Mic position is probably the most important aspect of recording. Moving a mic just half an inch can give you an all new sound. Next time you are recording, try multiple mic positions and compare them side to side. This will give you an audible representation of the huge difference a small location change can make on your recording. Another thing is the proximity effect, the closer you mic something, the closer is sounds.. If you have an idea how you are going to mix the track this can be very helpful. For example, you may wanna record your backup vocals with a little more distance than your lead vocals so they will sit a bit further back in the mix, naturally. Don;t be afraid to do some research on multiple techniques to record each instrument.
Choosing The Right Mic
Choosing the right mic can be crucial to getting good recordings, and by "right" I do not mean most expensive.
Knowing the basics about each type of microphone can get you a long way, specially when on a tight budget. There is many different types of microphone so we will just talk about the most common ones; dynamic, condenser, and ribbon. A dynamic microphone has a stronger output volume and can handle loud noises. This is why they are great for recording drums and other loud things. Condenser mics are a bit more sensitive, and can be damaged by very loud noises. They are great for recording vocals, acoustic guitars, strings and many more instruments. Ribbon mics are the most sensitive, and have the lowest output volume, so you will need a good preamp to keep things clean. They can be easily damaged and are best for quieter sound sources. They tend to color the sound a bit more then other types of microphones.
The polarity of the microphone will also be visually represented in the user manual. The polarity varies from mic to mic and some even offer multiple polarity settings.
Hypercardioid Polar Pattern
Here are the basics: Cardioid mean it picks up from the front, bi-cardioid (also known as bi-directional or figure 8) picks up from front and back. Omnidirectional picks up from all sides. There are other polar patterns (subcardioid, hypercardioid, shotgun, super cardioid) but they are less common and you can refer to your user manual if need be. If you can understand the basic patterns, then any other pattern will be easy to understand.
Now that you have your user manual in-hand or on-screen, lets take a look at some other specs that will further help you choose which mic to use. This information may be overwhelming at first glace but, the basics are simple.
Shure SM58 Frequency Response Curve
The frequency response curve visually represents how the mic "hears" the sound. You can use this information in order to choose a mic that will pick up and compliment the frequencies you want. For example, when miking a hi-hat, you might want a brighter mic then when you are recording a bass cabinet.
Impedance seems very complicated (and I am sure the math and science behind it is) but, it is basically how far the signal can travel through cable without loosing any quality. The lower the impedance, the father it will travel. When the signal travels further then it is able to, you will get a loss of high end and output volume. As a general rule, anything below 1,000 ohms should be good for the studio as they can be used with virtually any length of cable and not experience loss of quality.
Hardware and Audio Interfaces
You want a mic preamp that can amplify the tiny little signal your mic gives you without generating noise or majorly altering the audio in a negative fashion. All mic pres will saturate and color you audio to some extent. The saturation and coloration created by certain mic pres is why a lot of engineers spend thousands of dollars on a single channel mic pre and also own multiple brands and models.
Neve 5012 Mic Preamp
Again, by good we do not mean expensive. In my home studio (where I mix and master) I use an Mbox 2 for my audio output. They can be bought used for less then $100 and the pres on it are clean. So you don't have to break the bank to get decent recordings. But be aware, the more mic pres you want on your interface, the more you will pay.
How your audio gets from the mic pre to your computer is also a vital link in your audio chain. If you own something like a Digidesign Mbox or a Tuscam US-1800, your mic pres are part of your audio interface and connect directly to your computer via USB or Firwire. This is a great way to reduce the length of your audio chain. Analog to digital converters can get spendy and come in many different varieties. Do remember, if 50 people say it's great on Sweetwater, chances are, it is. Just be sure to be aware of hardware with bundled software, it may sound appealing but if you happen to not like the unit or sometimes it may not even work, you can not send it back, as most places do not accept returns on software.
Hope this article helps you get on the path to better recording and inspire you to make some great music. (we'd love to hear it!) If you liked this article, we ask you, please share it, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.