Microphone placement “Piano” (3/5)

In this mini-series I’ll discuss the importance, or rather, the impact of microphone placement. There’s no right and wrong when working with microphones, as some seem to think. I’ll provide frequency illustrations with every example to easier grasp the changes that occur with every technique.

Some of the most unique and original recordings use unconventional microphone placements, which might have played a huge roll in the finalized recording. I will not discuss or show pictures of any popular microphone techniques. Instead I’ll provide audio files that show the drastic changes that occur when you adjust a microphone just a few centimeters.

This part covers a special way of recording piano, or rather a grand piano. I had the opportunity to record inside a massive church, alone using a field recorder. I placed the Zoom H4n recorder in different positions to see what difference the positioning would do in such a characteristic recording environment.

Recorder placed on top of the piano

By placing the recorder on top of the piano, the result has a bit of everything. The sound is very intimate, and by placing the microphone directly on the piano, you get plenty of mechanical and unwanted noises. Mechanical noises would be reduced if I had used a stand and kept some distance between the microphone and piano. The sound lacks definition and comes of as muffled and with too much low end. A way to improve definition would have been to open the top cover. The room acoustics are very present in this recording, and the sound is a good representation of what I, the player, heard while playing the piano.

Recorder placed on top of the piano, facing me and rotated 120 degrees.
1,5 seconds in to the recording, on top.

Recorder placed behind the piano

In this type of setting, the room has a huge influence on every action performed on the piano. When placing the microphone behind the piano, we also reduce the impact the room has on the recording by “boxing it in” and reducing the amount of reflection surfaces around the microphone. This gives the recording much more definition and reduces the excessive low end that was present in the previous recording. A negative aspect is that the sound in this recording is not a correct representation of the actual sound in the church, but a much more compact and clear sound without the excessive natural reverb. The sound also gets a “boxed in” character, due to change in the mid frequencies.

Recorder placed behind the piano, facing the piano, rotated 120 degrees.
1,5 seconds in to the recording, behind.

Recorder placed 4 m (13ft) away from the piano

This was a pure demonstration of the natural reverb in the church and my attempt to capture it. The distance removes definition and high end and results in a muddy sound filled with reverb. On the other hand, the tone is very pleasant and clean and would work well as a representation of what an audience would hear in a church. The church has the following dimensions: 15m high, 30 meters in lenght and 15m width. The walls were covered in either brick or wood, and the floor was polished rock. Few ornaments on the wall, meaning tons of reflective surfaces.

Recorder on a solid surface a few meters away from the piano, facing the long side of the building, rotated 120 degrees.
1,5 seconds in to the recording, far away.

Microphone Placement “Electric Guitar” (2/5)

In this mini-series I’ll discuss the importance, or rather, the impact of microphone placement. There’s no right and wrong when working with microphones, as some seem to think. I’ll provide frequency illustrations with every example to easier grasp the changes that occur with every technique.

Some of the most unique and original recordings use unconventional microphone placements, which might have played a huge roll in the finalized recording. I will not discuss or show pictures of any popular microphone techniques. Instead I’ll provide audio files and graphs that show the drastic changes that occur when you adjust a microphone just a few centimeters.

This part covers electric guitar. A SM57 microphone was used, and a AT2020 was used for the later examples. The guitar amplifier was a small and beaten up Fender Frontman 15W.

SM57 straight in to the cone.

SM57 ON AXIS

Probobly the most common way to record electric guitar through an amplifier. A very popular microphone, put at the axis position. The axis in this case is straight into the cone of the speaker. This placement gives you a raw, high end tone with high to medium low end. The more you angle the microphone, the more bass you get generally. This placement normally generates the least amount of unwanted low end frequencies.

SM57 ON axis. A nice frequency spread with a defined mid range.

SM57 OFF axis

Still a common method, but with a very different character. The high end gets toned down and the bass along with the mid frequencies get boosted. This was done at a 30% angle, a good mix between low end and mid.

SM57 OFF axis. The low end is taking over and the midrange is turned down.

SM57 OFF AT2020 ON *MONO

If we introduce a condenser microphone into the mix a lot of things change. Instead of a clear, raw and centered tone we get a bassy spread tone with almost a box-like feel. The “edge” of the sound disappears and this placement might not be the optimal one for a clean tone.

