Every vocalist is different. Way different. There are the kind that make you cry—either because they sing like angels, or because they’re so awful that their caterwauling makes your cerebral cortex jerk up and down like the pistons on a red-lined Porsche. Some whisper, others bellow. Some sing high, some low, and some work in the midrange frequencies. Some are masters of phrasing, while others couldn’t keep the beat if a free-range chicken pecked it out on their skulls.
So why do a fair amount of home-studio engineers seem to think that one microphone will do it all, for all vocalists, and at all times?
Obviously, one’s budget has a lot to do with limited microphone options. Assembling a bountiful collection of dynamic, condenser, tube, and ribbon mics is not an inexpensive proposition. But if you are committed to finding the perfect microphone for your vocalist—or your own vocals—then some gear-acquisition compromises must be made. In order to ensure a particular voice is recorded with the utmost detail, vibe, and clarity, you can’t just assume that the mic that sounded great on the hammy screamer is also going to fastidiously document the timid and tortured whisperer. You need options. You need time to assess. And you need the mindset to listen critically to what each singer is delivering, and how different microphones capture—and color—the sound of the voice.
The Dreaded Cost Factor
No one I know is taking champagne baths or setting Franklins ablaze to light cigars these days, so committing cash resources to buy mics is likely not very high on your priority list. The good news is that a “reasonable” vocal-mic selection can be comprised of a dynamic, a largediaphragm condenser, and a ribbon. This selection should get you through a decent squad of singers with different timbres and approaches. You may already have a Shure SM57 or SM58 on hand to track guitars, vocals, and most everything else, so that can cover the dynamic. Now, let’s see how much trouble we can get into with the other models.
· Some Large-Diaphram Condenser Mics Under $100: AKG Percepion 120 ($99), Audio-Technica AT2020 ($99), Behringer C-3 ($59), CAD U37 USB ($69), M-Audio Nova ($99), MXL 990 ($69), Nady SCM 960 ($69).
· Some Ribbon Mics Under $150: MXL 990 ($99), Nady RSM-1 ($139).
· Some Extra Dynamic Options Under $100: Audix F50-S ($59), Blue enCORE 100 ($99), Electro- Voice PL24 ($59), Heil Sound ($98), Sennheiser e825S ($79).
So, depending on your preferences, you can assemble a two-mic cabinet (deleting the ribbon) for as low as $118, and a three-mic selection (including a ribbon) for around $217. You may desire some quality upgrades, of course, but you can absolutely get into the different timbres and characteristics of three microphone styles for just a couple of bucks more than you’d shell out for an iPod Touch.
Now That Ya Got ’Em . . .
. . . You must use them. Musicians who are accustomed to recording everything with a single microphone aren’t necessarily hip to auditioning a number of different options. Now is the time to start training your ears to hear the subtle tonal shadings offered by different microphones and different mic positions. The discoveries may shock you— and that’s a good thing. A condenser may bring out all the wonderful rasp in one singer, while a ribbon may capture the sensual smoothness of another. You might hear overtones you’ve never heard before. The (hopefully) beneficial ambient effects of your recording space may be audible just behind the singer’s voice, adding a delicious vibe or spookiness or weight to the sound before you even touch a reverb or delay send.
Train yourself to put up all your mics, and then take the time to sing through each one, documenting the results in your DAW. Listen critically to the different vocal tracks, and go for the one that makes the hair on the back of your neck rise up and cheer.
As for which types of mics work best with which types of voices— sorry, you’ll have to discover that one for yourself. Experimenting is the key here, and what works once, might not always work—after all, the same vocalist on a different day can sound quite different. The goal is to always audition multiple mics, and free your mind to choose whatever works best at the time you push Record.