How to Mix Sound, Session 4: Miking Principles and Practices

There are a few typical types of vocal microphones: body-worn, (as in under a costume) pinned-on (as in a ‘lavaliere’ mikes (known as ‘lavs’)), hand-held (usually known as a stick) boom or desktop (depending on the mounting) mikes. Each has a proper technique for use.

The #1 important thing to remember is “What is the mike hearing?” If you only remember that. then your technique for setup whether it’s hanging a boom or putting a mike on a person (and showing them how to use it) will work in your favor.

Some degree of good miking practice involves gentle management of performing artists. The trick is to not be intimidated: you are the person who knows your sound gear and they don’t. Be confident. be bold, be consistent. That way, your results in the sound will be consistent every time. And if you have to go back to the books on something, your previous consistency will allow you to analyze your practices in a fair comparison with those of successful sound technicians.

When checking a mike, NEVER, EVER, EVER blow into it or tap on it. You do that in my presence, you’ll get a dope-slap! If the element is a ‘condenser’ element, you can get moisture in it and ruin the sound forever. If it is a ‘ribbon’ element, you can literally break the ribbon inside; a very expensive repair. Dynamic mikes are about the only kind robust enough to withstand this type of treatment; and if you break one, they’re cheap to replace: that’s why you’ll find them almost everywhere.

So what do you do? Instead, use your fingernails in a scratching motion across the top. If you have the mike too hot, you can immediately control how much sound comes through.

Why not speak? It’s tough to hear your own voice, over the sound of your own voice. That’s why you hear performers ask two or three times, “Is this on?” They can’t hear themselves, over themselves. Using your fingernails to make a `rumble’ sound is also much less offensive to any audience or group that may be in the space.

 

Homework:

(Yes, it looks like it’s the same, but it’s not. Read on.)

Find yourself a copy of some ‘classic’ music and listen to how the sound crew put together the three-dimensional stage of sound. Find something that matches your tastes and give it a good, deep listen with your eyes closed. Some examples would be:

  • Classical and symphonic music from most any era
  • Jazz music from any era up to the 80’s
  • Rock/Pop from any era up to the 80’s
  • Vocals from any era up to the 80’s

So now do something different: find a well-produced piece from, oh, let’s say the Disco era. (Yes, go ahead and laugh.) But – listen closely to any Bee Gees album and you find several things: Heavy rhythm, heavy bass, clean sounding drum kit, lots of guitar and keyboard in the mix, super-clean vocals. Every voice and instrument is distinct.

But notice something: It’s INTELLIGIBLE!

Now pick up most any later-produced “rock” or “grunge” piece and try to sort out the vocals. Try to sort out the individual instruments.

Harder than you thought? You’re hearing the result of an indifferent mix, the lack of any art in sound mixing. The result of “well we just recorded it, make us an air cut with the remainder of the 2 hours we paid you for”. Now go back to the Bee Gees and listen again. You can hear the space. Compare with the “grunge” again. Sound like it was recorded in a parking garage?

Now you’re getting it.

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