stereo miking techniques

I thought that I would start a series of blogs that relate to what I do, how I do it and what is going on in my professional life. For me, there there probably is no better place to start than with a better understanding of stereo miking techniques …

One of my most important tools for getting “my sound” is through the use of stereo imagery and the capture of the instrument’s and overall room presence. Almost without exception, the tracks on my DAW are stereo (sometimes up to 80 tracks). When dealing with the concept of an immersive mix, this helps to fill the sound out in a spacious manner.

Notice that all of the tracks are in stereo.

I can only imagine that my love for stereo miking started during my college days at the University of Surrey in England. There, we were taught in the general techniques of room miking from a classical point-of-view. However, this idea of capturing the recorded space within a traditional modern recording studio began to make more and more sense to me. One would not generally record a piano pickup with a single mic for several reasons. One, the instrument is too big to close mic using a single pickup source … and two, the benefits of a stereo spread within a mix is obvious. However, the general benefits of capturing the overall sonic spread can apply to all instruments on so many levels.

In modern recording, when an instrument is being picked up from a single mic source, the overall sonic imagery is limited to the sounds of the room that leak into the pickup. However, the mic will usually be placed so close to the instrument, that the room is no longer a factor. This leaves us with the sole option of adding artificial reverb and delay to fill out and to create a living, breathing space.

This is all well and good, but what about the options of using the natural acoustic spread of an instrument, no matter how large or small that instrument is? For example, an acoustic guitar has a natural spread to its voice. With sounds coming from the hole, the strings, the body … even when close or semi-close miked. The use of stereo mic techniques can bring a breadth and sense of spread to the instrument that can give it a life, beyond (or in addition to) what artificial ambiance can give.

Moving beyond the guitar, the piano and drum overheads, almost all instruments can benefit from the life and spread that stereo miking can give … including vocals. When recording vocals in stereo, the natural nuances of movement, room reflections and small acoustic variations will spread the vocal out in ways that move beyond the pin-point location that a single vocal mic will give.

In addition to using stereo for close and semi-close pickup, stereo miking at a distance can add life and a dramatic sense of realism to a pickup.

The next part of the puzzle can be really fun … this happens when you combine stereo distant miking with a close stereo or mono pickup. This can be done live during the session or overdub (as with close miking a guitar cabinet, with a semi-distant pair as well as a distant room stereo mic pair) or, it can be done after the fact by playing a track back through speakers in the studio and then re-recording the room at various distances, using various mics in a re-amp setting.