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. πŸ™‚

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? πŸ˜‰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. πŸ™‚

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. πŸ™‚

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]