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I spend quite a long time finding the perfect spot for my microphone while recording voices - both narration and vocals.

Do any of you who also record narration/vocals do the same? Or do you sort of "set it and forget it"?

Do any of you give extra special care to where you place your mic when you are recording sound effects in the field?

Also, I never really understood the principle of "letting the sound wave develop" like the lower frequencies. Someone told me I have to place the mic a little further away to "let the low frequencies develop". Is this true and do you guys do this? Can someone explain that to me if you don't mind?

Thanks!

  • Ryan
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3 Answers 3

To touch on your question about "letting the sound wave develop"...

Sound travels through the air (and other materials) via waves. Higher frequencies have shorter cycles than lower frequencies; the practical implication of this is that you need to be further away from a sound source to experience the lowest frequencies, while higher frequencies can be heard rather close to the source. Let me demonstrate…

Think of a home fire alarm. Put your ear up to it, it's really really bright. Walk 50ft from it, it's still really really bright.

Now think about a bass drum. Put your ear up to it, it's kind of clicky and snappy. Walk 50ft from it, it's more bassy, thuddy and resonant in the low end.

The lower frequencies require more distance from the source to be heard in their fullest form.

OK all you learned acoustics folks, chime in and drop some data!

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Thanks, Jay. I lit my kitchen on fire to see your alarm example. JK! I get what you mean. Does a mic hear the same thing? Does a mic work the same way as what you describe? –  Utopia Aug 16 '10 at 17:20
    
Depends on the mic, I suppose. –  Jay Jennings Aug 16 '10 at 18:41
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Great post Jay! This lends itself exactly as to to why a boom op aims about 4-6 inches in front of the actors mouth instead of at it... because it takes that much air distance for the sound waves of their voice to develop appropriately and naturally across all frequencies. –  Stavrosound Aug 12 '11 at 8:59
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I spend a lot of time with my mic placement. I just heard a story today from a veteran mix engineer who, on one of his first sessions where they spent two weeks recording an album, but then it took them 6 months and tons of dubs to get it to sound right, and it still didn't sound as good as it could've if he had recorded it properly in the first place. The next session he had, he dedicated 2 months to recording it correctly, and it only took 2 months to mix.

Spending the time to properly mic your subject is so huge. Change mics, change positions, etc... There's so much that goes into a good recording. Frequency response of the mics, acoustics of your location, phase, etc... Moving your mic an inch can make a huge difference. I always make sure to get the best sound I can before I hit record, then do a few test recordings to make sure it sounds the way I want it to.

There are many people who say that if you record properly, you barely need to touch an eq. While I believe this pertains more to music than to sfx and post, it still does. You can get most of the effects you'd want with an eq just by moving your mic.

So get to know your mics, how they react, and how to tweak them!

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@Ryan - Keep in mind that most of the Pixar stuff is done at Skywalker and they have perfectly treated rooms! If you don't have a great sounding room, it's going to sound terrible that far away! –  Colin Hart Aug 17 '10 at 1:11
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@Ryan - about placement - the U87 can be placed either upside-down or rightside-up. It doesn't matter much, because it doesn't have a tube in it. Either way won't change the sound. What will change the sound is the angle, height, proximity, and distance of the mic. In the pictures you are talking about, the mic is placed above because if it was right side up, it would get in the way of the script. It is merely above the talent to stay out of the way of them reading. Be careful with a mic stand though. If it's metal, it can aim that 2-4k right at the mic! Dampen it with cloth or something –  Colin Hart Aug 17 '10 at 1:13
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@Ryan - about tilt - tilting the mic like they do helps with frequency response and sibilance. Often times when you're getting plosives and sibilance, instead of a pop filter, you can just raise the mic up and tilt it, so the air from the plosives and sibilance flow under the mic without sacrificing frequency response. –  Colin Hart Aug 17 '10 at 1:16
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@Ryan - about distance - the U87 is known to have a big proximity effect, meaning that, when you get close to the mic, your voice sounds big and boomy. Great for VOs or radio, but terrible for ADR. Moving the mic further away will 1, create a more natural frequency response, and 2, allow the voice to sound more natural in the room it's in (as far as frequency content and reverb goes). Again, Pixar is going to record in amazing rooms that will be well treated, so it's going to sound great. –  Colin Hart Aug 17 '10 at 1:19
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@Ryan - so I would play around with placement a lot. If you're suffering 2 - 4k honk, try recording in a different room. It may be the room creating that sound –  Colin Hart Aug 17 '10 at 1:21
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From what i understand, the waves used to represent sounds are graphs of pressure over time. So sound is pressure fluctuations in the air caused by a vibrating object; the whole wave thing is a pretty useful representation, but can cause a lot of misconceptions about how sound travels.

It seems to me that, whether you're near or far to a bassy object (ie. kickdrum), the pressure waves will pass over you in more or less the same way (low frequencies can travel a long way). What people mean by "letting the waves develop" seems to be a not-very-accoustical way of talking about getting a mic into a position that has a pleasing balance of frequencies. High frequencies lose power before low frequencies (ie. Jay's kickdrum); too close and you'll have too many high freqs, too far and you won't have enough.

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Nicely played, @Sound. –  Jay Jennings Aug 16 '10 at 15:53
    
Sound Understanding understands sound. –  Utopia Aug 16 '10 at 17:20
    
Ha, cheers. I had a fantastic sound tech teacher back at uni. –  Roger Middenway Aug 16 '10 at 22:16
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