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single mic technique?

This may belong in the Advanced Mic Techniques forum, but as I'm one of Harvey's students, I thought I'd ask here.

Our band is talking about climbing out of my basement studio, leaving our close-mic'd electric stuff behind and going acoustic for a bit.

I'd like to try the single-mic technique I saw Steve Earle and the Del McCoury band using. Our lead guitarist (who's also a damn good banjo player) lives in a wonderful old pre-Civil war house with 12' ceilings and oak paneled walls in the living room we plan to use to record. It's a very "live" sounding room. Instruments will include banjo, guitar, violin, bass, mando and a little percussion (bongos, shakers, etc.) and of course some vocals to go with it.

Anybody out there doing the single-mic with several players gathered 'round thing? Any tips, advice, and of course "war stories" are all greatly appreciated.

- ken, pickin' and-a grinin' :D


anonymous Thu, 07/12/2001 - 05:04

Why do you only want to use one mic. I see it as "working", but not a great concept. At the bare minimum, use 2 mics... Since your recording acoustic and seem to want to pick up room ambience also.. I would use a 2 condensors (AT 4033, are a cheaper quality mic). Put them on seperate tracks.. What would be best would be to split the band up into two groups, and have a mic for each group... But play live all together, and then you will have the option of panning the groups into different areas of the stereo field, in order to avoid sounding like everyone is on top of each other dead center. At least that is what I would do, Im sure there are great Ideas for using one mic though (but I don't have any..) Watch this thread. Good Luck :)

hargerst Thu, 07/12/2001 - 07:49

Ken, great idea (I love mono). When you do the one mic thing, balancing the group is the key to getting a great sound and of course, there's no phasing problems or any of the other baggage that using more than one mic brings to the session. Most of it will be trial and error, moving members in and out, and shuffling them around till you find the right spots, but that doesn't usually take all that long.

You might wanna add a second mic set about waist-high for instrument solos, but if they just move in close, one mic should do fine.

Use a cardioid or an omni and after you get a balance, mark everybody's spot with some masking tape on the floor, one for their normal position, and one for solos. Raise the mic a little to increase the level of the vocals relative to the instruments, and lower the mic to bring up the instruments a little more, if needed. You'll need to work out some basic choreography to get everybody moving in and out for solos, but it's easy and fun.

Make sure they can all see each other easily, and try aiming the mic in slightly different directions to help balance things. Adjust their distance to the mic for more or less room reverb.

The beauty of one mic recording is that once you get it right, it's pre-mixed and finished; nobody can really do too much to mess it up later.

And I want a copy when you're finished. ;)

Kevin F. Rose Thu, 07/12/2001 - 08:15

This is one of my favorite ways to record bluegrass and other acoustic combos.
Harvey makes some great points and I may have something to add...
1. Mic placement needs to be at the proper height so the voice of the vocalist is clearly above his/her instrument.
2. When a soloist steps forward it is sometimes good to have him/her play with their instrument higher or raise it during the solo.
3. Place the players proximitywise in the order of importance in the mix, using distance as your fader.
4. all of this doesn't mean squat if the players can't mix themselves. Think of the time working on them as a trade for the time you won't be spending on mixdown.
5. Make sure everyone has fun.

anonymous Thu, 07/12/2001 - 09:32

Thanks for the encouraging words, guys! Looks like the session won't take place until August (vacations, etc.) but everyone is looking forward to it.

I've warned the band members to watch for flying headstocks and violin bows as we waltz in and out. But I guess a lot of the bands appreciate the closeness, despite the "danger" - you can hear everybody else, see every grin, grimace, or raised eyebrow instead of standing in a line and yelling at the sound man that you need more monitor!

I don't own a good omni yet but the Marshall V67G seems to have a fairly "big-hearted" cardiod pattern. I understand Steve Earle used an AT4033 cardiod - I had assumed that was an AT4050 in omni. Live and learn. Anyway, the band hear me & my guitar recorded on the Marshall, now they're all itchin' to try it, too.

I figure I'll set-up first - open and close doors, move some furniture if necessary. There's a second room nearly as large next door though a set of double French doors - might sound good open, or it might just sound like a reverberant mess. I'll put down some tape marks for the basic mic position and bring the band in, then adjust a bit for the extra bodies, etc.

I've got a boom stand but I can see how moving it up and down would bring in less or more instrument sound - great tip! - so I'll probably keep the mic upright rather than hanging it capsule-down.

One more question - assuming you've got this beautiful mono track, how would you recommend "stero-izing" it? I definitely want to avoid the "Big Mono" Bobby Orwinsky's book warned me about, so I guess cloning the track and panning hard left and right is NOT the cool way to do it.

I promise I'll send in my homework, Harvey. (-8 Thanks a million! :D

drumsound Thu, 07/12/2001 - 19:56

This sounds like a very fun project! To add my $.02, try to get (borrow, rent etc...) an omni if possible. That will help you use the room to it's fullest. Also a schockmount will be a must if people will be moving in and out for solos.

