Microphones and their placement are vital for capturing the best possible sound for your band, whether recording in a studio or playing live. If you have a larger budget, you can purchase multiple microphones for each instrument and mix the sounds using a mixing board. If you have a smaller budget, you can get by by using fewer mics if you put them in the correct places to pick up sound best.
How many mics you need to record a band is minimally one per instrument and voice. Typically, you’ll need three to four mics for drums, two for guitars, and one for each bass guitar, piano/keyboard, and voice. A smaller band can use one per instrument for brass, woodwind, and stringed instruments.
To properly capture your band’s sound, you’ll need the proper mic setup. In this article, I’ll share how many mics are needed for any instrument you may have in your band. I’ll also explain where you should place those mics to pick up the best sound and provide tips on how to stretch your mics if you’re working with a limited quantity.
- 1 How to Microphone Drums
- 2 How to Microphone Electric Guitars
- 3 How to Microphone a Bass Guitar
- 4 How to Microphone Acoustic Guitars
- 5 How to Microphone a Piano
- 6 How to Microphone Keyboards
- 7 How to Microphone Brass and Woodwind Instruments
- 8 How to Microphone Stringed Instruments
- 9 How to Microphone Vocals
- 10 Final Thoughts
- 11 Sources
How to Microphone Drums
For the best results, you’ll need three to four mics to record the drums for your band. For optimal sound, set up your overhead mic first. Overhead mics receive the drum kit’s sound in the room, and it helps create a more precise sound for the cymbal.
If your budget is tight, it’s possible to record drums with just one microphone. Just keep in mind that you won’t have any mixing options.
Using Your Overhead Mic
Place the overhead mic about 6 feet (1.83 m) above the floor and point it toward the drum kit. Be sure to space the mics out away from each other so that the sound doesn’t hit the microphones at different times. When the sounds hit the microphones at different times, it’s called phasing, and it can ruin the quality of your recording.
How to Microphone Your Snare Drum
To mic your snare, put your dynamic mic slightly catty-corner to the snare. The mic should only be a few inches above the snare. You don’t want it to be too far away, or else you’ll pick up more of the room’s noise.
Be sure to place the snare mic away from the hi-hat so that you don’t pick up much of the hi-hat cymbal’s sound. Ideally, the microphone for your hi-hat should point directly at the top hat, facing down.
How to Microphone Your Kick Drum
To mic your kick drum:
- Place the mic pointing directly at the head. Get it as close to the drum’s batter head as possible to pick up the most sound.
- Test the setup beforehand. This is to test that the kick drum stays in place when the drummer is playing. If it crashes into the microphone, it’ll ruin the recording.
- Space out all the equipment as needed to prevent any collision.
Some people choose to put a plush object, such as a pillow, inside the kick drum to act as a muffler. This helps to alleviate overtones and provides the drum a stronger, more intense sound. Alternatively, you could choose to put a mic directly inside the kick drum to pick up a more robust sound.
How to Microphone Other Types of Drums
If you’ll be using toms or other types of drums, it’s best to use individual dynamic microphones. The best place to position these microphones is about 3 inches (7.62 cm) from the drum’s head. More microphones are better if recording in a large room. If recording in a small space, using fewer mics can be to your advantage, as you can let the tom’s bleed come through the various microphones.
For more information, check out the following articles:
How to Microphone Electric Guitars
Dynamic mics are the most suitable option for recording electric guitars. They’re durable enough to deal with the high sound pressure and sonic frequency emitted by speakers.
Because guitars are a much smaller set than drums, only one microphone is needed. Still, an incredible depth can be added to the sound by using two. Don’t point the mic directly at the speaker’s cone, though. Point it about halfway between the center and the speaker, about 3 inches (7.62 cm) away.
Keep a close eye on the tone as you position the microphone. If you put the mic closer to the edge of the speaker, you’ll get a lower tone and a darker sound. The closer the microphone is to the center, the more impact and attack the sound has.
You can add a second microphone several feet away from the speaker, about 8 to 10 feet (2-3 meters) away. Be sure to place the mic up high, too, around eye level.
Using the two-mic setup will pick up significantly different sounds, providing you a range of options when you’re ready to mix. This can help you find a good mix of accuracy, punch, and depth.
How to Microphone a Bass Guitar
Microphoning a bass guitar is similar to microphoning an electric guitar, except only one microphone is needed. It’s helpful if you’ve never plugged your bass guitar directly into a mixing board.
Bass guitars emit a very low frequency, so it’s best to use a low-frequency mic to best capture the sound. As it were, the best use for a low-frequency microphone is with a bass guitar, so if you only have one, use it with this instrument.
How to Microphone Acoustic Guitars
The best microphone to record the sound from an acoustic guitar is a capacitor, or condenser, microphone. Capacitor mics are a popular choice because they are great for picking up small details in sounds and doing them with great accuracy. People use condenser mics to record high frequencies, acoustic sounds, and vocals.
If you’re concerned about sound bleed using a condenser mic, you can microphone an acoustic combo amplifier or use a DI box.