SM57 OFF AT2020 ON. The low end is way too pronounced and there’s a gap in the mid range.

SM57 ON AT2020 OFF *MONO

If we reverse the order and place the SM57 on axis, the tone gets sharper and more defined. We get a nice snappy tone, but still with a washed out low end sound that may be unwanted, due to the condenser microphone. It lacks character, but can still be used in some situations due to its blendable sound.

SM57 ON AT2020 OFF. Uneven frequence response but with an OK midrange, bass is too strong.

AT2020 close OFF axis

A condenser microphone placed 10cm away from the amplifier, off axis. An oldschool sound with a cut off high end. A bit box-sounding due to excess mid frequencies, but still a vintage and snappy sound. This placement would work great in blues sessions and in sessions that are looking for a vintage sound that can stand on its own.

AT2020 OFF. Lots of character, but uneven reponse.

Microphone placement “Acoustic Guitar” (1/5)

In this mini-series I’ll discuss the importance, or rather, the impact of microphone placement. There’s no right and wrong when working with microphones, as some seem to think. I’ll provide frequency illustrations with every example to easier grasp the changes that occur with every technique.

Some of the most unique and original recordings use unconventional microphone placements, which might have played a huge roll in the finalised recording. I will not discuss or show pictures of any popular microphone techniques. Instead I’ll provide audio files that show the drastic changes that occur when you adjust a microphone just a few centimeters.

The first example is with acoustic guitar. A condenser microphone was used for the acoustic guitar and an Ibanez AW40 Steel String guitar was used to provide the examples.

Microphone at the 12th fret 

For some people, this is the “right” way to record acoustic guitar. By placing the microphone at the 12th fret, you eliminate any additional bass that would have been present if the microphone had been placed closer to the sound hole (the hole of the acoustic guitar). Also, by placing the microphone closer to the head, you get a clearer and crisp tone that has a lot of middle range to it.

Frequency display at the 12th fret.

Microphone at the sound hole

By placing the microphone at the sound hole, you will immediately get a higher volume. The other thing you notice is that the sound is way fatter and filled with low end. The characteristics of an acoustic guitar just aren’t there in the same way as they were in at the 12th fret. In a way they get stuck in the muddy low end caused by the short distance of the sound hole. You could EQ away the lower end, but it’s very difficult to get that lively crisp tone that you get at the 12th fret.

Frequency display at the sound hole

Microphones at both positions

Here’s where it gets interesting. In this example there are two microphones, one at the 12th fret and one at the sound hole. It’s in stereo instead of mono, and they are both panned hard L/R. Looking at the frequency curve, both characteristics are there. It’s the muddy low end, and the crisp midrange at around 1k. Together they work better, but the bass is still an issue as it takes over too much of the sound.

Frequency display when using both positions.

Thanks for reading!

Punk/pop gig with female singer 2016-05-27

Couple of pictures from a gig I worked at this weekend. Pop/punk band with a female singer where the main issue was to isolate the vocals to really make them stick out through the distorted guitars and heavy drums.

This was accomplished with proper microphone placements, lining the bass and shelving EQ while at the same time boosting at 800 and around 2000 on the vocals. Very fun and rewarding experience!

Source for EQ picture: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6yZrCZ95kmw

Audio Engineering – Far Far Away 7-8/5 2016

Had the honor to work with the wonderful people over at Nöjesteatern in Malmö. I handled all the audio and used a relatively easy setup. The digital mixer, a Yamaha M7CL had 4 wireless mics with backups, two stagemics and an acoustic guitar. I handled all the HDD and music through a Microsoft Surface that I synced up with the script of the show. The monitor mix was basically the same except for some of the harder numbers.

Very fun! Here are a couple of picturess from the show:

Interesting gig!

Had the pleasure to perform and manage the sound at a medium sized venue, but with very limited equipment. Turns out they hadn’t really had any band IMG_20160401_144713performances there before, even though they had all the gear, or at least almost all the gear. They had no tools to plug in the main sound system, which left no other choice than to use the monitors as our main source of output sound. We brought our own mixer just in case, and if we hadn’t done that, the acoustic gig would have been a lot more acoustic.

A great learning experience and proof that everything turns out better if everybody keeps calm.
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