This past weekend I spent a lot of time in the car, so I pulled out the iPod and listened to the entire “Joe Gilder catalog,” almost every song that I’ve written and recorded over the years.

As I listened back to some of those very first recordings, it reminded me of all the stupid mistakes I’ve made along the way, particularly with microphones.

Here’s a list of eight microphone mistakes, and yes, I’ve done all of them. 🙂

1. Not using a pop filter

This may seem silly, but it took me several years to finally buy a pop filter. Perhaps you can relate. You spend $80 on your first cheap condenser microphone. It looks amazing in your studio, so you start using it, and the thought of buying a $20 pop filter never enters your mind.

After all, all the singers in those microphone advertisements are singing directly into the mic without a pop filter…and those ads are always super-accurate, right? 😉You soon find, however, that whenever anyone sings into the mic, there’s nothing to block the plosives, those annoying pops in the audio whenever the singer sings a “p” or “b” sound.

So you think you’ll be all clever and fix it without buying a pop filter. You decide to angle the microphone 30-40 degrees to the side, that way the singer isn’t singing directly into the diaphragm.

Well, this does help with the plosives, but now you’ve got to deal with the fact that microphones tend to have A LOT of off-axis coloration. They’re designed to sound their best when aimed directly at the source. By angling it, you could be drastically affecting the sound of the mic.

Just get a pop filter (or make one yourself with a clothes hanger and pantyhose).

2. Singing into the wrong side of the mic

Raise your hand if you’ve done this. (Joe sheepishly raises his hand…)

Yep, I recorded an ENTIRE vocal track while singing into the back of a Rode NT1A. I kept thinking to myself, “MAN, this sounds awful. My vocals must be off today.”

I finally figured it out…and was thoroughly embarrassed. 🙂

3. Miking too close

Since noise is a common issue with home studios, we try to compensate for it by miking the instruments/vocals as closely as possible. The idea is that the closer the mic is to the source, the less noise it will pick up. Right?

Wrong.

As it turns out, placing the mic really close to the instruments doesn’t pick up any less noise, AND you have to deal with proximity effect.

Your recordings will sound much more natural if you move the mic back from the source by 6-12 inches.

I talk about this in 7 Things I Wish I Had Done Differently on my Album.

4. Miking too far away

Obviously, you can go too far in the other direction, too. If you place the microphone so far away from the musician that you’re picking up EVERYTHING in the room (computer, hard drive, your growling stomach, etc.), then that’s certainly not ideal.

You need to find a middle ground. It will be different for every mic, every room, every musician…so play around with it a bit.

5. Using too many mics

When I first learned about the mid-side technique of stereo recording, I recorded an entire EP for a singer friend of mine using the mid-side technique on his acoustic guitar.

It didn’t turn out very well. I was dead set on using this technique, regardless of whether or not it sounded good. We were recording in the sanctuary of a church, and the the figure-8 side microphone picked up ALL sorts of air conditioner noise, etc.

It just wasn’t that good, but I was too stubborn to actually listen to the audio and make necessary changes. Using one microphone in this situation would have probably been better.

6. Using the most expensive mic by default

This is a big one. You spend $800 on a nice condenser microphone, then you use it on absolutely everything, regardless of how bad it may sound.

No single microphone will sound amazing on every source. What sounds phenomenal on one singer might sound nasally and thin on another.

Don’t let your wallet dictate which mic you use. Yes, you’ll use your nicer microphone on plenty of tracks, but don’t sacrifice quality to make yourself feel better about buying the nicer mic.

For example, on my album I used three different microphones for my lead vocals. A tube mic that costs around $800, a regular condenser that costs around $300, and a dynamic mic that costs around $100.

Why not use the $800 mic on everything? Because it just didn’t sound right for every song. Plain and simple.

7. Not tightening the mic stand

Nothing frustrates an engineer more than recording five takes of an acoustic guitarist, only to find that the mic stand you used slowly lowered itself by six inches over the course of those five takes.

Now, instead of aiming at the 12th fret of the guitar, the mic is aiming at the musician’s crotch. Not good.

Your takes are pretty much useless if you try to comp between them, because each one sounds noticeably different from the next.

8. Being lazy (“We’ll just fix it in the mix”)

One of the things that stood out to me after listening to all my old songs was how much time I spent setting up the microphone and getting a decent sound.

I was so clueless about recording, I didn’t even mix my first couple of albums. I had no idea what EQ or compression was, I just thought I had to make it sound good as I recorded it, then bounce out the recording and slap it on a CD.

