Hey everyone! Here are our answers to the Facebook poll from last week--enjoy, and if you have any other questions just drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Q: Have you found there to be "perfect" default mic placements (your go-to placements) for marimba, snare drum, timpani, etc.? Or do you find that each environment, mic models, and instruments offer different challenges and do not allow for standard placements? --Brandon Arvay
A: That's a great question--for most single instruments and/or groups of instruments, I use a 20" custom stereo bar and a pair of DPA 4006-TL omnis in an A/B configuration (and panning the omnis hard L and R). When recording in our room I know about where to place everything from years of recording those instruments, but to tell the truth it's about how the instrument sounds at various distances and heights--and don't forget distances between microphones. You can find several different stereo bars online; AEA, Grace, and DPA make really nice ones (that are really expensive); I was lucky to have one of our former house engineers make one for me modeled off the DPA bar. You can make one yourself pretty easily, or of course you can use a separate stand for each microphone.
Before I came up with our "standards," I tried a lot of different set-ups--both with my ears and the mics. For example, when recording marimba I would stand in front of the area to be played, and have the marimbist play while I moved myself (and my ears) backwards, upwards, downwards, etc. until I found what I wanted the image to sound like (imaging is how long or short the instrument sounds from right to left, or where notes are in space, how far away or how close the instrument is during tracking). Then I placed the array in that position at that height. I also used several different pairs of mics before we got the DPAs (Earthworks, AKG 414, etc.). I tried XY, ORTF, NOS, etc., but found that straight-up A-B stereo was the best for our room.
I use omnis as overheads on virtually everything, no matter how many other mics I use as spots. Snare drum and other "narrow" instruments like tambourine, triangle, cymbals--you don't have to worry about what they sound like left to right; you just want the mic array pointing straight at them from whatever distance you feel sounds best--based on ears. Same with glock because it's so narrow; xylophone--you want to figure out the top note and bottom note of what's to be played, then stick the array in the middle of it from a distance that sounds best.
Same for marimba--if you're playing a Bach cello suite and you point the array at middle C, the whole thing is going to live on the right side of the image, rather than having symmetry. So I'll have the player put their mallets on the highest and lowest notes, then put the array in the middle of that, rather than the middle of the instrument.
For ensemble recording, I have the DPAs on a stereo bar up pretty high, then use spots throughout the ensemble--and that changes depending on what instruments are being recorded.
Q: What is your method for mastering to insure consistent sound quality across all device platforms? For instance, do you do any rough mixing on sub-par playback systems or do you rely primarily on quality reference monitors? Especially marimba! It's such a rich sounding instrument, it easily distorts computer speakers. --David Newton
A: Great question! I have a set of Genelec 8040 nearfield monitors in my office/studio control room that are FABULOUS. That's where I do all my critical mixing and mastering. However, I also have a set of KRKs with Primacoustic decouplers at home, plus two pairs of cans--Sennheiser HD600 and Beyerdynamic DT-770 Pro Reference, and at various points I will use all four to zero in on my mastering settings. The "Truth" for me is typically what comes out of the Genelecs--if it sounds great there, it sounds great on virtually anything. We also have a set of Bowers and Wilkins Nautilus speakers with dual Macintosh preamps, but the room they're in isn't acoustically treated so I rarely use them (they're over in the recording suite of our largest concert hall). Using all four of these sources over time has allowed me to make accurate extrapolations from what I hear over each one--it takes a while to develop that kind of familiarity with your gear, but it's time well-spent.
To be honest, I don't check out what things will sound like on general computer speakers or on Apple earbuds, Bose headphones, Beats, or even my own IEMs etc. because I trust that people who listen to what I'm working on will have something good enough to enjoy the full high-definition audio experience when listening to our recordings. Often it's too much reverb in combination with the low end of the marimba that distorts small speakers with limited frequency response.
Maybe in the future we can discuss the mastering workflow for most of the percussion music we record!
Q: When mixing/mastering on headphones, do you prefer open-back, closed-back or "partially" open? --Nathaniel Compton
A: Another great question: My Sennheiser HD600 cans are open; the DT-770s are closed. To be honest, I haven't found many headphones that image as accurately and cleanly as the Sennheisers, and if you're in a quiet space the openness of the headphones doesn't matter, at least not to me (you can also go up another hundred dollars to the HD650s, but most of the online chatter doesn't lead me to believe that the difference is truly that great between the models). It should be said that I mix and master with a combination of monitors and cans--if I get things sounding great on the Genelecs in my office, then they'll sound great on virtually anything.
Q: How do you eliminate hum in a daisy-chain of pedals going to a Fender amp? --David Wright
A: Most of the time--I say most--hum is a result of unclean and inconsistent power (or a bad ground). I'd suggest getting a quality power conditioner (Monster and Furman make several excellent models at a variety of price points), and then recheck your connections. Hum can also come from a power cord coming in contact with a mic or instrument cable, so you want to make sure that everything is "clean." I spent an incredible amount of time in the back of my largest hardware rack, taking plastic zip ties to keep audio cables and power cables separate after my system developed a hum--that cleaned things up immediately.
Thank you to everyone for the questions, and we'll do it again soon!