Miking Mania, Miking Madness

We conducted an open call: “Come one, come all. Impart upon us your wisdom, your wackiness. Plug in and unhinge. Check your levels...and check your head while you’re at it.” And here’s what we got — the cream of the crop of the cracked, the crazed, and the cuckoo. Oh, and we got some practical tips too while we were at it. Don’t believe us? Read ’em and weep...
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We conducted an open call: “Come one, come all. Impart upon us your wisdom, your wackiness. Plug in and unhinge. Check your levels...and check your head while you’re at it.” And here’s what we got — the cream of the crop of the cracked, the crazed, and the cuckoo. Oh, and we got some practical tips too while we were at it. Don’t believe us? Read ’em and weep...


“I once heard of a multiple mic trick that supposedly David Bowie used once for his vocals that I decided to try to translate over while recording a whole choir in a large room. To start, I put a matched pair of cardioid condensers approximately 5–7 feet away from the source, set up in a U-shape, in an ORTF setup (Editors note: Roughly 20cm apart at a 110º angle). Behind that, about 15 feet from the choir, I placed a figure eight and a condenser in an M/S (mid/side) matrix. And, finally, behind the M/S mics, I placed two Omnis, each in the farthest opposite corner of the room from one another, in order to get the max reflections.
“The M/S and omni mics were then gated so that when the choir sang softly only the ORTF mics picked up the vocals, making for a very intimate sound. As the choir would gradually grow louder, the M/S mics would open up, giving a bit more depth to the sound. And when they got really loud, the omnis would finally open up to give a huge sound. This worked really well, and gave two whole natural extra dimensions to the vocal tracks.”
—Billy Hickey


“I was recording a very eerie, minor-keyed song called ‘In All,’ for an artist named Ryan Wilkins — a song based around just vocals and guitar — that demanded some extra texture but didn’t need any extra instrumentation per se. So, in order to get some extra overtones, we decided to have him sing into the piano and to place some mics strategically around the instrument to get some extra sounds for the mix.
“Using a Matchless amp to hold down the sustain pedal, we had Ryan bend down practically into the piano, putting a Neumann UM57 tube mic close to his mouth, a KM84 down at the sound hole, and a [AKG] C12 aimed off at the low strings. As he sang the track, different notes affected different strings, to different degrees, giving us many extra overtones and harmonics. In the mix, we ended up boosting the hell out of the low end from the C12 to make certain lower notes rumble, and compressed the snot out of the ambient mics to bring it all together. It was exactly the sound we were looking for.”
—Michael Seifert


“While there are various methods of filling the stereo spectrum with a single take of acoustic guitar, namely with different delays and reverbs, I’ve found a great miking technique from working with Duncan Sheik that makes a single acoustic guitar sound huge.
“With only two mics, the setup is simple (simple = best). Mic #1 (a small diaphragm condenser if it’s a delicate player, large diaphragm — classically, a U87 — if the playing is of a higher dynamic) is placed in a standard position anywhere from 12–16 inches from the guitar, pointing at the 12th fret. Mic #2, preferably a large diaphragm condenser, is placed to the strumming side of the artist, about six inches above the edge of the shoulder, angled down towards the body of the guitar. This mic is meant to capture the instrument as the player hears it. [Note: As both mics are placed at near right angles from one another, phase issues would be a natural worry. However, I’ve yet to really encounter any great phase problems with this placement.]
“I let the natural sound pressure dictate the gain, in terms of recording levels. Mic #1 (front) will generally have maybe 10–15dB more than Mic #2 (above and side.) Panning Mic #1 at either 3 o’clock or 50–60% to one side and Mic #2 either all the way or nearly all the way (90%) to the other side will spread the guitar sound so wide you could swear that you could drive a truck through it.
—Michael Tudor www.mtudormusic.com


“This is what we like to call ‘The Subsonic Boom’: Take a mic with a good deep low end (think: Electro Voice RE20, Sennheiser 421, AKG D20) and wrap it thickly in a blanket. This way, the mic will not hear any mids or treble — just subsonic rumble. All you have to do is put the ‘blanket’ anywhere near the kit. The mic will pick up the low impact from any element of the drums — kick, snare, toms . . . even the room. Make your own special sub/rumble channel and record the blanketed mic to it. This will help add some real fatness to your drums, without having to touch a single EQ.”
—Brian Kehew