While this had its obvious downsides, it was actually a really good approach to the recording process. Rather than wait around to fix a poorly-recorded guitar with EQ, I spent MORE time setting up the microphones and listening to make sure it sounded great on the way in.

Fixing it in the mix wasn’t an option for me…because I didn’t even know what mixing was. 🙂

Sometimes a primitive approach can be immensely more creative.

What about you?

Got any tips or suggestions? Please leave a comment, I’d love to hear from you.

[Photo by Robert Bejil Photography]

  • Jeez! I just spent half a day recording vocal stacks to the back of an NT-1A! Didn’t sound horrible, but now I know I get it better! I was surprised to find this post while trying to find out if it mattered. I assume so…

  • Leigh

    i was recording into the wrong sde of the mic and i’ve been bummed bc i thought something was wrong with my mic. but after reading your article, i became enlightened. i am eternally grateful. now i can make beautiful songs again. thanks bae.

    • Official Jaymo

      Haha it must be hard to be that clueless xD

      • Paul Prestridge

        I just discovered today while mic an acoustic with my Lauten 320 that I’ve used on four songs vocals and electric guitar that in fact used the wrong side, does not sound bad but , must sound better using the mic correctly! Ouch!

  • SUV✓ᵛᵉʳᶦᶠᶦᵉᵈ

    I’m a beginner to recording…

    I have an $800 mic – Neumann TLM 102

    I have a Macbook Pro and a focusrite amp. I use GarageBand.

    My music quality comes out horrible.
    The mic quality is clear. But that’s only clear for like a podcast setting. When music is involved, my voice doesn’t sound professionally mixed with the beat. (Which is a whole other list of bad experience and confusion)

    • Could be any number of things. I don’t mean for this to sound insulting, but it COULD be that your voice doesn’t sound as good as the professional songs you’re listening to?

    • JD

      learn how to sing in time and you may not have a problem with it being mixed to the beat?

      • SUV✓ᵛᵉʳᶦᶠᶦᵉᵈ

        How can you learn to sing if you don’t sing? I want to but i feel i don’t have the voice. Maybe rap lol but singing. I need some lessons.

        • There’s an element of natural ability that you won’t be able to change, just like some people have better bodies for basketball than others, but anyone can practice and improve.

  • Larry Hinze

    One mistake…was reading this ridiculous list.

  • Awah Penn

    article soooo old. but good though.

  • why am i here

  • Joe Smith

    Wow I just saw how old this article was, but nice recap. It’d be great to see vocals-only version of this article.

  • Czyszy

    You know what the biggest mic mistake is?? Using Shure SM58 for recording anything that’s quiet. ;p

    • That’s a tough one. 🙂

    • JD

      actually its people saying that one mic sounds better than another for a particular purpose! evey mic has a different characteristic and in how it captures sound. try picking a mic for your application vs just because google says so!

  • YungVipe
    • Joe Smith

      wow you suck.

  • Jas

    I’m really new to all this home studio stuff and confused where to start so this was really helpful! But I do have a question, if I get a condenser mic (thinking about audio technica at2020) what type of stand would be needed for it? As of now i’m just looking to record vocals and instruments for youtube videos.

  • Adhiraj Mathur

    A friend of mine told me that condenser mics are not really good choice for home studios because they catch every little sound. One should use dynamic mic to record at home. So is it true?? Should I go on recording my EP with a dynamic mic ??

    • EJ Brainwaves

      That’s complete garbage, i record with condensers at home all the time and don’t have noise issues. The noise can be controlled through polar patterns, recording in quiet times and spaces, and using blankets to cover noisy equipment while recording. Then just use a noise gate for everything else. Get a good condenser (Akg, Blue, kam instruments, rode, mxl) and pop filter, and you will have a clearer sound. Dynamics are useful on louder or more aggressive instruments. But condenser all the way for 90% of vocals and acoustic!!

      • Joe Smith

        You’re right that this person’s friend was spewing garbage, but you’re oversimplifying at the end. Dynamics and condensers both have their pros and cons and saying one should always or almost always (eg “90%”) use either one for X kind of singing/playing is misleading, because there are so many variables that you have to take into account……(what kind of music, what kind of singer, what kind of sound or effect(s) desired, etc etc etc).

