I often get asked this question, especially when teaching or in the recording studio: “which microphone should I use to record X?”.
The answer I always give? – “the one that gets you the sound you want”.
It sounds kind of flippant I know but it really is that simple. You can save yourself a whole load of of time by simply putting a microphone up and having a listen to what you are capturing. Try moving the mic around while you are listening on headphones and see whether you and the musician/band are happy with the sound.
Not what you want? Move the mic.
Need it brighter? Try a capacitor/condenser mic or move more on-axis.
Need it warmer? Try a Valve/Tube mic or Ribbon if you have one.
Not the right kind of sound? See if you get nearer to the sound with EQ and if not, switch the mic out for something with a different character. I always try to get the best sound first without having to resort to EQ – just a personal preference.
Now it gets interesting when you “mix as you go” – A very common practice nowadays due to dwindling budgets for recording studio time. I personally follow this approach and try to get the sound I want in the mixed track as I go along so you are not always listening for the best the sound can be as that might not be what the track needs! You may want to listen to the track as you go and you’ll soon hear a sweet spot where the instrument seems to sit in the mix rather than being obscured by other parts.
Just remember – don’t worry if the track sounds crap in solo – you’re never going to hear it that way unless it is in an exposed part of the track and in this case you could always overdub.
I once ended up with an acoustic guitar microphone in a very odd place indeed as you looked at it, but the sound was exactly what was needed in the track. Use your ears not your eyes!!
There could be a problem if someone else is mixing the tracks – I once had a mix engineer get me to re-record guitars as he was balancing the tracks in a different way to me so each case is different.
Now the amount of experimentation you have time for always depends upon the client – it’s their money after all! I tend to use the longer sessions to hone technique and try new things and on shorter sessions – the kind when a band has a day and wants to record as much as possible – these are the sessions when you can fall back on accepted practice. Let’s face it: a Shure SM57 is always going to work on an electric guitar amp!
A selection of the mics I use at Threecircles Recording Studio in Essex, UK.