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Mic Methods: Two Sides Of The Same Coin

Avoiding the self-imposed limitations inherent in viewing one technique as “right” and all others as “wrong.”

Everyone agrees with the idea that you point the microphone at what you want it to pick up.

But there’s another side to the coin: pointing the mic away from what you don’t want. This perspective applies both for using a particular polar pattern to eliminate undesired pickup or miking unconventionally to find a desired sound.

Take drum miking. Snare bleed in the hi-hat mic can blur the snare in the mix, especially for those drummers who know how to play the brass sweetly.

Some time ago, I picked up the method of turning a small diaphragm cardioid condenser nearly horizontal above the hi-hat and pointing it away from the snare. Having the snare in the “nulling area” of the mic’s polar pattern is very effective in reducing bleed.

But the million dollar question: how many drummers or techs then try to “fix” my positioning of the mic? Too many to count. Having the mic positioned this way is just “wrong”—they’re firmly convinced that it’s supposed to point directly at the hi-hat.

Smack Dab In The Middle

A young band I regularly worked with had a guitarist using a notoriously sub-par guitar amp. I’d already resigned myself to the sound we were getting with a Shure SM57 and heavy EQ on the console.

Then one day I walked in via backstage during a rehearsal and immediately thought that he’d gotten a new amp. But surprise of surprises, it was still the same. The only difference was that the house assistant, not knowing the “right” way to mic a guitar amp, put the SM57 smack dab in the middle of the cabinet, pointed at nothing more than the cabinet baffle, inches from the nearest driver.

The assistant, having yet to be tainted with the ideas of center, edge, on-axis and off-axis miking techniques, just intuitively stuck the mic in front of the cabinet with no thought as to “proper”—and it sounded great. I swallowed my pride and learned something.

Worthy Of A Roadie

Then there was the Saturday of doing a parking lot youth gig with four bands throughout the afternoon. I kept it simple on this, choosing for drums to just use mics on kick and snare, along with a pair of overheads for the complete kit.

Being outdoors, I’ve found that drum overheads can really be pushed for a whole kit perspective in a way that’s not wise indoors. This plan worked just fine with the maximum of five-piece drum kits that were showing up—until the last set.

The final band didn’t have a teenage drummer, but rather, employed a grizzled veteran who’d been through rehab and was playing for redemption. Via a 12-piece kit. So my method had to evolve to include the second kick drum. Not having another Sennheiser e602 in my bag, or for that matter, any other “proper” kick mic, the band’s roadie grabbed another SM57 and went to work.

And in short order, my level of respect for the guy went way up. He pointed the 57 one way, listened, then drastically changed the position of the mic and listened again, while the drummer kept up a double-kick beat.

He did this probably a dozen times, randomly re-positioning the mic until he was satisfied with the similarity between the sound of the two. He looked at me. I matched the levels, applied some gentle EQ, and marveled at how identical the two completely different mics sounded. The guy found success by pointing the mic at the sound he wanted, and away from the sound he didn’t want.

Whether reducing the snare in the hi-hat mic, finding a good guitar sound from a frowned-upon amp, or using a non-kick specific mic to match another mic—it can all be accomplished as long as we don’t confine ourselves to the self-imposed limitations inherent in viewing one technique as “right” and all others as “wrong.”

Since his start more than 35 years ago on a Shure Vocalmaster system, James Cadwallader remains in love with live sound and has held a wide range of professional audio positions, performing mixing, recording, and technician duties.

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