Miking drums, amps, and recording to the Mac
We often give musicians sole credit as the artists behind the music we like listening to, but the truth is, they’re just a part of the process. The song we wind up hearing takes many long hours of work from audio and recording engineers, mixers, mastering engineers, and a slew of other people that get involved with the process.
When I started recording songs for my album last spring, I wanted a mix of a re-amped guitar signal and an analog amp recorded through a microphone. Re-amping is when you record a clean signal into your digital audio workstation (DAW) and then use a plug-in to achieve your guitar tone.
Re-amping certainly has its benefits. Once the track has been laid down, I can change the tone whenever I want by making adjustments in the guitar plug-in. The downside? Unless the re-amping is done correctly, re-amped signals lack the boldness of a real tube amp.
The opposite of re-amping your guitar signal in the computer is to get a mic and record your amp. That’s not as easy as it sounds, but it's very rewarding if you hit the recording sweet spot.
I’m lucky to have some friends in the music industry that help me out from time to time with advice. I really needed some when I set out to look for mics that would be used in this process.
I got recommendations for some really expensive hardware—I mean really expensive—and some more moderate choices. One name that continually came up with everyone that I spoke with was AKG. Ultimately, I went the AKG route and I haven’t regretted the decision for a second.
I picked up enough mics to thoroughly mic the drum kit, two guitar amps, an acoustic guitar, and a bass amp. I also have a couple of room and overhead mics to pick up the ambient sounds.
The one non-AKG mic that I use is a Shure SM57. I’ve had this mic for years and it’s just one of those go-to pieces of gear that never goes wrong.
I can honestly say that I have more respect for recording engineers than I ever thought I would. These guys must go through hell in getting all this stuff setup so that it works and sounds so good all the time.
I started with the drums. When I first hooked up all the mics and recorded the signal into my Mac Pro, it sounded truly awful. I made some calls and asked for advice. Apparently I had the mics setup all wrong, causing phase issues, which canceled out parts of my signal, making it sound very thin and weak.
After making some adjustments to the mic placement for the drums, the sound was full and thick when it came into Logic and Pro Tools. With the setup I was using, one engineer suggested moving the mics on the Toms a couple of inches over from where I had them.
If we were looking at a clock, I put the Tom mics at 12:00. My friend suggested moving the left mic to 10:00, leaving the center mic at 12:00 and move the right side Tom mic to 2:00. The difference was amazing. The drums started to sound like they should—full, rich and pounding.
I had to make adjustments to the overheads too, so I would pick up the cymbals correctly. I moved the overheads a couple of feet in front of the drum kit, allowing them some room between the kit and the mic head.
Learning from my mistakes, I asked for advice before miking my guitar amps. To my surprise, miking is a game of inches. If you move the mic too far one way or the other, the recorded signal into your Mac will not sound like it should.
Typically, you place a mic on axis or off axis when miking a guitar amp. On axis is when you place the mic directly in front of the speaker cone and off axis is when the mic is off to the side of the cone.
Personally, I like the sound of an on axis mic, but that’s a very subjective thing. When recording my Marshall JCM800 with a 1960a 4x12 cabinet, I placed a mic a few inches away from the center of the speaker cone and another a couple of feet back.
As I said above, it’s a game of inches. Whenever I would move a mic, the sound would change, sometimes quite dramatically.
If you are going to mic your guitar amp or a drum kit, don’t settle. Move the mics around and find that sweet spot — your recording will thank you for the effort.
I’m spent quite a bit of time trying different AKG mics to record the instruments I have. Overall, I’m very pleased with the results and I have learned so much about what goes into recording analog instruments.