Question: How do you mike musicians in a house of worship? (Part 5, Strings)
Answer: Many engineers in houses of worship are comfortable with putting up microphones in front of vocalists, guitars, drums, and pianos, but not everyone has had the opportunity to mike up stringed instruments like violins, violas, cellos, and upright basses. We’ll discuss some common tips, but just like with anything else in audio, use your ear and make adjustments to change the tone to your desired taste. Whether you are miking a solo string player, a quartet, or an entire orchestra, there are a few different techniques you may use.
The most desired sound quality when miking string instruments comes from a microphone positioned out in front of the instruments at a distance. All microphones are like ears, and humans are used to hearing string instruments from afar, with some acoustic artifacts from “air” or “space,” not with our ears right next to the instrument. Place the microphone at an ideal listening position just out in front of the instrument. For a full-body tone with clarity from the actual bowing on the vibrating strings, proper microphone placement and aiming are needed. On the instrument, the warm tone comes from the resonance of the body, whereas the vibrating strings create the higher frequencies. Aiming the microphone towards the strings will result in a higher frequency tone which may cut through better in mixes, whereas aiming towards the body will result in a warmer tone to fill out the mix. Slightly changing how the microphone is placed or aimed will save you from having to reach for your EQ and manipulate the sound. You may find helpful tips for distance miking techniques on string instruments in the video link at the end of this post. When amplifying those microphone signals, though, you are more prone to feedback. This is when close-miking techniques should be considered.
Close-miking string instrument techniques place the element close to the sound source to pick up the desired audio while adding isolation between instruments. The sound with this technique is usually a bit unnatural, and getting too close to the F-hole on the instrument may result in a “boomy” or “whoofy” tone. But the instrument’s tone can be shaped with slight adjustments in how the microphone is placed and aimed, and perhaps with a touch of EQ. Additionally, you may find multi-band compression helps to smooth out the frequencies over the entire spectrum. Some of the resonant frequencies will ring louder, and taming those with external gear may help make your job easier.
How to attach the microphone to the instrument is a question we get quite frequently. Using microphones such as the PRO35 or the ATM350U allow for great mounting options. The clip may be placed in a variety of places determined by the instrumentalist and the engineer. Some instrumentalists do not want the microphone clipped to the bridge or tailpiece, and it is their right to express their concerns. With that being said, we have mounted these microphones to very expensive string instruments of players in some of the world’s best orchestras and performers. You may need to work out a compromise that will suit both you and the musician.
If you have further questions on string instrument miking techniques, feel free to reach out to the Audio Solutions Department to discuss further. As noted above, here’s the video with helpful tips for miking stringed instruments: