(TAP) (TAP) IS THIS THING ON?
Don’t you just love it. When people want to check if a mic is on, they hit it with their hand, causing a loud POP over the sound system (watch the sound guy freak out). Then they hold it right up to their mouth, and say quite loudly, “Is this thing on?” What is that all about? If a mic is on, the last thing you want to do is hit it and/or yell into it. Why do people do that? People just have no idea about mics in general.
This brings me up to Part 2 of my series on The Art of Recording. I can only speak for myself, but I've had a bit of experience with mics. Hey, I even know which end to talk into!
Over the past 12 years, I've dealt almost exclusively with acoustic percussion in my recording ventures (emphasis on acoustic). A few pianos here & there, but mostly percussion.
To me it all starts with the instrument's sound. As a trained percussionist, I know how percussion should sound. I've had an intimate relationship with percussion sounds for over 40 years. I also know how to use extended techniques to get 'out of the box' sounds from my instrument's, and also use 'found sounds' to great effect. In all my years as a musician, I've done a lot of experimenting, and also had to get the most out of whatever gear I was using. I've found that the key to getting great percussion recordings is to have great sounds to work with—I know that sounds elementary, but after teaching tens of thousands of drum lessons, and working for years in drum shops, I’ve learned that a lot of drummers have no clue about getting a good drum sound. Knowing how to tune, muffle, & modify is crucial. It's also important to actually be able to play the instruments—just because you own a pair of sticks does not mean you are a drummer.
Another factor is that I'm not trying to record a pop album. What I'm looking for is a natural sounding recording, preferably sounding like I hear things when I play. So except for special sounds, close miking is out. I want to capture the sound of the air molecules moving, capture the sense of space that the music exists in.
I have nothing against modern pop and rock recordings, but the drums are usually artificial in sound. Not only are things close miked, but they are normally compressed and affected by outboard electronic gear. Mind you, the drums sound great, and really make the music, but I'm working in a whole different realm with my music.
Since most of my recordings are solo, I don't have to worry about other instruments in the mix, or in the same air space. My idea is to always capture what the instruments sound like to me wherever I'm recording. So I always listen to the room, listen to how the sounds react. I especially listen to the AIR - I want to hear how the sounds open up between the source and the mic. I often work with room mics only—basically, I look at things as recording a live performance.
Even if I'm overdubbing things, I might still just use a pair of stationary room mics. In this case, I'll move sounds around the room to place them in the stereo image. This becomes a sort of 'live mixing' that makes the final mix/editing that much easier.
When I do mic separate instruments, I usually keep the mics at least 12" away, again, looking for the air. For special sounds I will close mic things, but most of what I do is room and distance miking.
Next time I'll look at some specific mic techniques I've used on my recordings.