“Here’s a cool drum trick: Start with a pair of omni mics. If you have the Earthworks or the Avenson Audio STO-2s that’s all the better, but even the $40 Behringer ECM test mics will work for this. Place the mics in phase less than 1/4" off of the reflective wall, with the capsule right up on the barrier, creating a pseudo-PZM out of the wall.
Next, mic the opposite left and right walls of the kit, slightly skewing the kick and snare so the centerline of each drum falls on the centerline of the room. Imagine the walls as big ears, and imagine that you are miking the kit with these huge wall/ear/mic-hybrids. This can really help open up a boxy sounding room by, in effect, removing the side walls.”
—Lee Knight www.foureyesmusic.com


“Once upon a piano overdubbing session, in which the piano in question was horribly out of tune and no piano tuner was in sight, I found myself in a situation where a Korg Triton was the only thing available for which to finish the tracks. Now, nothing against the Triton, it sounded perfect — too perfect, in fact. For the very natural sounding rock band whose album I was cutting, this super clean Triton sound just wouldn’t do.
“But I had no choice other than to improvise, so we cut the overdub tracks on the keyboard, and then took to the piano to cover up our cleanliness. Placing a Neumann U47 in the piano, and a U87 down on the pedals, I had the pianist operate the pedals while monitoring the playback of the keyboard take, recording only the sounds of the pedal squeaking and dampering. This proved to add just enough realism to the sound to get us off the hook, and leave most listeners none the wiser.”
—Jeff Anderson www.soundlogicrecording.com


“I wish I could remember where I first heard about it, but I’m a big fan of the ‘mic the snare shell’ approach instead of the usual ‘from the top’ approach, with or without the second mic underneath. Just watch out for the vent holes in the snare — if you position the mic right on axis with the vent, you’ll get a nasty blast every time the drummer hits it. But I think this technique really does give a good balance of snare rattle, attack, and body, without having the hassle of working with two mics on the same drum.”
—Phil O’Keefe www.philokeefe.com


“I wanted to come up with a groovy new analog effect for a guitar solo — something similar to a wah pedal or talk box, but with its own unique sonic characteristics. So I wired up a sort of hybrid gizmo that’s essentially a microphone container than operates similarly to a trumpet plunger mute and produces a ‘wah’ sound.
“First, I gathered an old 3" car speaker, an empty shampoo bottle, an 1/8" jack, and some leftover cabling from a pair of cheap headphones (Figure 1). Then I cut a hockey puck-sized part off the bottom of the shampoo bottle, about an inch up, wired the speaker as a mic, and inserted it into the hole, securing it with tape, before taping the bottom part of the bottle back on (Figure 2). Finally, I cut a slit 95% of the way around the top of the bottle, just under the shoulder, leaving around 5% as a plastic hinge (Figure 3).
“To record this effect, I re-amped the signal of the guitar solo, while ‘playing’ the lid of the mic-gizmo just like a trumpet mute.”
—Bunny Knutson www.bunnyknutson.com


“I was working with a very Tory Amos-esque singer/songwriter who had a piano-based piece that was thematically dark and very eerie sounding. We had tracked the song a couple times using some conventional miking techniques — putting two [AKG] 414s in the piano, near the strings — and it sounded fine . . . but it was a little too normal.
She told me ‘I really wish we could make the piano sound like it was drowning.’ This inspired me, so I went back into the room, took the 414s out from under the piano lid, placed them under the piano, and had her play.
On the first playback, I patched this muffled, bass/mid heavy piano into a Lexicon PCM60 patch that had a reverb with slight tremolo/rotary speaker effect. She absolutely loved it. It was like the poor piano was coming up for its last breath.
—Jeff Klopmeyer www.klopmeyer.com


“While working on an album for rapper Jahari, we ended up mixing at Sound Station Seven in Rhode Island — a converted fire station from the turn of the century. Next to the live room, they had a three-story tower previously used for hanging hoses to dry, complete with a rope and pulley system still in place. With a bunch of stacked synth strings that were made running a Kurzweil K2000 into various E-mu outboard processors that we weren’t exactly happy with, we decided to take advantage of this enormous tower and see how we could spice things up.
“We ran the signal out into the tower, blasting the synth tracks through two Fender amps, and hoisting two U87s almost 70 feet up in the air with the old pulley systems to grab the room sound in stereo. Needless to say, J.J., the owner, was freaking out.
“You know the tones that you can get in a bathroom? Well just think of the tones you can get from a concrete room that is 70 feet tall. It was really cool, producing almost a sympathetic tone that really added a natural character to the strings. The natural reverberated sounds took up probably 40–50% of the final mix, but it was so big that we had to nudge the effect back, sort of a time delay, so they would match the original tracks. To give the right stereo image, we panned the original tracks at 3 and 9 o’clock, and then the re-miked tracks fully to the right and left. It really thickened up the string sections.”
—Michael Seifert www.anteupaudio.com


