example, if a singer is 6 feet away from a microphone, their voice may lack certain “richness” in the low-end frequency range. This is why 6-12 inches is a good measurement for distance between a microphone and source sound.
Point the microphone towards the source and the source towards the microphone. Microphones capture audio vibrations through what’s called their diaphragm. The diaphragm then turns those vibrations in to electrical signals. Those signals are then digitized through your computer’s audio card and then show up in your recording software.
In order to get the best possible signal to your DAW software, you must capture the vibrations well. Ensure that the microphone you are using is pointed directly at what you’re recording. This will allow the vibrations to go directly through the air in to the microphone.
For example, if you are recording a vocal, it is very beneficial to point the microphone towards the person’s mouth. This will allow all of the rich low ends and crisp high frequencies to reach your microphone. Have the singer facing the microphone directly on. To test this, try recording once with the microphone pointed directly at the singer and the singer directly at the microphone. Then, try having the singer turn and face a little to the left or right and record. You will hear a major difference in the richness of their voice.
Use a stand and a pop filter. Ever notice when you go to record that the sound distorts when you go to say the letter’s “P” or “B”? That is because these sounds require extra pressure to be generated by your mouth. This pressure is sent beyond your lips to the microphone. Seeing as recordings are simply vibrations (sound pressure) being converted to digital signal, we must compensate for the extra pressure on the letters “P” and “B”. To do this we place a small windscreen between the singer and the microphone. These are not very expensive and can save your recordings from overloading. This will help clean up your mix and give your vocals a little more consistent volume.
In the same way, vibrations from your hand or table can affect a recording. To minimize extra sound pressure from being recorded, place your microphone on a proper stand using a suspended clip. This suspended clip will hold the microphone using elastic bands, which will greatly stabilize the microphone allowing you to record the sounds you actually want.
Now that we have a good understanding of what gear to use, and where to set it up, we can start talking about the volume settings that will help us achieve the best mix. We’ll pick up with this in the next post, so stay tuned!
Got questions or comments for Matt? Leave them here.