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Effective Use of Spot Microphones

Spot miking (also called close miking) involves placing your microphone within a couple of feet of the sound source. Home recordists use this technique most often because it adds little of the room (the reverb and delay) to the recorded sound. The following illustration shows the close miking placement.

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Spot miking tends to create a less natural sound and can compromise the quality of your recordings if you’re not careful. It can also offer advantages if you record multiple instruments in one pass or if your room doesn’t sound good. Here are some things to consider when using spot miking:

  • Transients are more extreme. Distance from a sound source tames the initial attack of an instrument. Spot miking picks up more transient material, which can make the sound of the instrument seem harsh and can overload your mic, preamp, or converter without your seeing it on your level meters.

    You need to listen closely to your recorded sound to make sure that you don’t have distortion. A solution to this problem is to move the mic back a bit or point it slightly away from the instrument.

  • The room isn’t part of the recording. This can be good or bad, depending on the sound of your room:

    • On the plus side, it can keep a bad-sounding room from ruining the sound of your track by putting it so far in the background of the recording that it isn’t really heard on your tracks.

    • On the downside, you lose the natural ambience of an instrument that gives it its character, so if you have a nice-sounding room, this technique may not be the best choice (depending on how many instruments are playing at once — see the next bullet point).

  • You can isolate each instrument. Spot miking can help you keep multiple instruments separated in your tracks, so if you record your band live, you can create some isolation among instruments. (This assumes that you use a microphone with a cardioid polar pattern.)

    This makes mixing a lot easier. Because of the downside in the previous bullet, try using room mics in conjunction with spot mics to create a more realistic sound.

  • Even minor adjustments in mic placement can have a huge impact on your recorded sound. Because the mic is so close to the sound source, small adjustments to the mic’s placement make a noticeable difference, and the mic may not capture the complete sound of the instrument. Finding the spot that sounds the best may take you awhile.

  • The closer you put your mic, the more bass you record. As you move a mic with a cardioid polar pattern in close to the sound source, the mic picks up more bass energy. This is called the proximity effect.

    It can be an advantage for some applications — rounding out the sound of a vocal, for instance — but it can also cause problems with some instruments such as acoustic strings, where you don’t want the extra bass muddying the sound. To counter this effect, use an omnidirectional or figure-8 mic or move the cardioid-pattern mic away from the sound source until the bass is more manageable.

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