I own 105 mics that I keep in 25 anvil cases, and they all travel with me to every project that I do. – says Bruce Swedien, the man who recorded Michael Jackson.
I don’t like to use other people’s microphones.
To protect my sonic integrity I’ve tried to use microphones that only I have handled—mics that haven’t been beaten up.
I want to know exactly what my microphones will sound like. For example, when I put my Neumann U47 in front of a trombone player, I want to know that it’s going to sound great!
This is especially a concern with the inconsistency of most vintage microphones.
Only Work with a Good Mic
Considering I purchased it in the mid-1950s, my U47 was very expensive for that time period ($390.00 per microphone) and I bought two of them.
I also bought four or five RCA 44s, which were about $150.00 per mic. I remember buying those microphones, and the enormity of the prices to me as a young engineer, like it was yesterday.
It was a risk, but Bea (my wife of over 60 years) was supportive, even though we were just newly married; those microphones turned out to be the best investment I ever made.
I still have every one of those microphones (except for one of the U47s, which was stolen in the ’80s) and they’re still in perfect condition.
Never get rid of good microphones.
Don’t Think You Can Fix it in the Mix
Invest in the best microphones you can find. Don’t waste your money on inferior microphones because they can only give you inferior results.
Some people make so-so recordings thinking they’ll fix it in the mix.
I’ve never done that. In fact, you can’t do that. If it isn’t right going into the console, it’s simply not right.
If you use low-quality microphones, you’ll pay in time while you try to correct problem tracks during mixing and then you’ll pay in frustration with an inferior sound during mastering!
You’ll never do your best work until you’re working with good microphones.
There are some new mics out there that are absolutely incredible, but I have a feeling that microphone technology matured about 30 years ago.
The noise level of the microphone amplifiers has gone down a bit, and the newer mics are more consistent.
Examples of Great Mics
For example, if you buy a new Neumann M 149 pair, they don’t necessarily need to be close in serial numbers to sound alike—that was not the case with vintage M 49 or M 50.
Though those are two very exceptional microphones, they were better matched when sold as sequentially serial-numbered pairs.
With that said, even though the M 149 is a newer Neumann microphone, the two that I own have sequential serial numbers because I’m always striving for absolute perfection in the music I record—they are wonderfully matched and they are an exceptional sounding pair of microphones.
Mic Philosophy 101
Sound is an amazing thing! The sounds we hear are caused by minute pressure differences in the air around us and the air transmits those pressure changes accurately over relatively long distances.
As electromechanical transducers, microphones use a mechanical process to convert acoustical energy to electrical energy.
This process requires great precision if the signal provided from the microphone is expected to be faithful to the signal presented to the microphone.
In order to evaluate the adequacy of various types of microphones for specific uses, one must consider the linearity of their frequency response, their directional characteristics, their durability, and their cost.
Microphones are artifacts of our culture. A microphone is a modern symbol of the human urge to capture a bit of the living world and then examine it carefully at our leisure.
Microphones are our entryways to the temporal, sensual universe of sound. Microphones are very special things.
My Own Mics
I own 105 mics that I keep in 25 anvil cases, and they all travel with me to every project that I do.
I bought many of my vintage mics brand new in the ’50s and ’60s—to me they are irreplaceable.
Having my own microphones, that no one else handles or uses, assures sonic consistency in my work that would otherwise be impossible.
My microphones are gorgeous—they’re all beautiful. It’s because I really care about them. The quality and the condition of my microphones is my livelihood.
By protecting them, I most certainly protect the integrity of my sound. To work the way I do, you must know precisely what to expect from your microphones and you absolutely must treat them as if your career depended on them—it does!
I treat them like the rare items that they are—a great microphone is like the Holy Grail.
I want to make sure that the next time that I use them, they sound exactly the same as they did on the session I just finished. And that’s not easy to do.
You have to be willing to take time at the end of the session—when everybody’s done and the band is gone—to put the microphones away.
Virtually always, when I’m done with a mic, it’s carefully put away, immediately. I never put that off until later!
My microphones are prized possessions. I keep many of them in handcrafted, velvet-lined, wooden boxes. In the music recording engineer’s/producer’s trade, microphones are the voodoo, the magic wand, the secret weapon.
See Bruce’s Exclusive Interview with VoiceCouncil Magazine: The Man who Recorded “Thriller” Speaks to Singers
Check out Bruce Swedien’s Book The Bruce Swedien Recording Method for Incredible Audio Insights, Details and Methods – you can find it on Amazon here.
Bruce Swedien is a Five-time Grammy winner and thirteen-time Grammy nominee who has recorded and mixed music for over 60 years including the best-selling album in the history of music, Michael Jackson’s Thriller. See his new book, The Bruce Swedien Recording Method (with Bill Gibson).
This piece is from The Bruce Swedien Recording Method by Bruce Swedien with Bill Gibson. © 2013 by Bruce Swedien, published by Hal Leonard Books, an imprint of Hal Leonard Corporation. Reprinted with permission.