Learn how to use a studio microphone with this 10 steps ultimate guide and 5 special bonus tips on recording that you’ll find nowhere else!
A studio microphone is an excellent tool that you can use to isolate your desired sound from an audio source. It can help sound engineers perform professional-grade recording sessions.
What microphones should you buy for your recording setup? How to use a studio microphone? How can you set those up? We will address all those questions in this piece.
What We’ll Learn
As the headline suggests, we will discuss how to use a studio microphone in detail. We will highlight the different types of recording microphones, explain the 10 steps ultimate guide to using a studio microphone that includes everything you need to know, and lastly of course we have the bonus tips waiting for you.
After reading this article, you would be able to connect a microphone properly to laptops, and smart devices. Furthermore, you would know more about microphone placement and positioning.
What Are The Different Types Of Studio Microphones?
There are mainly two major categories as follows: Condenser Mics and Dynamic Mics. With a greater frequency response, condenser mics are higher sensitive to sound. On the other hand, dynamic mics convert analog signals into electric ones and they are lower sensitive compared to condenser ones.
But, there are 9 subcategories as well that include:
- Large Diaphragm Condenser Microphones
- Small Diaphragm Condenser Microphones
- Dynamic “Utility” Microphones
- Kick Drum Microphones
- Multi-Pattern Microphones
- Ribbon Microphones
- USB Microphones
- Boundary Microphones, and
- Shotgun Microphones
To know more about the differences, best practices, and specialties of each of the above ones, check out our complete guide on 11 different types of studio microphones with their best uses.
How To Use A Studio Microphone? (The 10 Steps Ultimate Guide)
Step 1: Take Proper Preparation
The preparation phase depends largely on the nature of your recording session and the equipment you will be using. If you are aiming for studio-quality sound with a professional setup, then your preparatory measures would be more time-consuming and intricate. So, let’s find out how you can use a studio microphone and record professional audio.
First of all, obviously, you have to have the right mindset to judge the proper factors to complete the whole process. Starting from what type of recording studio do you want to create? All the way to For what purpose will you use your studio microphone? Will you use it to record vocals, acoustic guitars, or something else? You have to have it all in your mind. It can be a home studio or a professional one; you have to take the right approach from the start.
Then, depending upon the above factors you have to choose the right microphone. We will talk more about these on point 3. Once you have the desired microphone in your hand, next, it’s time to connect your microphone to your computer. The computer can run on any operating system, but Windows and Macintosh are the preferable ones.
You can also link up the microphone with your iPhone. After that, you need to select and prepare yourself to have recording software installed on your device before you connect it to a microphone. Finally, you will need a microphone cable or an adapter. Keep in mind that some microphone requires phantom power as well.
Step 2: Choosing The Best Room And Acoustic Environment For Recording
Want to record professional audio at home? If you know how to use a studio microphone, you can set up a mini studio in your house. You need to select the room that has the right ambiance for a home studio. However, if there are no room choices available, you have to make do with what you have.
When you do have multiple options, you should contemplate the following factors:
It always helps to set up shop in a spacious room. A bigger room has more space to host more musicians in a jamming session. There would also be more space for soundboards, acoustic panels, and other pieces of equipment that you plan on adding to your recording arsenal in the future.
Exposure To External Noise
A studio microphone would pick up the noise in your environment and hamper the quality of your audio recording. Cars passing by, construction sites, rain-there could be a handful of sources of external noise around you.
Therefore, it would be best if you identify the quietest room in your house. Also, keep in mind that you would be generating a sound that might disturb others. You have to do some soundproofing so that the sound remains confined within the room. Still, you should choose a relatively secluded room.
As we said earlier, the bigger your room is, the more suitable it is for a recording studio setup. But, in average residential homes, the rooms are relatively smaller, and the ceilings are lower. Moreover, the walls are also parallel, which makes it more difficult to record vocals and instruments.
In the best-case scenario, you would like to record in a room that has generous space, a high ceiling, and uneven walls. That said, such a chamber has near to zero practicality in a typical family house. Unless you are designing a professional studio, don’t expect to find a room like that in your humble abode.
So, you have to improvise and make the best out of what you have. Acoustic treatment would help rule out most of the problems you would face while recording. It could be specifically helpful in nullifying noticeable reverb in the room. You won’t achieve perfection, but you will be taking a massive step towards it.
If you visit various professional recording studios frequently, you will notice that there are no carpets on the floor. It’s not because the studio owners can’t afford a delicate piece rug, the reason lies in the frequency absorption property of carpet fabrics. Yes, carpets can compromise the quality of captured audio substantially.
Carpet fabric attracts high-frequency as well as medium-frequency sound and absorbs it. But, it has no effect on low-frequency sounds. This creates an asymmetry in the audio level and results in an overwhelming amount of low-frequency noise. This resembles the consequences of the proximity effect. So, a hard flooring surface is always ideal for recording.
Step 3: Choosing The Best Microphone
Before learning how to use a studio microphone, you need to pick the right mic for your cause. If you want to know how to use a studio microphone for vocal recording, for instance, you have to use a device that specializes in doing so. Here’s what to look for in studio microphones while choosing to record in different circumstances.
Step 4: Positioning The Microphone In The Room
Finding the right microphone position in a room can be a bit tricky. You can randomly pick a few spots, test the sound quality, and go with the place that sounds the best. Besides this random approach to finding the optimum microphone position, you can also deploy the following strategies:
- Place the microphone within a few feet of the sound source. Dynamic mics would be able to deliver excellent results in such a scenario.
- Alternatively, you can place the microphone a bit further away from the audio source. Condenser mics could perfectly record sound coming from 3 to 4 feet or slightly more.
