Join Scott Hirsch for an in-depth discussion in this video Microphone positioning and techniques, part of Vocal Production Techniques.
- So we're here in the vocal recording room and we're going to explore mic set up and positioning. First thing you might notice is that the mic is on a heavy duty stand and it can easily support the weight of the mic without falling over. I also have the mic suspended upside down on the boom arm above. There's a few reasons for this. One is sight lines. By having the mic come down from above, it frees up the singer to have a music stand with lyrics. It also frees up the singer to have more space in front for emoting.
Another reason is by positioning the mic higher up, singers tend to stand up straighter and really open up their torso as they sing. And this results in better breathing and performance than if they're hunched down singing into a lower mic. Along these lines, by having a mic slightly above the mouth and angled slightly down, we're able to avoid direct breath plosives, as they're called, on the capsule. We'll talk more about plosives in a moment. Finally, we're using a large diaphragm tube condenser mic here.
Because the heat from the tube rises, in this position, we're allowing heat to rise out of the bottom of the mic and not pass through the mic capsule area since changing temperature of the sensitive diaphragm can affect the sound quality of the mic. Next let's talk about distance. The best rule of thumb I've found is to extend the fingers of your hand and, in between your thumb and your pinky, put that between the singer's mouth and the microphone. That's a good place to start. Of course all mics and singers are different.
So you can play a little bit with this distance knowing that the farther away you get, the more the sound of the room will creep into the recording and as you get closer, you'll get more low end. These frequencies come from a side effect of all directional microphones. Cardioid, figure eight, supercardioid mics, they'll all exhibit a low frequency boost that dramatically increases as you get closer to the mic. This is known as the proximity effect. Now if you're using a good quality mic, this effect is built into the design of the mic and the optimum balance of the low end happens to be about the distance of the hand.
But that doesn't mean you can't experiment and really exploit the proximity effect by getting closer if that's the sound you're after. One other thing to consider is the polar pattern of the mic. Some mics, like the example here, have a variable polar pattern option. You can move from cardioid to figure eight and all the way back to omni. A good starting point is cardioid but feel free to experiment knowing that in omni position, there is no proximity effect.
Of course, in omni, you're picking up more room all around. Not just in front of the mic. So that's another aspect you'll bring into your recording. Now let's talk about the pop filter. I mentioned plosives earlier. If you hold out your hand and say "Plosive pop filter", you'll feel a couple bursts of air in your hand. These air bursts seem innocent enough but for a mic capsule, they're not ideal since they disrupt the delicate ability of the capsule to respond to sound pressure.
So one way to avoid plosives as I mentioned, is to angle the mic slightly up or to the side. Another way is the pop filter. This special screen is made from a special material that allows sound to travel through but not air. You'll want it placed about an inch or so off the capsule. And you want to cover the diaphragm with the pop filter.
And if you're still dealing with excess air hitting the capsule, another tip is to tape a pencil to the pop screen. And that helps direct the air away from the capsule or you can put this pencil right on the shock mount of the mic itself. So as you record with each new vocalist, song or project, these are some great starting points to jump off of. From here you can start and play with these suggestions yourself, to get the best vocal sound for the situation.
First, learn how to get the singer comfortable in the recording studio and select the right microphone and preamp for the session. Scott discusses how to set up a good headphone mix and configure your DAW, and interviews the recording artist featured in the course, Jade Hendrix, about warm-ups and vocal health. Next, Scott moves directly into recording: positioning the mic, setting levels, and using compression. Then he delves into the psychological aspects of vocal production, like coaching the singer and giving feedback over the talkback mic. In the final chapter, Scott demonstrates some creative production techniques, including doubling vocals, stacking multiple vocal tracks, using Auto-Tune while recording, and methods for harmonizing.
- Warming up
- Selecting a microphone, preamp, and headphone mix
- Setting levels
- Dealing with dynamics
- Recording vocal takes
- Creative production techniques: doubling vocals, using Auto-Tune, and more