Last time around, we started talking about using mic’s in a live setting. We talked about some options for the drum kit and how to change some variables to get the right sound. Today, we’ll consider some of the other instruments on stage and how we can make them sound great.
Don’t Get Stuck in a Rut
Sometimes, we get so used to using the same mics on something we never consider what would happen if we change them out. Or we just use whatever the last guy was using on a given instrument, without questioning if that’s the best approach or not. A great example of this is the Hammond Organ. When I arrived at my last church, we had a B3 connected to a Leslie 112 cabinet (the classic combination). We had been using two very expensive, variable pattern condenser mics on the top speaker (AKG C414), and another mic usually used for toms on the bottom rotor (Audix D4). It was what we had and it worked OK. But it was just OK.
Then I got talking with a B3 playing legend (alright, name drop, it was Bob Heil…) and he suggested changing it up a bit. So I packed up almost $2,000 worth of condenser mics and replaced them with about $500 worth of dynamic mics—Heil PR-30s—and swapped the bottom mic out with one normally used on a kick, a Heil PR-48. He suggested positioning the top mics 90° to each other and flipping one of them out of polarity.
The first weekend we tried that, without telling our B3 player what I had done (and it’s his B3, so he knows what it should sound like), he started playing and almost immediately pulled out his ears and asked, “What did you do to the B3; it sounds so much better!” He suggested we move the lower mic back a few inches to smooth it out—which we did—and it sounded fantastic.
I’ve had similar experiences with electric guitar cabinets. Simply trying a different mic, or moving either closer or further from the center of the speaker will dramatically change the sound. Don’t be afraid to put two different mics on a guitar cabinet and mix the two (or use one or the other depending on the song). Our job as sound techs is to find the combination that sounds the best. That often takes experimentation and the willingness to try something new.
What I’ve found is that getting the right mic—properly matched to the source—in the right position will dramatically improve your sound. You’ll know you’re on the right track when you are using less EQ and fewer plug-ins to get the sound you want.
Finding the Right Mic
Finding the right mic is often a matter of trial and error. However, it’s helpful to ask what other engineers are using, and find out how they are using them. Talk with your dealer and see what options are out there for a given instrument. And if you buy a mic that doesn’t end up working for purpose you intended, try it on something else. A friend of mine is using a mic marketed as a tom mic on his guitar cabinets with great results.
Ultimately, we have to remember we are in the sound reinforcement business. We take what’s on the stage and make it louder. Getting great sound starts with a great sounding source. Work with your band to get that part right first. Then choose the right mic, get it in the right spot and listen to your mix improve.