Mic Placement

I just know that sooner or later someone is going to say “hey, Tom, give us some tips on mic placement,” so I won’t keep you in suspense; let’s talk mic placement!

When it comes to placing mics, I’m pretty much a hack. I just try things, listen, and go with whatever sounds good. Now, before you all sigh in disappointment, let me say that there’s a method to this lack of method, and maybe somewhere in that method (meta-method?) there’s some wisdom.

  • Experiment. Don’t limit yourself to what seems to make sense. I mean, if it turns out that the sound of the kick drum coming through the hi hat mic is what you’re really looking for, then who am I to argue with that?
  • Try, listen, repeat. How are you going to know what sounds best without trying multiple options and comparing the results? It’s funny how often someone will call me and ask something like “how close should I put the mic to the piano?” and I just answer “I don’t know. Try recording it five times, with five different distances, then see which one sounds best.”
  • When trying different mics and mic positions, always have the musician play the actual part that’s going to be recorded.
  • Go into the room with the instrument, while it’s playing (the actual part that’s going to be recorded), cover one ear, and put your uncovered ear into possible mic locations. Which one sounds best? (Remember to have someone taking pictures of you doing this, because some of them are going to be pretty funny.)
  • If there’s a sound that you like on a record, try to find out how that instrument was mic’d. Of course, it might be a closely guarded secret, but there are lots of YouTube videos that explain exactly how some of the great recordings were made.
  • Lastly, keep a notebook. I call this my bag of tricks. Keep track of what has worked for you and what hasn’t. Also keep track of ideas that you’ve read about or heard about in magazines, videos, and seminars. Just because a famous producer does something doesn’t mean you have to do it too, but it’s probably a good trick to have in your bag.

So go have fun, and place some mics!

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