Greetings mate and Welcome aboard!
Stuart Charles here, HomeStudioBasics.com helping YOU make sound decisions, so…
In the world of recording, technique and placement of your mic is essential.
In this guide, I’ll help you achieve the sweet spot and discuss what’s worked for me over the years in addition to some common mistakes to avoid.
We’ll also take a look at some tried and true methods for getting a perfect (or near perfect) take; one that requires MINIMAL post-processing.
It’s always important to get a clean recording, and I’ll help you do just that.
This article will cover both vocals and acoustic guitar, as well as some different mics that work well for both use cases.
So let’s dive in!
One thing to keep in mind is that microphone placement, to an extent, depends on the mic in question.
For instance, most cardioid condenser mics like it when you’re about 5-6″+ away and have some sort of pop filter in between to mitigate plosives and the like.
That said, the distance each of them prefers can vary depending on the model. Some don’t mind if you get a bit closer than my sweet spot, but some do.
Even if you don’t have a pop filter, you can get a really good recording – absent of plosives – when following this general guideline of around 5-6″.
Here are some recordings with a few different mics I have here:
All are raw recordings at the same position and distance away (roughly 6″) and I did my best to use the same cadence, speed, tone, and volume.
- DAW used: FL Studio. Audacity is free for those just starting, and Reaper has a 60-Use Free Trial. Both are great!
MXL 770 (Flat)
MXL 770 w/ HPF (Hi-Pass Filter)
Audio Technica AT2020
One exception to the 5-6″ rule is the Samson C01 which is a hypercardioid mic.
Hypercardioids tend to reject even more noise than a typical cardioid, but there’s another added benefit: you can get very close to the C01 and it won’t sound distorted, jagged, or suffer from any clipping given your gain levels are right.
In fact, the closer the better. I have no qualms about getting right up in its grill and singing, speaking, or rapping – sort of like a Shure SM58 in the way that you can record with it.
Just make sure to use a Pop filter with the C01.
By contrast, the other cardioid mics I have here aren’t too fond of it when you get all in their face.
Experiment with distance, but I would say, in general, any closer than 5 inches and you run the risk of a subpar recording. Not always, but more often than not.
While 5-6″ away may be a good general guideline for speaking/voiceover and/or rapping, for singers and specifically belters, you’ll probably want to take another step back.
As you can see in the video below, she is even farther away (around a foot or more).
This will minimize the chances of clipping even more and ensure a proper clean take.
Female Vocal Test
Gain For Condenser Microphones
With an interface like the Universal Audio Volt 2, play around with the gain and determine the sweet spot.
Per my experience dating back to 2007, a gain of around 75% is ideal in most cases.
Pumping it up to 95% typically leads to a bit of distortion (subtle or otherwise), but it’s also a lot more advantageous to record a bit quieter and then boost it if you need to after the fact.
Recording with the gain very high and then adjusting down, in my mind, is a recipe for disaster since you may simply be working with a poor take.
On the flip side, record any less than 75% and you’ll likely find yourself having to boost up the levels a little too much in post-processing; which isn’t a comfortable feeling.
The key here is a happy medium, and 75%, for me, has worked wonders.
Gain for Dynamic Microphones
In the case of something like a Shure SM57 + Fethead, I like the gain to be around 50%.
The Fethead, if you weren’t aware, provides an additional 27dB boost to dynamic mics like the 57 that need a lot of juice.
The Volt 2, on its own, provides 55dB, and the SM57 requires around 56 (give or take).
Without a Fethead, you’ll be jacking up the gain to near maximum, which isn’t ideal.
With a Fethead employed, you can comfortably record at around 50% and get a loud, crisp take that you can boost up a bit more in post if needed.
No home studio space is perfect, but there are some measures you can take to ensure you’re dampening the sound/acoustics at least enough to get a great recording.
The good news is that both Condenser microphones and Dynamics typically reject a lot of noise; more than you’d think.
I live near a LOUD, busy highway and haven’t had any issues with any of my mics picking up that ambiance.
The Blue Yeti is an exception, as it’s probably the worst in this regard, but it’s also a USB mic and not exactly professional sounding on its own.
