I often hear questions from people pursuing careers in audio production who are wondering, “Which microphones do artists record with?” In this blog, I will answer that question by providing the answer to a different, yet more relevant question, “Why does professional artist “X” record with “X” microphone?” Read all about it in this latest Audio Engineering Tips blog.
WHICH MICROPHONES DO ARTISTS RECORD WITH?
Rather than just list off some name brand name microphones, it would serve you better to understand the absolute importance of the microphone and how that affects the overall sonic landscape of a recording. My mentors, such as Bruce Swedien, Tommy Dowd, and Michael Bishop, always emphasized the absolute importance of microphone choice. Rather than recording voice or instruments, microphone selection creates the foundation of the recording.
Microphones are the best equalizers you can use during your mix. Wait what—during your mix? Isn’t that after the recording process, you know, right before mastering? The answer is no, your mix starts at the microphone. If you can capture the performance or soundscape (or whatever you are recording) in the best possible way, then you are already well on your way to a great mix.
ONE SIZE DOES NOT FIT ALL
Okay, now that we have the concept down, we can get into specifics: which microphones do artists record with? Well, the short answer is any and all of them. The other short answer is whatever works best for that vocal or instrument.
Let me explain what I am talking about by giving an example of a typical vocal session and how we select microphones. Here we go, first set up a bunch of microphones and then have the vocalist sing a few lines of the song into each one while recording the phrase. Now, have someone else play back each track individually and with your eyes closed, pick the mic that sounds best to yours and the artist’s ears.
It is important that you do not know which mic is being played back so you are choosing based on tone and not on price. You wouldn’t believe how many times I have had a dynamic mic or budget priced mic win out over a very expensive name brand. This isn’t always the case, but the idea is that you must choose based on sonics, not personal bias.
After doing this enough times, you will start to be able to pick a mic based on experience and knowing every detail about the microphone’s response. You will hear the timbre of the voice or instrument and generally be able to choose the mic that will capture the source in the best possible way.
KNOW THE CLASSICS
Now that we know the techniques and concepts behind choosing the best mic for the job, we can dive into some classic microphone names and brands that have been used time and time again on countless records from the 40’s up until today. I will just name a few of the most famous here so you can get a start on your own research, but these mics should be known by anyone getting into recording or music production because they have been used on countless classic records from the past and today. People pursuing careers in audio production really need this type of knowledge and unerstanding.
The most famous microphone in the recording industry is the Neumann.
Along with the U47, Neumann has created several other industry standard microphones. The U67 and U87 are also tried and true classic mics. First was the U67, a tube microphone and then later came the condenser U87. Practically every professional record made in the last 60 years has had one or several of these (or other Neumann models) used in the production.
Another more modern classic is the Sony C800G.
The last mic, but not the least, is the studio workhorse and broadcast staple, the Shure SM7. This is a large diaphragm dynamic mic that gets used a surprising amount on major label recordings. If you have listened to rock, pop, and rap, you have probably heard this mic on a vocal. Some examples would be Michael Jackson, Cheryl Crow, Metallica, Soundgarden, Mystikal, The Civil Wars, and the list goes on… This mic is also very affordable.
TIME TO RECORD!
Hopefully this helped answer your questions about what mics professional artists use. But always remember that what is in front of the mic is what is the most important part of making a record. Great mics capture great songs and great performances, and only make great recordings of bad performances.
Knowing how to use a microphone to record the signal in the best way possible takes training, time, and creativity. A microphone is only a tool. It is a paintbrush that is only effective in the hands of a professional. A great education in audio engineering will get better results than purchasing a high-priced microphone. Now go make great music!
LEARN FROM THE PROS!
A quality education from a good audio engineering school like F.I.R.S.T. Institute, one of the best audio engineering schools in Florida, can teach you the skills you need to succeed in all types of careers in audio production. There you’ll learn what you need to get your new audio production career off the ground, you’ll even learn your way around a studio and how to make your own music.
You won’t get our quality, hands on learning experience with passionate audio industry professionals, like Rich Ott, anywhere else! Check out the Audio Engineering and Music Production program at the F.I.R.S.T. Institute audio production school today. You’re only months away from your dream career!