Like electric guitars, two microphones are ideal for acoustic guitars. Here’s how to set up two dynamic mics for acoustic guitars:
- Point one mic straight at the top of the guitar, where the guitar’s neck and body meet beneath the guitar’s soundhole.
- Point another mic straight at the neck of the guitar facing the guitar’s twelfth fret to get the best sound. (This is a general rule of thumb when microphoning acoustic guitars.)
- Alternatively, to add bass and create a more percussive sound, point a microphone directly at the guitar’s body near where your fretting hand typically stays.
Take note that you should never put a microphone right in the guitar’s soundhole; this generates a lot of unwanted feedback and produces a darker tone, ultimately ruining the sound quality.
How to Microphone a Piano
A capacitor microphone is best to capture all the piano’s sounds from every angle. These mics are more sensitive than dynamic mics and can pick up the more minor details and sounds a piano makes.
Typically, two microphones are needed to record a piano. For the best sound, choose two multidirectional microphones and place one on each end of the piano, about a third of the way from each end.
As with other instruments, the mics should be reasonably close to the piano, about 3 inches (7.62 cm) above the strings and about 2 inches (5.08 cm) away from the dampers. Try to get them as close to the piano as possible to get the best sound.
How to Microphone Keyboards
Only one microphone is needed for keyboards. If the keyboards aren’t directly plugged into a mixing board, run them through the bass speakers and microphone as usual.
Many bands opt to run keyboards through the speakers because it sounds like a live performance. It also results in a less-clean sound that’s more authentic.
Thankfully, you don’t have to choose between plugging a keyboard into the mixer and running sound through a speaker. It’s possible to put a keyboard directly into the mixing board and still run them through the speakers.
When both the mixer and speaker are used, the two sounds can be mixed simultaneously and blended perfectly to your liking to mesh with the other instruments.
How to Microphone Brass and Woodwind Instruments
Capacitor microphones are best for brass and woodwind instruments, and typically, one mic per instrument is fine.
When performing live with these instruments, you may want to consider using wireless microphones that clip directly on the instrument. These mics provide the musicians more mobility and ensure consistent sound throughout the show.
Here’s how to microphone these instruments in a studio setting:
- For brass: Place the mics 1 to 2 feet (0.30 to 0.61 m) away from the bell of the instrument and tilt it between 15 and 30 degrees.
- For woodwinds such as saxophones and bassoons: Place the mic perpendicular to and several inches away from the instrument’s bell.
- For woodwinds such as clarinets and flutes: Place the mics near the instrument’s fipple instead of the far end from the instrument to capture the most powerful sound.
Keep in mind, if the microphone is placed too close to the instrument’s bell, the sound will be ruined.
How to Microphone Stringed Instruments
For a smaller band, one microphone per stringed instrument will suffice. However, a large band of stringed instruments may require you to adjust the number of microphones accordingly.
To pick up the best sound, place microphones at the musician’s eye level about 2.5 feet (0.76 m) away from them. Point the mics at around 45-degree angles.
For a stringed bass, mic the instrument as directed above for studio recordings. But if playing live, wrap the mic in foam and place it delicately between the tailpiece and the top of the bass. Just be sure to choose a mic with splendid vibration isolation if you decide to use this mic technique.
How to Microphone Vocals
Typically, only one microphone is necessary for each vocalist. Ideally, you’ll want to invest in durable, high-quality mics; not only will you use them the most, but they also pick up the best sound.
Keep in mind that some microphones work better with certain voices. So if possible, choose different microphones according to your vocalists. However, if you need to cut down on setup time or keep things simple, it’s okay to purchase the same microphone for all your singers.
Dynamic microphones are an excellent mic option for vocalists because they can handle a more significant sound pressure level and are typically more rugged.
Cardioid microphones are another excellent option for singers because they eliminate feedback and cut down on excess ambient noise. Cardioid mics are great for capturing a single voice as opposed to a collection of sounds from instruments.
If you’re in need of a mic, check out the Shure BETA 58A Supercardioid Dynamic Vocal Microphone (available on Amazon.com). This incredible mic offers a full, sophisticated sound with a frequency response best suited for vocals. The neodymium magnet provides significant signal-to-noise output, and there’s minimal vibration and mechanical noise transmitted.
- Frequency response tailored for vocals, with brightened midrange and bass roll off to control proximity effect
- Uniform supercardioid pattern for high gain before feedback and superior rejection of off–axis sound
- Neodymium magnet for high signal–to–noise output
Last update on 2022-01-25 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API
Another excellent mic option for vocalists is a capacitor microphone. Because these microphones pick up very detailed sound and are incredibly accurate, they’re perfect for capturing vocals. If you choose to purchase a capacitor microphone, make sure to get a high-quality one if you’ll be using it to record human voices.
If needed, you can get away with fewer mics if you strategically place the microphones to get the best sound. But if you have access to numerous mics, it’s better to use multiple mics per instrument in order to capture robust and dynamic sound.
Whenever possible, use multiple microphones for several instruments like drums or guitars. For instruments like the keyboard or saxophone, only one is needed.
Keep in mind, if you’re in a recording studio, you’ll be able to mix sounds using various mics to create a unique sound best suited to your band.