- If you want to capture the room’s ambiance in its full glory, then you would need to place the microphones in any corner of the room. To do this, you need a microphone that can capture the natural reverberation of a sound chamber.
Step 5: Connecting And Plugin The Whole Setup
Now, focus your attention on the microphone cable. Will it fit into the standard 3.5mm port? If not, there’s no need to worry. You can use microphone adapters to make your studio microphone compatible with a 3.5mm jack. Search for a 3.5 nest on your system block if there aren’t any, microphone adapters are there to save the day!
As soon as you connect mics to iPhones or computers, you would see a virtual soundboard popping up on the screens. You can set the primary settings from here. If the soundboard does not appear on the screen, open the app manually, and check whether the microphone has been synced with the device or not.
Sometimes the microphone might not be compatible with your operating system version. In that case, update the operating system to a compatible version and install appropriate drivers. The external microphone should work now. Also, be mindful of the power source requirements of the mic.
Some microphones have very specific power needs. A Shure SM58 or an Audio-Technica AT8022 does not require phantom power, but for dynamic microphones like Neumann BCM 705, phantom power is a necessity. Make sure, you hook your mic up with the right power outlet. Otherwise, you might end up damaging it.
Step 6: Setting Microphone Height
Afterward, you would need to set the height of the microphone to an optimum position so that it captures the best sound. For vocal recording, the microphone should be parallel to the vocalist’s mouth. Based on the instruments and the nature of the headphone, the microphone heights would vary.
Step 7: Microphone Placement
As a rule of thumb, the microphone placement should be 6 feet from your mouth. From that point, you can explore a few other positions and find which yields the best result. If you are using a condenser mic, don’t get too close to it. Condenser mics are prone to distorting the sound when the sound source is closer than ideal.
Step 8: Microphone Position (Axis Orientation)
You can cover more of the room’s ambiance by rotating a cardioid microphone. This trick would also come in handy if you want to tone down the bass and achieve a more treble sound. If the vocalist has an asymmetrical face, he/she might benefit by tilting the mic towards a certain direction. Off-axis mic positioning is quite fruitful in recording piano.
Step 9: Setting Up the Levels of Recording
Setting the right audio level is no easy task, but thanks to the advancement in recording technology, it has become way easier. Anything over the 0dB benchmark is too much, and would definitely cause clipping. Going too low can also lead to clipping, but you get more room to navigate here.
The background noise-to-signal ratio has decreased immensely in digital audio recording platforms. Your input signal peak should remain within -12dB to -6 dB. You have to be vigilant while setting the audio levels. Sometimes the clip indicator might take too late to respond, but if your ears stay alert, you can notice it.
Don’t be shy of descending to lower audio levels. Recording at -18dB, instead of -10dB, will not mess up your full song. But, a clipped note will throw away your hours of hard work and dedication. Lower audio levels will keep the sound free of distortion.
Step 10: Ensuring Everything Is Perfect
Before starting your recording session, check the setup once again. Turn the volume knobs to see whether they are responding accurately or not, and check the power outlets, mic positioning, placement, and stability of the tripod. After you are convinced that everything is properly set in place, then start the recording.
5 Special Bonus Tips
i. How To Record The Backing Vocals With A Studio Microphone?
- After learning how to use a studio microphone, you can use it for many in-studio applications, recording back vocals is one of them. It would be convenient to use a different microphone, to punctuate the difference between the lead and the back vocals. The lead mic must be brighter than the back vocal mic.
- If using a different mic is not an option, you can simply ask the back vocalists to step 6-12 feet back while singing. This would dampen the sound naturally and won’t require much post-production tweaking. However, the room acoustics need to be up to scratch for this technique to properly work.
Here’s a video on basic recording techniques for group vocals:
ii. How To Record The Ensembles With Studio Microphones?
- Two microphones should be recorded in stereo to capture a group of people singing together.
- The mics should be a pair of small diaphragm microphones.
- Arrange the mics in an XY pattern. In doing so, you would be able to circumvent phasing problems.
- For larger groups, install two more matched small diaphragm mics. Put each of these at opposite ends of the room, but keep them far away from the singers.
Here’s a video on basic recording techniques for the small ensemble:
iii. How To Record The Acoustic Guitar With Studio Microphones?
- Take two condenser mics. One of them would have a larger diaphragm and the other would have a smaller one. If you want to record in mono, then you can pick a large diaphragm condenser. However, you might often find some dynamic microphones like the Shure SM58 quite useful in this regard.
- You can place the microphone 6/12 inches away from the fret. If you use two microphones for stereo effects, you can follow the 3:1 rule or the X/Y rule.
- The 3:1 rule states that the microphones should be 3 times more distant from each other, compared to their distance from the guitar.
- Alternatively, you can put one mic on top of the other. The mics should remain perpendicular to each other.
Here’s a video from the famous Rick Beato:
iv. How To Record The Guitar Amp With A Studio Microphone?
- Take a dynamic microphone.
- Move the mic to find our desired sound. Moving closer to the speaker would give you more bass, moving away from it would reduce bass.
- For the brightest sound, move the mic closer to the speaker’s core. Moving away from the center would make the sound darker.
Here’s a video from ‘Reverb Studio’ explaining the easiest way to record your electric guitar with an amp:
v. How To Record Acoustic Drums With Studio Microphones?
- You need multiple mics to record an entire drum kit. You got to go for a pair of overhead mics or choose to use 4 to 8 mics together.
- Connect the mics to your audio interface.
- Open the recording software and set a track for each microphone.
- Assign channel inputs to the tracks.
- Press the record button and start playing the drums.
Let’s hear what Brian Deck has to say:
Congratulations! You have made it to the very end. Hopefully, reading this article has helped you to learn how to use a studio microphone. It should also equip you with the knowledge to find the best-suited microphone for different recording purposes.