    • Vinnie K

      The reason that is because condenser mics are more sensitive to detail, which is what you want for vocals. The key is to reduce the room reflections via using acoustic foam our even comforters if you are on a budget. If you have the $$, a reflexion filter can help as well. Have the vocalist facing away from the wall. A blanket or comforter behind the vocalist will absorb some of the reflections and keep them out of the recording. Shut off the AC or heat while tracking. That seems obvious, but could be overlooked.

  • Chopen_beta

    Well that was helpful I am currently setting up a gaming talk show studio and sadly I failed with the mic setup. I was about to give up and get someone to do it all for me but it turns out I was just making silly mistakes O_O but now I have a new power running across me to set it all up right ! 😛

  • Stephen

    I have around 9 microphones on my Neil Peart style drum set. The mix sounds great. Kick has a punch, cymbals have highs, and the toms have good high mid and bass. The snare pops perfectly. My mix sounds professional in my car, but terrible on ear buds. Headphones are a safe haven, but not everyone uses them. When I mix my guitar and bass in the sound gets all muddy. But in the car and on my surround sound they sound great. I don’t use a microphone on my guitars, I plug directly in and audacity takes care of me. It sounds great, but I always feel like something is off somewhere. Studiostephen.net
    I’d love some feedback on what I have. I’ve done this for 7 years, done live shows multiple albums. And even worked for other artists. But I always felt like I’m missing something I can’t quite put my finger on.

    • Hi Stephen. You are experiencing a very common thing that everyone goes through. You are learning how to mix in a way that translates to all systems. Unfortunately, there’s no single solution. As you become a better mixer, your mixes will translate better.

    • Anurag Patel

      You are having 9 mics.I really need one Plzz if you can give one to me.
      Afterall we both belongs to music.
      If you want to give
      call me at +918109868683

  • I was hesitant, at first, to buy a pop filter. I was thinking that a *newbie* narrator should start “small”. It didn’t take me long to realize that buying a microphone, without a pop filter, and even a comfortable stand or extending arm stand, doesn’t make sense!

    So, to all the newbies out there getting their first USB condenser microphone, add about 20$ to 40$ to your /end/ price, to include important addons. 🙂 It is definitely worth it!

    http://www.AssafKoss.com

    • Yup. It’s just so annoying to try to avoid the problem with mic placement and “aiming” your mouth away from the mic. 🙂

      • Yeah. For anyone who’s actually /doing/ this regularly, it’s ought to be comfortable and repetitively simple. Not to mention the reduction in audio quality, for a cheap microphone that is strictly designed to be used directly from the front.

  • Annum

    Glad I found this page – I’m desperately trying to improve my setup in order to record myself at home (just playing my songs live in the bedroom at the moment). I just purchased a condenser mic (already have a pop shield) which had good reviews for ‘warm vocals’, vocals being probably the sole thing I’d use it for. I’m very concerned about how sensitive they are though. I live very close to train tracks and am very worried I’ll never get through a whole song without getting interrupted haha!!!! I will have to deal with that I suppose…

    Also I have a tip about the drooping mic stands… I’m using a magic arm with an adaptor on the end to hold my mic, it NEVER moves (once it’s locked)!!! It’s designed to support the weight of much heavier pieces of equipment in lighting rigs etc…. Adapters can be bought so they fit onto the vertical bits of normal mic stands and they are just so much more adjustable and reliable than a lot of normal stands I’ve used. I have mine clamped to a shelving unit and can position it in any direction or height, quickly and without having to bend down and bash my guitar on anything. Its a life saver! And in my small room I don’t have the floor space for the three sticky out legs of the normal stands :).

    • What’s it called? Magic arm?

      • Annum

        Yep, they’re called magic arms, articulating arms etc. The proper ones (like the Manfrotto and ARRI makes) have universal 5/8″ spigots at each end where you can attach different adapters to. This is what they look like without any clamps or adapters, the second photo is me testing my mic in it before it went up in my room, has a ‘superclamp’ at each end, my pop shield just clamps onto the forearm now. It’s seriously the most useful thing I’ve ever bought! I have a second one now which my positions my ipad above my keyboard 🙂

    • GREG GUITARS LLC

      Have you ever considered writing and recording songs that include trains in the lyrics? When they give you lemons……………..lemonade!

      As far as the mic stand phenom is concerned, I’ve taken to using skyhooks.

      A little levity for all you seriously over thinking recording engineers.

  • I used to use a pop filter like it was the holy grail. I stopped using one on the last record I recorded vocals for. I have better control of my vocal tone when I sing slightly off to the side of the diaphragm, dynamically level-wise and to control my naturally overly sibilant voice. A pop filter is good for spacial control from the distance of the mic, and to keep out pops of course but it does affect the signal’s tone depending on the source material of the pop filter.

