How to Use a Microphone Properly. 20 Tips to Improve Recording Experience.

“If you have a good microphone, but you do not know how to use it properly, you might as well use a tin can with a tight thread.”

If your music involves acoustic instruments or voices, then the final quality of your recording depends entirely on your microphones and what you do with them. Good News: correctly positioned, a cheaper microphone can often outperform much more expensive, which is placed wrong. In addition, the way you take care of your microphones, how you organize your studio, can be of great importance for the trouble-free session management. Taking care of your microphones and careful placement – is the key to win the “big sound”. In this article we’ll share some advices how to use microphone properly, so let’s start:

01. Treat Your Microphone Carefully.

Always treat microphones with tenderness and care. Remove them when not in use, do not drop, do not slam it on the box – so you can damage the diaphragm. Better keep your microphones lined with foam cases, in a dry and slightly cold place. If you do not want to constantly pack and unpack them do a trick that a lot of the professionals use: leave the microphones on stands in the studio and dress them in appropriate size special thermo-bags to prevent the dust inside. Also, many people leave microphones constantly connected to the phantom power supply. This is to ensure that they remained warm all the time and to avoid problems with humidity.

02. Impact of Dust and Humidity.

Dust and humidity are enemies of condensed and electret mics. They affect the sound quality, and in the case of dust seriously degrade the microphone diaphragm. If you’ve noticed that your microphone does not work as good as it used to, do not regret to send it to a microphone manufacturer or service organizations to examine and clean the diaphragm.

03. Microphone Price / Quality.

The final quality of your records is highly dependent on the quality of your microphone. The better they are, the more potential to be more accurate in your record, also your record will have the finer details. High quality professional microphones are, on average, from 500 to 1,000 pounds – and that is a significant part of the budget for home and project studios.

04. Use Neutral-Sounding Microphone and Use the Positioning or Equalizer.

Some microphones have a very distinctive sound features, for example – increase of “presence” effect, very tight bass. These features can be useful in certain situations, but it can limit the possibilities for more general application. Choose neutral-sounding microphone and use the positioning (or, if required, EQ) to get the desired sound quality.

Use Microphone Properly05. Dynamic Microphone Features.

Dynamic microphones have a smaller dynamic range with softer highs, than electret and condenser. But they are much more resistant to overload from loud sound sources and to neglect. Thus, in cases where you want a warmer or more “fat” sounds (drums or fine-sounding vocals), or to remove the sound from a very high-profile source – a dynamic microphone is very often a good and sensible choice.

06. Condenser Microphone Features.

Condensed and electret microphones have higher sensitivity, seem to be “faster”, and in general, more neutral. This is a good choice when you are trying to capture subtle nuances in sound. Condenser microphones with a small aperture more neutral and accurate than with large, which tend to show complete picture.

07. Microphone Power Supply Options.

Electret microphones works by internal battery or phantom power. Phantom power – the most preferred method for power because you avoid problems with battery discharge, and secondly, the head of the microphone amplifier will have greater frequency response and less noise. If you still are using the battery, then remove it when not using the microphone. Do not forget to wipe the contacts, as the microphone consumes so little power resources that any corrosion on the contacts can dramatically degrade the performance of the built-in amplifier. Allow the microphone to warm a few minutes before use.

08. Prevent Distorted Signal.

Speaking of primary amplifiers in the condenser, and electret microphones, it’s worth mentioning that they are designed to cope with the “normal” levels of sound pressure. If you place the microphone very close to the loud sound source, this power can very easily be overloaded, producing distorted sound. Many microphones have included special attenuators or attenuation modules placed between the capsule and the amplifier. If you are in doubt – use it. Better low level, which can be corrected in the remote, than loud & distorted sound, which already does not help.

09. Avoid Unpleasant Noise.

Do not forget to clean the faders on the console or mute the monitors, when you move the microphones, flip them or power it on. Anyone who is in the control room listening these blows, clicks and clatter, will be angry, as long as you are coping with your microphones. “You can really hesitate to return when you find out the bass speakers became ashes”.

10. Stand and Cable Tip.

Place the microphone stand so that one of the support legs is directly under the “hand” of the stand. This guarantees stability and prevents the whole structure from falling under the weight of heavy microphone. Don’t wrap the microphone cable over stand, couple of turns will be enough, so it will look neat and moving a stand won’t be difficult, if suddenly appears such a need.

11. Don’t Tighten the Clamps Too Strong.

By adjusting the position of the microphone on the stand, do not do it when the clamps are tightening, because they quickly lose their ability to hold the position. It is better to loosen all of them free and put a microphone wherever you need. You only need little fixation to ensure that racks will not begin to droop in the middle of the session.

12. Isolation from Mechanical Impacts.

It is important to isolate the microphone from strong mechanical effects (especially omnidirectional microphones), as the low-frequency noise significantly reduce dynamic signal resolution (headroom). Few of the near-field monitors are capable of reproducing frequencies below 60 Hz, and if you see the peaks on their meter that as you do not seem to correspond to the sound, it is most likely the reason for this low-frequency overtone. Set your microphones on special insulating stand. Also, good help for a legs positioning are special gaskets under conventional stand.

