Paul Mitchell has made a career of engineering live and studio performances for jazz artists; most notably with keyboardist Joe Sample, Jazz Crusaders and Jonathan Brooke.
Recently he produced “Hipping the Hop” with Joe Sample – piano, Steve Gadd – drums and Nicklas Sample – bass, which is a perfect case study of how to record and mix live, at the same time.
“I put the focus on the basics and start with a good set of tools,” says Mitchell. “For me this is a collection of Audix microphones when I’m out on the road.”
“Then, I’m fortunate enough to work with a group of great musicians and well-tuned instruments; especially drums. Finally, I apply very simple miking techniques and the philosophy that a lot less is more.”
For example, Mitchell covers most drum kits with only four mics.
“The basis of my technique is to place a single (mono) Audix SCX1C with a cardioid capsule in front of the drummer’s face; about 2 feet above the snare, pointing straight down,” he explains. “With this placement, we hear what the drummer hears. I can tip the mic a bit towards the hi-hat to pick up more of that, but in general, it captures the sound of the kit.”
This seems counter-intuitive to the common practice of close-miking everything, but Mitchell responds, “When’s the last time you put your ear two inches from the snare head, where most guys place a mic?”
With the drummer’s point of view established, Mitchell moves on, “I place one Audix SCX1C with a cardioid capsule pointing across the kit from above-left; basically over the high tom. I call it drum high. I then place another Audix SCX1C with a cardioid capsule lower on the right side, pointing across the kit to pick up floor toms and the ride cymbal. That’s drum low.”
Hard-panning drum high and drum low right & left for the house mix creates a realistic stereo image. A final Audix D6 is placed in front of the kick drum. “With this configuration, I can balance the mics to give a stereo front-of-house feed, enough separation for individual recording tracks and a monitor mix.”
Mitchell then mikes Joe Sample’s 7′ grand piano with a pair of Audix SCX25A’s. “Whenever I go to a new studio, I always ask the in-house guy to put up his best pair of piano mics,” says Mitchell, Then I put up the Audix SCX25A’s. They always out-perform. They’re my go-to piano miking solution.”
A DI for upright bass and a pair of Audix SCX1’s for audience and room ambience complete the live miking set-up; only eight mics and a DI to multi-track record and mix a live performance for 5,000 people.
The proof is in the performance. One really can’t tell that “Hipping the Hop” is anything but a tightly-controlled studio recording until hearing the applause from a very large audience. Oh and Mitchell was mixing front-of-house at the same time!
This minimalist approach serves Mitchell well as he travels around the world. “With a selection of Audix mics, a good multi-channel A/D – D/A interface and a Mac Book Pro, I can do my job. Mics go directly into the A/D and split-out to the FOH console. I don’t E.Q. for recording – saving any adjustments and reverse panning of the drum mics for mixdown and mastering. And because I’ve selected good mics, any E.Q. for the house mix is largely done by tuning the house system’s 31-band equalizers. I know that I have good sound coming in, so any adjustments are for the speakers and the room, not the mics.”
With a choice of any microphones to use and a sizable collection of his own classics, Mitchell selects Audix microphones to go on the road with him. ” I choose them because they’re rugged and give me a sound that is often as good as the ‘white-glove’ mics I have at home in my studio. In fact, I like some of the Audix mics better!”