If you are new to recording then you have probably wondered how top engineers get the right mic position for vocals and instruments?
Some might suggest there's a trick or a hack, there isn't. In some cases, top audio engineers know what to do through experience, but we can guarantee there is one thing they do every time they put a mic up for recording.
A couple of weeks ago on the Production Expert podcast, team member Audrey spoke about recording opera singers. The team were keen to find out what mic she would choose and the mic position, in fact, the conversation was quite funny, you can hear it here.
The technique is simple, they use their ears because when it comes to recording through a microphone it's the only real way to find out if everything is just how you want it. But what if you don't have the luxury of different booths and an isolated control room, how do you check mic position in a home studio? Sometimes the source is in the same room, or you are playing said source, well here are two ways to check mic positioning in those situations.
The first one is to check the mic on headphones and ask the musician or singer to move around the microphone until you have the sound you want, as we've said over time experience will dictate where to put the microphone.
The second option and this is useful if you self-record is to record takes with the mic in different positions and then listen back to the auditions. It doesn't have to be complicated either, I've put up a mic on an acoustic and then moved into different positions and then said as I try each position what the position is, the microphone picks it up.
Here is an example of how different one microphone, one guitar and different positions can make to the sound, some people have heard this and thought it was a different guitar, different microphones or both.
Radio drama is often played around a stereo mic, and to get perspective the actors move around, as well as closer and further away to get the perspectives and positioning correctly. They also use a range of spaces, ‘hard’ - for kitchens and bathrooms, often with a real sink to get the sound effects as well. The a ‘soft’ area for living rooms and bedrooms. The 3rd place is often called a dead room. This is as acoustically dead as possible, and can use similar acoustic treatment to an anechoic chamber. Some daram suites evn have a special part of the dead room that goes round a corner to create the sense of walking away outside without having a huge space. This way with the addition of some scenes and props you can get the sound right down the microphones and the choreography is just as important for the actors as the dialog.
Why do we mention this because the placement around a fixed mic array, makes it believable and tricks like turning away can give the impression of significant movement.
Is There A Right Or Wrong Way?
Is there a right or wrong position, the simple answer is no, except for one caveat which we will cover in a second. The right position is the one that works for the song, sometimes you need a close-up sound and at other times more room in the mix. The only wrong position for microphone placement is if you are getting distortion or not enough level and then you have to crank up the gain, this may add too much room and other background artefacts that you don't want.
The moral of the story, like any great engineer worth their salt, use your ears, it's the only surefire way of getting the sound you want.