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I will soon have to record a friend of mine who plays the trumpet. The thing is, I've recorded plenty of guitars, vocals, and drums in my times... but never actual brass instruments.

Could you share some tips and tricks you use when recording brass instruments and especially the trumpet? I'm thinking:

  • How should I place the mic? I have read plenty of different versions, some people say he should face it, some others say he should keep a 20 degrees angle...
  • How far should the player be from the mic? I guess this depends on the result I want to achieve, but I simply would like the sound to be neutral so I can integrate it smoothly in my mix.
  • What kind of microphones should I use? Is it possible to do combinations? I currently own a Shure SM58 and an AKG Perception 120.

Thanks a lot for your help.

  • 1
    The answers to all the above would be 'try it & see'. Get your friend in an hour early & have some experiment time before the session. 1 & 2 will vary a lot, depending on your room. 3, idk what the AKG sounds like, but I'm not sure a 58 will be very kind. – Tetsujin May 29 '15 at 7:03
  • Having done this a wee bit, I'd have to agree with Tetsujin on all 3. Totally depends on the sound you want. Recording with multiple mics gives you flexibility in the mix too. – Rory Alsop May 29 '15 at 10:41
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I'm going to write about how I would record a trumpet.

First off, I don't like the recorded sound to be neutral when I'm mixing. I want it to be pre-mixed in the recording process. If the trumpet will be playing a lead, I want a recorded sound that is big and tall and brash and will muscle all the other sounds out of the way all by itself when I bring the fader up. If the trumpet will be more background, then I want it to be small and meek and sit in a corner (at least as much as possible for a trumpet). If it's going to go from background to lead, I want both, which usually means at least two different recording setups (if time allows). If you can only make one set of takes, then you might want to split the difference and/or get multiple mics that you can mute and unmute for the different sections. If in doubt, get too much sound (more lead) since it's easier to cut away what you don't want than it is to add what you don't have.

The trumpet is directional enough that we have to think about it (most instruments are), and trumpet players certainly might want to move around a bit, even when recording, so that might be a challenge. The best players will move while recording to actually help with the mixing, but let's assume that's not going to happen.

I would put a decent dynamic pretty close to the trumpet, pointed at the bell, pretty much aligned on-axis, maybe about a foot away. Then (as the comments suggest), I would play around a little with the distance and on/off axis position to get the main body of the sound. Here you are looking at getting the amount of "spit" and upper mid/low highs which will give you a bit of the brashness. The more lead the trumpet is, the more on-axis you want, and vice-versa for background. The more the player can't resist moving the trumpet around, the farther back you'll need to be to get a consistent sound, which also makes the sound a little smaller and farther away, so for a powerful lead you gotta lock down the player more. I would like an RE-20 or MD-421 for this job. Really my favorite would be RE-20 which sounds kinda like Motown to me, but I might go 421 if I want a more 70s AOR sound. If I only had access to your mics, I'd put the 58 here, which would certainly do a decent job.

Ok, that's the main body of the trumpet and might be all we will need and use, but I want some air and more options, so I want a large-diaphram condensor between five and fifteeen feet away. Depending on the room you have, you might want to pick this sound first by having the trumpeter play in different places in the room while walking yourself around different places in the room and looking for the best sound. When you found your favorite place, (pay attention to any low end and low mids since really room modes are important here) mark yours and the player's positions with board tape or spike tape and put the LDC/room mic at the place where you marked. Now again you'll want to tweak the position by listening to what the mic is actually hearing. Start with the mic at the level of your ears and look to balance the sound of the room with the direct sound in a way that sounds good. The better the room, the more you can allow in without having a bad sound. Normally you don't want to point the mic right at a wall at a 90 degree angle or anything close to glass of any kind. I'd really like an AKG C414 of some flavor for this, or maybe an AT 4033, although with my locker I'd probably use a KSM-44. In your case, the Perception if that's what you've got.

So this way I have a main, brash, full trumpet sound and a thinner but taller more airy sound and lots of options at mix time.

  • Deserves +2 for detail & sound advice. I'd have picked different mics, but only because a) that's what I have & b) trumpet is not something I mic often. In a good room I'd have gone U87 near, DPA 4060 far [but they're my favourite combo for a lot of things] Not that I'd knock your choice at all, & if you have any comment on my choices, I'd love to hear it. – Tetsujin May 29 '15 at 18:08
  • I haven't tried a U87 on brass - one thing I wonder is if the pad is good enough to tame the SPLs. If so then no problem. I like to actually have less clarity on the close mic with brass. – Todd Wilcox May 29 '15 at 20:30
  • [Oops, typo - 4006 omni, not 4060 lav mic. Apologies] My trumpet recording 'skillz' are very much 'omg, we haz a trumpet… what do we do now?..' followed by some small panic - but sax is beautiful on that 87/4006 combo. I'd be tempted to put a 4006 close too, never ever heard one bend under the strain of anything less than a jet engine - & they can be so sweet on close-miking, very uncoloured. – Tetsujin May 29 '15 at 20:35
  • I come from live sound where the classic dynamic mics are on all the riders. That's how I became a fan of both the RE-20 and MD-421 on all kinds of sources. I suppose it's like an instrument: when you get to know it real well it can be your best option just because of that. – Todd Wilcox May 29 '15 at 20:39
  • Nice, thanks for the insight. I've never done much live work, myself. I just had a thought… if we were both in the same room armed with all 4 mics - I bet we'd try them all just to see, & of course with modern-day infinite tracks, we could keep them all til the mix :) – Tetsujin May 30 '15 at 5:23

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