Perhaps the most exciting type of recording comes in the live realm, whether it be in a club or concert hall or stadium.
Many musicians and bands want to record live because they feel that’s when they play best. The goal, then, is to capture the performance so it can be brought back alive.
Remote recording is exhilarating. The musicians - excited by the audience - often put on a stellar performance. Usually you only get one chance to get it recorded, and it must be done right. It’s on the edge, but by the end of the night, especially if everything has gone as planned - what a great feeling!
Challenges abound. The monitors can feed back and/or leak into the vocal microphones, coloring the sound. The bass sound can leak into the drum mics, and the drums can leak into the piano mics.
Then there are other mic-related gremlins - breath pops, lighting buzzes, wireless system glitches, and even electric shocks.
How to get around the potential problems? Let’s have a look at some effective mic techniques that work well when recording in the live realm. And note that these are tailored more to “pop” music performances.
- When using directional mics, position them close to the source. Close mic’ing increases the sound level at the mic, so less gain is needed, which in turn cuts background noise and leakage.
Unidirectional mics (cardioid, supercardioid, hypercardioid) do the same thing by attenuating off-axis sounds. Also, their proximity effect boosts the bass up close, without boosting the bass of distant sounds.
- Use direct boxes and guitar pickups to eliminate leakage. Or use pickups mixed with mics.
- Consider using headworn noise-canceling mics on vocals. A noise-canceling or differential mic is designed to cancel sounds at a distance, such as instruments on stage or monitor loudspeakers. Such a mic provides outstanding gain-before-feedback and isolation. The mic must be used with lips touching the foam windscreen; otherwise the voice is cancelled.
- Use wireless mics correctly. If dropouts can be heard, move the wireless receiver (or remote antennas) closer or to a point where a stronger signal can be realized. If distortion occurs with loud yelling, turn down the gain-trim pot in the mic.
- Prevent hum and buzz. Keep mic cables well separated from lighting and power cables. If the cables must cross, do so at right angles to reduce the coupling between them, and separate them vertically.
If hum pickup is severe with dynamic microphones, use dynamic microphones with humbucking coils built in. Routinely check the microphone cables to make sure the shield is connected at both ends. For outdoor work, tape over cracks between connectors to keep out dust and rain.
- Prevent electric guitar “shocks.” There may be a ground-potential difference between the electric guitar strings and the sound system mics, causing shocks when both are touched. It helps to power all instrument amps and audio gear from the same AC distribution outlets.
That is, run a heavy extension cord from a stage outlet back to the mixing console (or vice versa). Plug all the power-cord ground pins into grounded outlets. This prevents shocks and hum at the same time.
Further, try putting a foam windscreen on each vocal mic to insulate the guitarist from shocks. As a bonus, a foam windscreen suppresses breath pops better than a metal grille screen. If you’re picking up the electric guitar direct, use a transformer-isolated direct box and set the ground-lift switch to the position with the least hum.
- Try mini mics and clip-on holders. Nearly all microphone manufacturers offer miniature condenser models. These tiny units sometimes offer the sound quality of larger studio mics. If clipped on musical instruments, they reduce clutter on stage by eliminating boom stands.
Plus, the performer can move freely around the stage. And because a miniature clip-on mic is very close to its instrument, it picks up a high sound level.
Often, an omni mic can be used without feedback. Note that “omni’s” generally have a wider, smoother response than “uni’s” and pick up less mechanical vibration. Clutter can also be lessened even when using regular-size mics by mounting them in mic holders that clip on drum rims and mic stands.