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Thread December 3, 2016 editorial: comments

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1 December 3, 2016 editorial: comments

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In our Q&A  this week with producer/engineer Fab Dupont, I asked him what was the most common sonic problem he's noticed with music produced in home studios. He said it was vocals recorded too close to the mic. He suggests that singers stand about a foot or so back, rather than being right on the mic. 

This surprised me. Conventional recording wisdom says that the distance shouldn’t be more than a few inches, to minimize how much room sound is picked up and to allow the singer’s voice to be fattened with the proximity effect.

According to Fab, the mic’s capsule doesn’t work optimally if the singer is too close, and the result is more peaks, sibilance and plosives getting picked up. Therefore, the greater distance yields a better sonics. He wasn't concerned that there’s no proximity effect with the mic farther back, correctly pointing out that one generally ends up cutting low frequencies from the vocal during the mix, anyway. He says if he records a vocal and it does need thickening, he can do it with EQ during the mix.

There are some potential complications with using Fab’s vocal-miking technique in a home studio. It’s a physical fact that with the mic that far back, you will capture more room sound. This is obviously more problematic in an untreated space than in a sonically pristine commercial studio. Thus, you’ll want to be careful with where you situate the mic, staying away from walls and corners as much as you can to minimize reflections. Experiment a little and see what sounds best. (I would also suggest reading this week's story on acoustic treatments.)

After the interview, I was eager to try out this technique in my own home studio. It’s not a treated space, but does have an irregular shape which helps the acoustics. As an experiment, I recorded two takes of myself singing the same song—first with traditional close miking and then with the mic about 12” back.

I compared them on playback and lo and behold, the vocal recorded farther back sounded more natural and less resonant, albeit a bit thinner. (Nothing that a little EQ couldn’t fix, though.) Because of the additional room sound picked up, it wasn’t as “in your face” as the close-miked vocal, but it was noticably warmer and cleaner.

If you record vocals in your studio, give this technique a try. You may be pleasantly surprised by the results.

This is my last editorial for 2016, but I’ll be back at you January 7. In the meantime, happy holidays and happy recording!

Well, yeah. Professional singers (opera, choir, stage) have always sung to mics at least 1' away, and know that it's a job requirement to project at least that far. Before microphones, singers projected and we listened at a respectful distance. It's only pop singers performing live who have adopted this "swallow the microphone" approach, so their audience can make so much noise that the quality of the music doesn't matter. We all know the sound when a PA announcer puts his mouth right on the microphone to get our attention. We don't hear how bad the singer sounds when the audience is making the noise of a jet engine, but do we you really want that on a recording? No, we want our recordings to sound like a private concert in our living room. In any decent Studio, the performers are forced to back off, to get the highest possible sound quality when it counts.

So yes, back off and go for realistic sound. By the way, the best sound is captured by pointing microphones at the larynx, not the mouth. It's easy if the mics are back and impossible if they're close.

There are perfectly good techniques for reducing room noise, but swallowing the microphone is not one of them.