“Last summer my band was hired for a project that was recorded at the Chicago Recording Company. We had a pretty big-time engineer/producer, who I’ll leave unnamed, but suffice to say I’m sure you would know him or at least know the projects he’s worked on. Anyhow, something he did really left me scratching my head: He placed what he called ‘Ant Mics’ in front of the drums.
“Basically, he put two SDCs about three inches off the ground, on both sides of the kick drum, about eight to 10 inches off the drum. He was kind enough to share his philosophy on the technique, telling me that he thought of all the mics as cameras taking pictures of different areas of the drum kit. The ‘Ant Mics,’ he said, gave the mix the perspective of an ant, making the kit look (sound) huge.
“I’m not sure how much of the ‘Ant Mics’ made it into the final mix, but during the tracking he iso’d those mics and I could definitely hear how they added to an overall huge drum sound.”
—Rob Potvin


“For those working with an open-back guitar combo amp: Mic the front of the speaker in a standard fashion, and then mic the back with a [Crown] PZM to get that extra ‘thrust.’ [Note: For some reason, the PZM doesn’t seem to cause any of the phase issues that one might ordinarily encounter while doing this with any other mic.] You can ride the PZM track up in the mix as you wish. I’ve found that pushing up the fader for the PZM track during choruses really adds to the sound. It may not be totally off the wall, but it sure sounds cool.”
—Ken Lee www.blueberrybuddha.com


“Want to try a different approach towards drum overheads for a session? Tape two small cardioid mics (for the situation I am referring to, we used Neumann KM84s) to the rim of a baseball cap and have the drummer wear it. Each mic will ‘hear’ the left or right side of the kit. This is especially cool because the mics are close in, and will shift with the drummers movements to pick up whatever section of the kit he/she is focusing on (such as following a tom fill).
Of course, as the drummer moves his/her head, the stereo image will move as well, panning around wildly. This isn’t something that works for a ‘typical’ section, but it creates a truly weird, psychedelic effect.”
—Brian Kehew www.recordingthebeatles.com


“Here’s a technique that it is rumored Buddy Holly used:
“When recording an electric guitar, set up a standard close mic on the amplifier cabinet. Next, face the guitarist towards the amp, leaving a good bit of distance between the two or, ideally, isolating the amp entirely. Now, take another mic (perhaps a cardioid condenser) and mic the strings of the electric guitar. This is where good isolation, or keeping a good distance between the guitarist and the amp is crucial. You want to capture as little of the amp source signal as possible.
“Send the signal of the strings to a separate channel, mixing it in to whatever degree sounds best with the signal from the amp. This results in a really nice, snappy transient from the strings — almost a percussive sound — and it gives you some very nice articulation of the total guitar timbre.”
—Jeff Klopmeyer www.klopmeyer.com


“I used to have a production room in the old TMF Studios in New York. One day, in the Studio A live room (which was about 50 feet down the hall and around the corner from my door), a horn session was booked. For some reason they had left the door open in the live room, and it sounded beautiful carrying into my space, so I grabbed an AKG 414, armed a track in Pro Tools, and shot for a cool sample. But what I got was far more interesting than I what I had hoped for: The sonic quality of the horns seemed to hold on to its close proximity over a long distance, mixing in with the natural reverberation of the hallway.
“After placing a liberal amount of compression on the track, I ended up with one of the most intriguing and musical horn sounds I’ve ever recorded — it was fat and the EQ occurred naturally and perfectly, fitting easily into a mix.
“Soon after, I tracked a horn session of my own and incorporated the long distance miking technique with some close mics, balancing the close and the far sounds equally with great results. If you do something like this, it’s really fun to play with delaying the distant mic tracks forward. This reminds me of the sounds from John Bonham recording down stairways, or Bowie’s vocals on ‘Heroes.’ Sure, it’s not the most uncommon technique, but it could be used more often, and it makes for some orgasmic sounds”
—Michael Tudor www.mtudormusic.com


“If you’ve ever tried to get percussive sounds by using a water bottle as a kick — miking the hole and lightly tapping on the bottle [Note: Do not choke the ‘ring’ of the bottle] — here’s a trick that will take this technique to the next level.
“Take an empty five gallon water bottle and hang a mic into it by wrapping the cord around a drum stick so the mic is hanging, not sitting on the bottom. Then place the whole works right in front of your kick drum. This makes a sound that’s a cross between a log drum and a [Roland] TR-808 —big yet natural . . . and a great alternative to the whole [Yamaha] NS10/Subkick technique.”
—Lee Knight www.foureyesmusic.com