As for "stereo-izing" DON’T. You're going for a "thing" don't be afraid to commit to it.

Have a great time.

anonymous Fri, 07/13/2001 - 01:58

Well, about the stereo-izing... I'm probably gonna distribute to the band on CDs with two tracks, so I'm thinking, "maybe I can do something cool when I put it in stereo, here." Just too tempting to screw around these days, with digital stuff... sorry. Why mess up a good thing?

I hereby bash my own head with a virtual yarrow stalk for asking a stupid question. (OUCH!)

Thanks, drumsound, after giving the Marshall another listen last night, I think I will find something else to use. I didn't like it so much off-axis, and I can't figure a way to put all six of us right in front of it, where it sounds the sweetest. :roll:

So yeah, I'll really need an omni for this one. Well, I got a few weeks to prepare.

Here's the rest of the chain - a Mackie 1402VLZ (I just can't haul my Ghost out there for one channel...!) a Roland VS880... or my Tascam TSR-8, if I can get a bandmate to help me carry it. I've grown very fond of tape since I adopted the "teaser" this April.

I suspect it's not polite to compress when tracking, but I've got an RNC if moving players and tape marks around won't save me.

thanks! - ken

anonymous Thu, 09/27/2001 - 10:55

Hey now, folks...

So far that tall, dark, good-sounding room hasn't appeared but we've tried the "gather 'round the mic" thing a couple of times this September.I've learned a lot - not that I hadn't read it in the big gray Yamaha book before, just that experience is always the best teacher, bringing the book to life. For instance -

1. You never knew your room sounded so bad until you try to record with a single mic. "Flutter Echo", the book says. Foam-city, here I come!

2. Banjos are the spawn of Satan, but we knew that already... keep them far, far away.

3. The soft-voiced guy is too shy when he steps up to the "solo" mark on the floor and he looks down instead of singing into the mic. The loud guy (me) overcompensates after hearing the playback and blows everybody else out of the recording.

4. Of course the soft-voiced guy is the banjo player.

5. "If the vocal sounds good in headphones, it's not loud enough." When I do vocal overdubs I often turn down the vocal channel's return slightly to trick the singer into belting it out a bit more. Can't do that here, so I tell a singer wearing phones, "you should sound very up-front and in-your-face."

6. I've developed a great respect for mono. I tried a little audio mayonaise - duplicating the track panned hard left and right with slight delays and a lot of EQ for a little slapback as well as running the mono signal through a stereo reverb box and finding a nice sounding preset. Fun stuff for a computer geek. But almost without exception the band liked the untreated, center-panned mono-mixes best.

The best news is, the band had so much fun with this they're enthusiastic about learning the walk-up choreography and other methods to control dynamics and create a smoother, more balanced sound. Hopefully I'll have a URL with an .mp3 or two for y'all real soon... until then, thanks again to everybody for the advice and encouragement!


Guest Mon, 04/15/2002 - 19:57

Originally posted by Brainwash:
to get stereo with one mic couldn't you just use a stereo mic?

Yeah, but that's cheating! A stereo mic is actually two mics contained in one hardware unit. That's why once you get past the battery powered cheapies with 1/8" plugs that come with your Walkman, you'll notice there are twin mic cables on each mic.

But anyway, welcome aboard Brainwash... although I think you should consider changing your name to "The Resuscitator"... with all these old long-dormant threads that you are bringing back to life! :D

k.w.blackwell Tue, 04/16/2002 - 08:06

Caveat: I haven't done this. Even so, let me hazard some comments based on guesswork since no one else has mentioned a few issues.

My guess is that you will find at least one instrument that defies being "balanced" into the overall sound. And if that instrument is too loud, you will naturally try backing it farther away, and then you end up with it being all room ambience. Besides clever mic positioning, you might need to improvise a gobo around most sides of such an instrument to cut down on the flood of ambience it provides at a distance. If an instrument is quiet and for any number of reasons cannot be placed too close to the mic, you might need an additional mic (a "spot mic") that is directional. It can also help for the room to be large and have both live areas and dead areas to help you balance the ambience versus directness of both louder and quieter instruments.

I would also guess you can make this work, but despite it sounding like fun it will actually take a lot more work than you might expect; you just might discover at the last minute that you really want a couple of spot mics here and there. Once you allow for spot mics, then you can take a problematically-loud instrument and put it into another (deader) room (maybe leave the door ajar), and spot mic it. More importantly, once you have even one spit mic, then your stereoization problem has almost practically solved itself, especially if you have two spot mics in the same room as the main mic. As long as most of the balance is as desired through the main mic, and the rest is fixed by spot miking, then with creative panning, mic bleed becomes your friend.

Again, I'm only guessing, and have no authority of experience. Consider my suggestion as a question to those who might really know: am I on the right track? Or am I barking into a sewer pipe?



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