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Studio Mic Technique from the Man who Recorded Michael Jackson

The legendary Recordist Bruce Swedien imparts vital insights to today’s singers.

It is very important that singers use good mic technique. Usually, by the time they get to me, they’re true professionals and they understand the importance of working the microphone.

The issue is not the amount of volume — also referred to as sound pressure level (SPL) —because the human voice cannot generate the kind of pressure that would put a mic in trouble.

In fact, in order to take advantage of the proximity, it’s important to maintain a fairly consistent distance to the microphone.

The proximity effect is what gives the vocal an intimate, close, and warm sound—I call it “free EQ” in the low-frequency spectrum.

If the singer backs off too far, the sound will feel distant and weak in comparison to the close-mic’ed vocals.

A singer with good mic technique finds the right sound instinctively by moving closer to and farther from the microphone.

By telling the singer to stay exactly so many inches from the microphone, the engineer could be robbing the track of the perfect emotional vocal take. ...it becomes instinctive once you've done it for a while.

We all react to what we hear and it becomes instinctive once you’ve done it for a while.

Whether it’s a singer moving in closer to the microphone for just the right amount of intimacy to convey the lyrics or an engineer adjusting the mix so that it feels right, that emotional reaction comes from anything other than specified distances, specifications, and numbers — it really must come from how the music affects you.

Great singers can hear in the headphones when they’re in the sweet spot—when they’re in just the right place to really provide an exceptional performance.

Enjoyed this article? Read our featured interview with Bruce Swedien.

From The Bruce Swedien Recording Method by Bruce Swedien with Bill Gibson. (c) 2013 by Bruce Swedien, published by Hal Leonard Books, an imprint of Hal Leonard Corporation. Reprinted with permission.

  • Joe Mathy

    Question: Using a Play Acoustic. What is better for recording: A laptop and software like MAGIX Music Maker, OR A digital recorder like Zoom R8 OR R16 Multitrack SD Recorder Controller and Interface or Tascam DP-03SD Digital Portastudio Multitrack Recorder. AM|NY help or advise would really be appreciated.