    Not suggesting that everyone stop using one, but it builds a lot of control and is very helpful for live singing techniques.

    • I hear ya. I recently experimented recording vocals without one, and it was kinda liberating!

    • Agnóstico

      I usually record late at night my vocals in a bossanova fashion. Never tried a pop filter, but I’m overall satisfied with the results without one. I’m just afraid about the longevity of the mic by eventually throwing saliva on the capsule.

      • That’s something to consider. A pop filter won’t alter the sound much (if at all).

  • Dave

    When I switch my mike on or off(It’s plugged into an accustic amp) A LOUD pop noise occurs, any advice please??

    • Maybe don’t switch the mic off? Or turn the amp off first?

  • DTW

    I have a Rode NT1a with a pop shield that I use for home recording and like the sound of my voice with it. i have an opportunity to sing live at an local event an wanted to use the NR1a in the live performance without a pop-shield. Any suggestions with this microphone for live performance where a pop shield will block my line of sight to the audience?

    • I don’t think using that mic live is a good idea. You’ll probably get an immense amount of feedback.

  • Flav

    Raise your hand if you’ve done this. (Flav sheepishly raises his hand…).

    I feel like such a noob. Couldn’t figure out why the vocals sounded so bad. Thanks, man!

  • i have a at40 condenser microphone and just purchased roland duo-capture, but the mic isn’t recording anything? How do I get it to start recording?

    • Do you have phantom power turned on? It’s usually a button marked with “+48V”. You have to have phantom power on to use a condenser mic.

  • Southerndude

    One of the most amazing problems that I’ve always found that a lot of people have a hard time separating, is the difference between “volume” and “loudness”. Especially those that like to record their own karaoke using either “borrowed” youtube music or CD’s from the store. The best way to show the difference between them so that you can also explain how to use their differences for mixing various audio tracks, is to compare “volume” to two buckets of the same size. In one bucket, you try to stuff as many feathers in it as you can and in the other bucket, you put as much water as you can in it. Now which one should be heavier? The water of course! Because the density of the water is much more dense than the feathers. The same applies to two separate recordings. Each one recorded with the same mic at two different times. In one room, you have someone playing an electric bass and the volume control for the “VU” meter reading that is recording it, is peaking at zero DB or as we used to say in radio – 100%. In another room is the John Phillips Sousa Band that’s playing Stars and Stripes Forever. Now it’s being recorded with the same mic and the “VU” meter is also peaking at 100% also. If you play them both back at the same time into the same amplifier but have a selector switch to choose either one recording or another, you might just notice that the Band is quite a bit “louder” – SAME VOLUME – but “loudness” here is basically defined as more frequencies that the human ear is sensitive to than what you might hear in another recording. Singing into a mic to get the best overall sound is also known as “working the mic”. Our voices can change from day to day and can be effected by drink or meals, that help to wash away impurities that might muffle certain frequencies that we need to have recorded. But then again – different Recording Engineers have their own techniques with regard to microphones and studios and the “talent” they are recording. My rule of thumb as always been the following. Listen to the speakers that you will eventually be using to help mix any of your recording and their various tracks, by setting up a standard that “sounds good to you”. Plug an FM Tuner into your amp and listen to various types of radio stations. If you have any kind of equalization setting on your amp, adjust them to the best settings that YOU find after listening to Rock – Country – Rap – Jazz – Big Band – Symphony – and whatever else you can find. After you’ve adjusted whatever controls that may be on your amp – NEVER TOUCH THEM AGAIN. My own amp has 5 controls and after placing some electrical tape above and below them, they haven’t moved since. This is NOW your “rule of thumb” settings and from now on, you would be ALWAYS using those settings ALL THE TIME. And if you find anytime that the recording session that you’re mixing might sound a little too sweet (too many highs) to flat (not enough mids) or too bassy or none at all, it’s possible that one of more of those controllers have started to get dirty. Just do the unthinkable – remove the tape – slide or turn the controller a dozen times to maximum and back to minimum, or so – replace the tape – and everything should be OK. A lot of my friends don’t understand why listening to their recording on headphones and then speakers, that they don’t sound the same. There is a huge difference between each of these devices and their listen-ability. Use those headphone to hear your music or whatever else you’re singing with and then when it’s “mix” time, use those speakers. Headphones or even Earphones are fine for monitoring, but I wouldn’t want my daughter to marry one. The majority of mics that a lot of people use are dynamic and condenser mics. Most dynamic mics can handle more “loud” sounds than the condenser mics – while condenser mics can record an average or even low singing person or guitar, with a little better frequency response. And watch out for those “p”s and “t”s, that’ll blast your vocal parts of a song. Use those filters. And you might even have to record your voice with music at three different locations. Each recording would be on a different track and do one an inch or two from your mouth. Another  one about 6 inches away. And a third recording about a foot from your mouth and decide which location you like best. Of course, any ambient sounds will also be recorded, so it’s sometimes just a matter of trial and error. Enjoy everyone.       

