by Eric Chancey, @BigDaddyDecibel
So, what exactly are “no-budget tips to improving your sound”? This article is the first in a series about making improvements to your audio mix - improvements that don't require you to spend a dime on new gear.
I realize that these tips may be basic to you but profound to others. Along the way, I'll bet that you find something that you can use. I hope to add a new tip every week...until I run out!
Today's tip: Mic Placement
The best place to start to improve any sound is at the source, but it’s not always possible to replace a whole drum kit, or a player's favorite instrument. Besides, the challenge of sound reinforcement is to accurately reproduce the sound coming from the instrument.
Move the microphone around.
If the sound you are getting isn’t working well for you, the first thing to do is to try moving the microphone around in proximity to the instrument.
For example, if your kick drum doesn’t have enough attack ("click" from the beater), move the microphone closer to the batter head. To deepen the kick sound, move the microphone away from the batter head and you’ll get more low end.
Warming up or clearing up your vocal sound can be just as easy. If you have a vocalist whose voice sounds dull, have the singer back away from the microphone just a bit. Conversely, if the singer's voice sounds too thin, make sure that he or she gets a little closer with their lips.
Since many vocal microphones employ what's called Proximity Effect, you can change the amount of bass response simply by moving closer and farther from the microphone. Try it and see for yourself!
Always be aware of where the sound comes from on the instrument you are mic-ing.
You’ll get all kinds of tones as you try different microphone placement techniques on piano, acoustic guitar and most stringed instruments.
Where’s the best tone on a saxophone - the bell or the keys? Once you know that, experiment with mic placement around the new-found area. This works with all noise-making types of things. Find the sweet spot with your own ears and work from there.
You'll gain a lot of satisfaction from capturing the true tone of an instrument and not having to use radical equalization (EQ) to get the sound right. Not that using EQ is bad, but try moving the microphone around first to see if the sound doesn’t get better!
Microphone placement even works for recording your service. Room recordings often sound drab. Add a couple room mics to pick up ambient sound, but make sure to try different locations in order to find the right balance between a bigger or more direct sound. You don't want your service recording to sound like you're in a cavern.
Do experiments like these every time a stage or recording session is set up. Always keep a notebook at your side, and take good notes. That'll give you a great starting point the next time.
Before you know it, through practice, you’ll know exactly where to start.
So there you are, "No Budget" tip #1 - microphone placement - it costs nothing and it's simple.
If you don’t have help to move the mic and or someone to play the instrument, use a cd and make a recording. Place the mic, hop on the instrument, play a couple bars while recording onto a disc. Take good notes on each take so that when you listen back and decide which one you like best, you’ll be able to place it again.
Next we’ll talk about using channel mutes to clean up and improve your audio mix.
Until next time, Eric
Eric Chancey is the Director of Audio at a large church in the Cincinnati, Ohio area. He has a wide range of experience to include live sound, broadcast audio, mastering, and studio work over the past 30 years.