Pop quiz — Which is more important?

Mic placement or EQ?

Recording or mixing?

Boxers or briefs? (Wait a second…)

Got an interesting email from one of my new customers:

Joe, I just recently came across an article from SOS magazine that said, “If the right microphones have been positioned carefully, equalisation is rarely needed…”

He went on to express his concern with this extreme focus on microphone placement. He was worried that perhaps he was doing something wrong during recording if he still needed EQ during mixing.

Here was my reply:

The first EQ you should ever use in a project is the microphone.

Where you place the microphone can drastically affect how the recording sounds. A great-sounding instrument can still sound bad if the mic placement isn’t right.

I try my best to capture the recording by making it sound as close to how I want it to sound in the mix as I can. My goal when recording is to not need to use much (if any) EQ when I mix.

That’s the goal.

But obviously EQ will most likely be needed, but if you put THAT much effort into getting the dry recording to sound as good as possible, your mixes will be SO much better.

—-

So…which is more important, mic placement or EQ?

Answer: BOTH.

EQ won’t save a lame recording.

And using EQ the wrong way will make a great recording sound worse.

I can help you learn how to use EQ like a champ, if you’re interested.

It’s all right here:

www.UnderstandingEQ.com

Joe Gilder

  • Xan

    You know what, to be a real bastard I’m gonna go against the flow here.

    This “Mic placement good, EQ bad” is really overblown.

    The fact is you can do awesome things with EQ’s if you know what you’re doing.

    And not all EQs are the same. Boosting say a 2Khz band on one might sound “sweet” whilst on another it might sound “nasty”. But that “nasty” EQ might be awesome for a little 100Hz cut for example.

    It’s a bit like guitars, each one does more or less the same job and at a push you could use any, but if you’ve got the choice each has it’s merits for a given job.

    It is a just a matter ov using your ears and gaining experience & a feel for each one.

    Once upon a time I had a contributing artist in Italy doing a lead vocal (female Black Metal/Grindcore style vocals). She had a reasonably good mic but it currently wasn’t working on her computer, probably due to a dodgy 3.5mm to 6.5mm adaptor.

    I told her to do the vocals with a little plastic PC mic that she had (which worked without any problems).
    You bet, it really did sound like shite when I received the files. But after some work with the EQ it sounded perfectly good in the mix.

    Bottom line: EQ WORKS, Mic choice or placement is not a matter ov life & death!

    • Adam

      But what’s easier- recording with a good mic and spending a few minutes making it fit in the mix, or using a dodgy mic/ position/ both and having to spend a long time to get it to fit in the mix?

      An little bit of prevention is a lot easier and quicker than post-recording fixing!

    • You’re certainly entitled to your opinion.

      In my experience, EVERY single time I focus on getting a great sound at the microphone, my mixes are ALWAYS better than if I record something crappy, hoping to fix it.

      We can talk theory all day, but in the studio, on music I work on, the stuff I’m talking about works wonders. You can do a lot of fun stuff with EQ, but why would you not want to get it to sound good to begin with? It just seems like you’re adding more complications and confusion to the process unnecessarily.

  • Robert

    This is the same argument I hear about “fix it in mastering”.

    I think if you have the opportunity to make something sound as good as possible without touching any EQ knobs on the board, or even using any effects, go for it.

    I don’t like the idea of halfway doing something good and then just saying “oh I’ll just fix it in the mix”.

    If you have an extra mic or track handy, go ahead and run a second mic in a different way on the same amp or guitar.

    I personally think it’s so much fun to play around with mic placement. From adding room mics to drums to XY placement of overheads, tilting a mic a certain way on a guitar amp…it’s quite fun to try different things.

  • Adam

    My “favourite” is tom mic positioning. You set them up, and by the time you’ve walked from the drum kit to the desk to soundcheck, the drummer has “adjusted” them, and the mics are pointed at the edge of the tom, you’ve got a 15dB cut at 6k and they’re still sounding too clicky!

  • My mic closet is fairly deep, but my list of goto mics is short. For vocals, I use a Rode NT1 or a Shure SM58. For acoustic guitar, I use an SM57 or a small diaphragm condenser pointed where the neck joins the body 1-2 inchess away. For guitar amps, SM57 or SDC 1-2 inches off the grill cloth, off center. My preamps are clean but nothing special.

    The great thing about these setups is that they are consistent, easy to duplicate, sound great, and usually require little or no EQ. I’m a lucky guy, or maybe I just have terrible ears.

    My advice would be to get a monitoring setup or set of phones that you are used to and trust the response of, and if something sounds boomy, muddy or thin during tracking, STOP. And fix it now by changing mic selection, mic placement, or positioning in the room.

    EQ is for tailoring later, not miracles.

    nb

    • You’re totally right, Norm. It’s almost like people are against putting in a little extra work during recording…almost like they’d RATHER have to work miracles during mixing.

      I can relate to that. It’s fun to “fix” stuff if you can pull it off….but the more I record, the more I simply want a great-sounding recording, and that means doing the job right at ALL stages of the process — songwriting, arranging, instrumentation, recording, editing, mixing, mastering.

  • Pepe Navarro

    Hey Joe, yesterday I was recording a acoustic guitar track for a friend, I was more excited about how it would sound when I finished recording. So instead of spending some time on the mic position, I ended up having a kinda bad sounding track. Like an idiot I said I will fix it in my Daw. Long story short i ended up re-recording everything cuz I didnt like the sound of my guitar. So Mic placement > eq fo sho.

    • Sorry, Pepe. I know how frustrating that can be. But you learned a priceless lesson….and I bet it’s a mistake you probably won’t make again in the future. 🙂

  • Jay

    When I do mic placement for an example, first I hold my guitar in hand with mic in front of me, without playing the guitar. Next I get an idea (tone) humming in my head how I want it to sound for the project, take a little time to memorize the tone, the lows, mids, high’s. Then I start moving my mic around till I find the closest placement to match my idea. I know this is common scene, but too many times in the past I would just start moving the mic around and get caught up in the sound in front of me with out having a reference to go by first. You can get caught up in that, lot’s of hype there, let me tell you. What would happen next is countless hours lost using EQ to try to get the sound that works best for the project I am working on. So now, I think and imagine first, then use mic placement to find it. What a relief. I can never take back all those lost hours but I guess that’s what it took for me to put a system together.

  • Nigel

    Hi Joe
    If You are a Mac or Iphone user check this out its great.
    Not sure how accurate it is but it certaily oppened my ears.

    http://quiztones.net/

    • Bob Sorace

      I’m gonne check this out for sure, thanks Nigel!