  • Akula

    great tips 🙂

  • Sam

    I have done all of these, but #8 is by far the worst. I will often try to capture a sort of “spontaneous” vocal to get something fresh and powerful, which is nice, but in the end the word for it is “pitchy!” would that I had natural perfect pitch, but instead I spend entirely too much time in front of the tuning software editing myself 😉

    sam m

  • Al

    3 is actually inevitable for all beginners; you have to learn micing from there, I believe.
    Also, same for 8 but that’s for intermediates IMHO.
    I did pretty much everything from the list except for “using too many mics” and “Singing into the wrong side of the mic”.

    We always learn from our mistakes, so…
    Happy Micing =)

  • Mathew Cohen

    I’ve only ever been guilty of #8, usually because I’m recording someone who can’t hit the proper notes to begin with.

  • Hector Gutierrez

    Hey guys, now that we are talking about microphones…Im having trouble choosing what to record fro some bongos I have for a tune…dunno if I should go with the 57s or does anybody have another approach..also if you could help me with the technique like mic positioning, distance, etc…would appreciate..

    Thanks,
    -HectorG

  • Scott

    Sing into the wrong side of the mic? Uh, yeah, it was for artistic effect. That’s the ticket! I’m thinking about putting a dab of paint or nail polish on the correct side just as some extra help the next time this genius records vocals.

    • Sadly…it was me who was the “genius” singer. 🙂

  • Matt

    Guilty as charged!
    1. Did that ONCE…. that was enough.
    2. oh man, yep, done this too.
    3. Try sticking a mic into the bell of a trumpet… bet you won’t do that again!!
    4. My place is so small, I don’t have the luxury of getting too far away without hitting a wall.
    5. I’ve done this a couple times too.
    6. Yep, guilty of this too.
    7. LOL, yep, this one too.
    8. This isn’t so much something I have done but, some of my friends have pushed for this when recording here. They get in too much of a hurry to do things right. You ALWAYS pay for it in the end by an inferior product and/or way too many hours spent fixing rather than mixing.

  • Hi, glad I found this site, lots of good tips.

    Two I have are ABS and ABT – “always be saving” (in digital recording) and “always be tuning”. A guitarist came in to record some basics over the drums, so there were no other references for tuning, and we had to throw out his tracks on 4 out of 6 songs due to tuning as the guitar warmed up. And more than a few times a good take has been lost due to program crashes.

  • JP

    1. I’ve found a pop filter can noticeably filter the high end. I followed some recording vet advice and simply raised the mic a couple inches. (our voices carry upwards naturally) The one caveat is that I had to learn not to tilt my head up and “point” my mouth at the mic while singing (I’m an amateur vocalist).

    7. Duuuude, I hate, hate, HATE it when that happens! (walking in the amp/drum booth and seeing why you’ve had to continually mess with Eq for the last 45 minutes!)

  • Phil Harmon

    #1: Did that until I mixed my first song. Lesson learned!
    #2: Yep, did that.
    #3: Ditto
    #4: Ditto
    #5: Never had too many mics!
    #6: “Expensive” is a relative term!
    #7: Uh huh. I actually watched a mic lower itself during a recording of mine!
    #8: See #1

  • Ben P

    Micing too close was a definite mistake of mine that kept making at first. Then I’d always wonder why my recordings were muddy. But that’s what this recording game’s all about. Learning from your mistakes.

  • Christopher w

    I admit, I have done everything from point 3 onwards. Although on point 7 it was that the mic stand was done for [broke], and I was too lazy to change it for a good stand.

    I have never heard of Mid-side miking before… I may try it in my recording session tomorrow, and post back my results.

    I personally have never used the wrong side of the mic, but I know loads of people that have purely by mistake. e.g. setting up the mic in the middle of the room and then putting the pop filter on the wrong side by an accident.