13. Avoid Unwanted Noise Source by Proper Microphone Position & Diaphragm.

Directional microphones are commonly used to protect itself from unwanted sound source. When placing the microphone, remember that the more important thing is that where it is located in order to avoid unwanted sound. Think about the sound in three dimensions and pose the microphone so that the unwanted noise came in the least sensitive corners. With Cardioid polar pattern, they are directly behind it, with the Eight – on its sides, with Hypercardioid – on the sides of the rear cone.

Use Microphone Properly14. Omni-Directional and Directional Microphones.

With the same price, omni-directional microphone is often more neutral sound and greater bass response than the directed. They should be placed much closer to any directional microphone (half distance or less), for the same values of the interpenetration of tools (leaks). If you are using point or close mics (close-mic), do not avoid using omni-directional, as they often seem to be less notable (the cardioid), and the leakage is likely to be negligible. Do not forget that a lot of (especially cheap) omni-directional microphones, tend to be very directional at high frequencies. So keep the desired sound source on the axes.

15. Advice on the Use of Directional Microphones.

All the directional microphones, to a greater or lesser extent, have the effect of “proximity” (increase in bass, which is greater, the closer the microphone to the source). This can be used if you want to “warm up” your sound in a natural way, not using the EQ. Avoid placing the microphone close to the moving source, because the character of the sound will change. Dancing vocalists and guitarists swinging are almost impossible to control!

16. Experiment with the Microphone Position.

How and where you place the microphone – is an important aspect of the creative sound recording. Take your time, make experiments, and make sure that you understand the process correctly. Listen to the sound source from all positions and decide from what distance and at what angle to capture the sound. Moving the microphone just an inch can radically change its sound. Proper placement, of course, does not guarantee a “great” record, but at least you should do everything in you can.

17. Equalizer is Only Creative Sound Modification.

Always try to reposition or change the microphone before decide to use the equalizer. It will take more time, but the results will be better. EQ is used for creative sound modification, rather than to create sound itself. And this is the reason why you buy the mic! To reduce leaks, think about the positioning of the microphone and about the choice of the appropriate radiation pattern. In fact, it is much faster than setting the noise-gate, and much better, more reliable and more efficient. Do not forget that you can minimize the leakage at the source by placing the instruments so that undesirable sounds coming in the lowest zone of the microphones sensitivity. (See Tip #13)

18. The best way to check the right separation between the microphones – to hear every instrument louder than others.

Leakage must be at least 12dB below the main source of this microphone. Otherwise – reposition the microphone, select a different radiation pattern, in other tools, place or type shielding. If that does not work, then certainly try to apply EQ or Gate. However, after the session, try to figure out what went wrong and what to do to get better results next time.

19. Keep the Proper Distance Between the Sound Source & Microphone.

If you don’t know what distance from the sound source is better for placing the microphone, then here’s a convenient rule of thumb: put it at a distance equal to the largest of the overall measurement source. For example, in case of a Double Bass, good sound can be removed from a distance of 4 feet (about 122 cm). Most acoustic instruments need some space to bring together all the elements of their sound and take their proper proportions. Microphone that is placed too close will strengthen the mechanical noise of strings, bow, clicks valves and distort the balance between the basic frequencies and harmonics.

20. Vocalist & Microphone.

A common problem with recording vocalists who are more familiar with the live performance than with studio work, is that they are sing to closely to the microphone, thereby causing a sibilance, wheezing, spitting (popping), excessive bass boost, and problems with humidity. To prevent this, use a pop filter, installed at a distance of 4 – 5 inches from the microphone. Alternatively, one microphone may be left to be “eaten” by vocalist, and the second placed on and 8 inches by 6 inches above. Normally, recording is done with the second, more distant microphone (usually a good condenser microphone), but if you decide to use a regular concert dynamic model and mix its sound with second microphone, you will be able to get more interesting and slightly aggressive sound!

Use Microphone ProperlyBonus Tips of Drums Recording.

Placing the microphone near the in the front may not always be a viable option, because if the installation crawling on the floor, she can get resonated with the reception and mechanically “shock” the microphone. Instead, if there is a hole of the front plastic, try to put the microphone on the cushion then inside of the drum. Experiment with placement to get a good sound with the right combination of kick beater and drum body. If the drum sounds great when soloed, but poorly in combination with other microphones, it may be because of phase mismatch: try to change it or adjacent microphones phasing. This may be particularly important when you, for example, combine the microphones above and below the snare. For the sound of drums rock, try to start with, balanced microphones point, and then add overheads to improve the clarity of the plates. For live jazz sound or use as the basis for the main balance of overheads, and change point microphones to create a little extra center. In both cases, take care of according to point stereo-positioning microphones with what overheads show. Also we can advice you classic microphone kit Shure DMK57-52 Drum Pack which has great value of price / quality and established among sound engineers. If you want to learn more about the placement of microphones for recording drums – check our extended article.