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Recording Techniques: In The Artists' Perspective

Updated: Aug 23, 2023

Your Ultimate Guide to Recording Techniques : Everything You Need to Know

As a recording artist, performing the perfect take can be difficult. Making sure the microphone captures your performance properly can be even more difficult. I intend to give you useful information regarding microphones and recording techniques that will assist you during your sessions. This article can be used to start thinking of a microphone as an instrument. The same way a guitarist knows their guitars a vocalists should know their microphones. After understanding the basic physics and design types of different microphones you can manipulate your performance to capture the truly intended sound.

A microphone's basic function is to convert acoustical energy, like your voice or an instrument, to electrical energy. Once a sound is digitally captured you can reproduce and manipulate that sound at will. Manipulating audio is amazingly fun but there are some misconceptions artists have regarding the song making process. The “magic”, is reinforced by the tools and technology but is really created from the artist's performance. Therefore you should always be proud of your performance and avoid trying to “fix it in the mix”. This is your art, perfect its delivery and spend time designing a signature sound. You would not want others to be able to perform your song with more conviction than you. Each mic is made for a specific purpose and will color the input uniquely. Experimenting with different microphones can be helpful when looking for a particular sound.

Communicate your recording style with your engineers! Every song is different and may require you to be loud or soft to drive the point. Try fully performing the song prior to recording or at a minimum convey your style of singing. By doing this you inform the engineer and he/she can now can prepare for a proper set up.

We will begin with the three classifications of microphones and continue to cover more thorough material in the future. Topics such as The Proximity Effect, Inverse Square Law, Signal to Noise Ratio and more. Okay, let's get to it!

Dynamic Microphones

Condenser Microphones


Dynamic Microphones

Dynamic Microphones

Dynamic microphones, as the oldest microphone design, are known for their high sound pressure levels and its rugged build. For this reason dynamic mics are great for live performances, especially sounds with strong fast transients that would distort in other designs. They do not require batteries or external power supplies, giving them a simple set and use method. Due to its design these microphones are not the best with low sound pressure levels and lack a level of clarity other microphones may offer.

Dynamic mics work using magnetic induction. In other words, when a sound wave makes contact with the diaphragm, which has attached a light movable metal coil suspended between a north and south magnet. The magnetic field detects movement from the coil and responds with a corresponding voltage, sending it to your next device through the metal wire. The weight of the coil is what helps its sturdy design but also causes some of the previously mentioned drawbacks, depending on your application.

So quick review, you want to use dynamic microphones for loud dynamic performances. Drums are a great example. Many radio stations, podcasts and concerts utilize its durability and high sound pressure levels. Some examples of dynamic microphones are Shure SM-57/58, Rode Podmic, Sennheiser e945, Electro-Voice RE20. Ribbon microphones (discussed later) are technically considered dynamic mics as well but due to their fragile diaphragm are separately classified. Ribbon microphones will be discussed later on in more detail.

Condenser Microphones

Condenser microphones are among the most popular mics used in a vocal studio application. Its design allows for a more sensitive and detailed recording, capturing a higher frequency range juxtaposed to dynamic microphones, adding to the clarity of the performance. Voltage levels are much lower in comparison to dynamic mics which is why Phantom Power is required to boost voltage levels. Let's take a deeper look into how these microphones work.

A light-weighted membrane made from polymer is activated by acoustic sound pressure (your voice or some other sound source). The movement of the membrane reacts with the capacitance of the circuit, resulting in an electric signal. Or the added charge to the diaphragm and backplate create a voltage made with a sound wave. Condenser microphones are designed in two types of electrical circuits. Most use Phantom Power adding 48v to the new electric signal to boost to usable levels. Other types come with an external power supply which can more accurately supply the needed voltage.

As a general guide, condenser mics are great for many applications especially in a recording studio. It captures low and high sound pressures and is sensitive enough to capture all of the nuances that draw a listener in. In recent times condensers’ prices have become more affordable but can range depending on your application. They do require more care than earlier described dynamic microphones but not near the level of a ribbon microphone.

Ribbon Microphones

Ribbon Microphones are proving to be less desired as time goes on. With such a thin aluminum membrane, it is very fragile and needs delicate care. Ribbon Microphones do not require Phantom Power like condenser microphones do and are classified as a dynamic microphone. The cost per average mic is higher for ribbon mics, which is why they are normally overlooked when building your first studio environment. They have a great sensitivity level and work well for capturing exact sound without coloring.

Their design is very similar to the earlier mentioned dynamic microphones but differ by suspending a thin strip of aluminum between two magnets. Instead of attaching a moving coil to the diaphragm the ribbon acts as both the diaphragm and transducer element.

There are active and passive ribbon mics. Passive ribbons operate as described above. Active Ribbons include additional electronics that regulate and improve output levels across different preamps with ranging specifications.

Key Takeaways

Today was a simple background coverage on the types of mics you might encounter during your entertainment career. We define their basic transducer functions and general uses and examples of each. Other types of microphones do exists including crystal and laser designs. It is important to start with small building blocks to eventually see the whole picture. The future articles will start to take a look at polar patterns, sensitivity, frequency response and cool topics such as proximity effect, Inverse Square Law and other cool helpful topics. So stick through this as we dive into the cool world of microphones from an entertainer's perspective.


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