A Basic Look at Miking

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Take a look at the basic concepts of miking as it applies to any sound and/or instrument. Originally published in may, 2001, was re-written in April 2006.

There is more to recording an instrument than simply placing a microphone in front of it, there are different types of microphones for different jobs, and different placement techniques. This does not necessarily mean you must spend a fortune on a microphone for every particular job, some are very useful for many tasks, and placement is generally left up to personal preference.

If There is a Recording Job to be Done, There is a Mic to do it

A good place to start is to have one good, strong mic to use in the kick drum, these mics take alot of abuse, and require a mic that can handle it, then one good vocal mic, many times vocal tracks are recorded individually, so one mic will work for this task, and many good vocal mics will also work well on guitar amps. For a good article with further explinations of some different types of microphones, click here.

It is also a good idea to have one matching set of mics to place on either side of the drum kit to complete the "triangle miking" technique that will be discussed in more detail in other sections, but put simply, it is the technique of miking drums by putting one mic in the kick drum, and placing the stereo mic on either side of the drum kit. I personally recommend putting another microphone between the snare and high-hat, but many good recordings have been made without it.

In many project studio setups, bass and keyboards are run straight into the mixing board, so, no mics are needed, however, as personal taste and individual instrument and song sounds dictate, many people also like to mic a nice warm tube amp sound as well, luckily, these can usually be miked with a good all purpose microphone such as the one you are using for your vocalist or guitar amp.

Shure makes different models that are very commonly used in many of these applications. The Shure SM57 is a classic microphone still used in many venues, professional studios and basements everywhere. It's a solid, durable, inexpensive, decent sounding mic that can be used on guitar amps and drums (though not recommended on the kick). It seems any gig I have ever played anywhere has had at least a couple of these in action. Microphones working right up against speakers, such as guitar amp mics, take a tremendous amount of pressure on their diaphrams, so they not only have to sound good, they have to be able to take abuse. Mics working on vocals or acoustic instruments are not taking nearly the pressure levels of the mic that rests a few inches from a hi-wattage speaker. Though the SM57 can be used on vocals, and often is, Shure also manufacturers the SM58 which is more targetted at vocal and acoustic applications. Still, it is a solid, relatively inexpensive microphone that can get the user a decent sound.

Condensor microphones have been more widely used in pro studios due to their expense, but in recent years they have become more affordable. Condensors are very sensitive and capture a very clean, wide-range sound. They require phantom power from the mixer or external power supply to power it, but, today most mixers have such capability. There are entirely too many condensors available today to recommend any, but there are many threads on the forum discussing the topic. Some reasonable priced mics I see frequently are the Rode NT1A and Studio Projects C1 and B1 microphones.

Overheads on a drum set, or room mics in a live room are generally condensors, matched condensors, due to their sensitivity. If placed properly they can do a great job of capturing a great ambient sound from the room with natural reverb and stereo separation.

Selecting a Microphone

For further information regarding the selection of microphones for the tasks you need to accomplish, ask at the forums. The selection of available microphones, prices, trends, techniques and tasks they perform change so rapidly it would be nearly impossible to keep an article such as this totally current at all times.

Final Comments

So, as you can see, an average rock or pop music band can be recorded with having four or five well chosen mics at their disposal. Many people will argue with my opinions, but, the people arguing are usually the same people that happen to sell the expensive microphones and assume you have thousands of dollars just burning a hole in your pocket, so, in the end, trust your own ear and musical vision.

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