If you have noisy neighbors above, please just wait until you get some quiet time. Nearly all mics tend to pick up at least a little bit of the banging (yes, both kinds), so bear that in mind.
You don’t need to go crazy here, but strategically placing acoustic panels on the walls where you think the sound needs some assistance (in not bouncing all over the place) is a fantastic start.
Overdoing it could lead to a sound that comes across as completely dead and lifeless, and that’s not what we want either.
Again, we’re looking for balance. You don’t need to cover every single solitary inch of the wall.
Another option is to go with something like an Isolation shield if you really want to make sure you’re getting a clean recording.
Unless you’re Robert Plant screaming on stage with half your clothes missing, you’ll probably need a stand of some sort.
I’ve used a few different kinds in the past including Boom Arms, Desktop Stands, and Scissor Arms.
Out of the 3, a scissor arm is probably the most versatile option.
With a good arm, you’re afforded the luxury of being able to adjust it into almost any position imaginable. Just clamp it somewhere ideal on your desk and let the magic happen.
Not only is it easy to get the right height and distance, but it’s also incredibly convenient.
Just swing it around when you need to record and push it out of the way when you’re done. I can even stand up and record in a matter of seconds.
Desktop stands, such as the one I used with my AT2020 years back, are bulky, heavy, and have to be situated in just the right spot, and in my opinion, aren’t a pleasure to use at all.
Boom Arms are a little better than Desktop Stands, but they take up more space.
That said, they do come in handy for instrument recording specifically, or when you want to record the instrument and vocals with 2 separate mics.
Depending on the way they were built/designed, you may experience drift which is the main caveat in my opinion.
By drift I mean the arm will slowly swing to one side when you’re nowhere near it, or while you’re in the process of situating the mic before a recording.
Another important factor to consider when recording vocals is your cadence; or your vocal inflection.
Fortunately, when your levels are set correctly (as discussed above), you won’t need to speak overly loud while recording voiceover.
Using a comfortably loud voice ensures the sound isn’t going to be overly shrill and raspy, but it also drastically reduces the chances of clipping; something you want to avoid at all costs.
Play around with the cadence, tone, pitch, and speed of your voice to find that perfect sound.
Recording an acoustic guitar can be a bit tricky, but I’ve found that aiming the mic at a roughly 45° angle and towards the 12th-14th fret (or wherever the neck meets the body) and about 4-6″ away from the guitar is ideal.
Just play around with it and find the spot that yields the best results.
Situating it too close to the sound hole and you’ll pick up a lot of the guitar’s unnecessary low-end information, but having it too far away runs the risk of the mic not picking up enough of its natural tone and timbre.
While we’re at it, the microphone you use here is arguably even more important than it is for vocals, and I’ll explain why.
Cardioid condenser microphones are pretty good for guitar, but I’d argue that a small-diaphragm pencil condenser is the way to go by far.
This is because it’s specifically tailored for an acoustic and picks up all the necessary air we need while rolling off the lows.
So, less headache for you, minimal EQ, and it’s really easy to get a good first take with the proper angle and distance, too.
I have tried like mad to get a good take with an SM57, and while not impossible, it’s much harder than it needs to be. The SM57 is a fantastic mic for vocals, cabs, drums, etc., but I’d never rely on it for an acoustic guitar.
Instead, try something like the MXL 991 that I have (pictured above), or a pair of Samson C02s. This gives you a more dynamic sound as you can angle another one coming from the opposite direction resulting in a nice stereo image.
Even recording with one small diaphragm is a night and day difference and a game changer if you’re serious about getting crisp, loud takes.
Here’s a clip using the 991 to record a couple of chords for a beat I’m going to make:
Recording vocals and guitars doesn’t have to be hard.
With the techniques mentioned in this article, along with the proper gear, you’ll be recording cleanly and effectively in no time at all.
Just don’t go stealin’ Ernie’s rations.
Ernie’s Rations, Shure SM57 + Fethead + A81WS Windscreen:
Well, that’s about it for today my friend! I hope you’ve enjoyed this Microphone Techniques Guide and came away with some valuable insight.
Questions? Comments? Requests? Did I miss the mark on something? Please contact me!!
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Which of these mics sounds best to YOU? I would love to hear from you. Until next time…
All the best and God bless,