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Mic positioning for acoustic instruments - Printable Version

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Mic positioning for acoustic instruments - Michael Willis - 01-23-2018

Now that I've been bitten by the live recording bug, I find myself obsessively thinking about everybody I know who plays an acoustic instrument. In my own home I have family members who practice clarinet, violin, and viola. A flutist and bassist live next door. A teenager across the neighborhood practices cello. My coworker plays cornet and trombone. If I were able to find an oboe, my sister in law would love to play it.

So I've learned a thing or two about recording clarinet and what kind of response I get from different mic positions, but I understand that there are a whole different set of considerations to be made when recording other types of instruments.

From what I've been able to gather, flute may be best recorded by aiming my cardioid mic at the embouchure hole, from above so as not to be directly exposed to the rush of air. Oboe seems like it would be similar to clarinet, perpendicular and aimed at the center of the instrument. What little I've read about recording brass seems to indicate pointing the mic at the bell, maybe at a bit of an angle to avoid a direct blast. For string instruments, I think I would try putting the mic perpendicular to the face of the instrument, aimed directly at where the bow engages the strings.

Can anybody with more experience let me know if I have the right ideas of how to record these instruments? Any help avoiding misery and frustration would be greatly appreciated!

RE: Mic positioning for acoustic instruments - Samulis - 01-24-2018

Generally the right idea! Some instruments are special cases though, like horn for example sounds quite unpleasant if you aim at the bell- instead a "spot" mic a few feet above and in front will likely sound better.

Flute can be done a variety of ways. I prefer the mic towards the center of the instrument, as like most WW's, the sound comes from the keys and not so much the embouchure. Putting the mic there will give you a very airy, thin sound (which might actually be desirable in some cases).

I recommend checking out "The Recording Engineer's Handbook". It's not super comprehensive, but it does have a whole section that gives you 2-5 options per instrument on how to mic it, which is at least a good starting point. I referred to that book while recording VSCO 2 to get some ideas on where to put mics.

Note that at the end of the day, your ear is ultimately the best decider. You can always walk around close to the musician if you aren't playing, with one ear plugged, and try to find a spot you like the sound of, if that isn't too weird of a thing to do. If you're playing, do a few quick test recordings (like I did) with different positions and then pick which one you like the best.

RE: Mic positioning for acoustic instruments - Michael Willis - 01-24-2018

Super helpful advice Sam, as always. I just talked to the flutist last night and she said she would be happy to cooperate. She mentioned that she also has a penny whistle, which could be great fun to include in some arrangement. Now to make time between my job and chasing kids around at home!