MICROPHONE STANDS, TUNERS AND ACCESSORIES
It’s very important to avoid cheap microphone stands. These will cause more problems than they solve and may hurt you or your equipment and instruments.
The fittings and all means of adjustment should be solid and reliable, so that the stand lasts for years, and so that any changes to position or height can be made easily and safely.
Imagine your lovely new condenser microphone, perhaps containing a fragile tube, crashing onto the hard floor of a room you are singing in, because the microphone stand suddenly gave way at one of it’s adjustable points. Not good.
Even worse, you could have a mic crashing into the body of an expensive upright bass or acoustic guitar that you don’t personally own.
One of the worst things you can do is use duct tape and the like to try to address loose knobs and bolts. Not only is this a thoroughly unreliable approach to a stubborn or broken mic stand, but also it looks really horrible and strongly suggests you don’t care about your recordings or your equipment.
If all you do is record an acoustic guitar or piano in stereo to two tracks as accompaniment recorded separately ahead of recording your vocal track, then you can get by with a couple of standard size stands and one larger stand, for really good results.
Micstands can have a single round base, or three legs in a tripod arrangement, or for the larger stands a wheelbase arrangement to allow easy movement and enhanced stability. There may or may not be a boom arm.
There are also plenty of types of tabletop stands, a few inches high. You’ll also see stands that are specifically for recording a bass drum, which may even have a high mass piece of metal attached to a slab of acoustic foam as a base, in order to decouple them from floor-borne vibrations.
Other stands are specifically targeted at the snare drum, which can be hard to reach in a multi-miked kit without obstructing tor inhibiting he drummer as he plays.
It can be hard to position a microphone well with plenty of other mics and micstands already set up around the kit.
A forest of stand legs and boom arms carrying valuable microphones soon develops in ambitious multi-microphone drum recording sessions. Stands which have been designed to tuck in with a lower profile can be very helpful. Check online to see what intrigues you. Usually, a little more outlay gets you a higher-mass stand (heavier) which is a safer investment to carry your best microphone(s).
The large stand type (see picture at top of blogpost) can extend very high into the air, into stairwells or room corners or above small choirs or quartets and is designed to do so in a safe way for you and your valuable instruments and precious microphones.
Often, there will be a movable counterweight on these stands, at the far end of the boom end from the microphone. This allows you to use heavier microphones, such as many bulky large-diaphragm tube condensers, without the stand tipping over.
Often, the larger stands have lockable wheels fitted on a one-piece base rather than the more common “tripod legs” design of the typical standard micstands you see everywhere,. This helps you, as now they will be easier to move around when placing microphones.
The large micstand’s greatest asset is perhaps that you can lower the mic in from above, which lessens the chance of vocal plosives when aimed well at singers.
This also allows you to keep the stand at some distance from the performer, which gives them a little more sense of freedom.
You can also more easily arrange singers on either side of the mic, provided it has a bi-directional (or figure-8) pickup pattern.
Tuning is essential for a decent recording. Make sure all your instruments are in tune. Professionals check their tuning very regularly during sessions.
The standard method of ensuring accurate tuning throughout the making of a recording is to record a “tuning note” at the top of a recording as a permanent audio reference.
99% of the time, and possibly all the time, you will want to work at standard A440 tuning. This is the reference used virtually everywhere in the Western world.
The A is the name of the note in the Western scale system that resides at the stated frequency of 440 Hertz. You may recall that pitch is equivalent to frequency.
After the fact, AutoTune or Melodyne can be used in many cases, but it is not a good idea to fix tuning in the mix unless absolutely necessary. Tune up, THEN record, then tune up again.
TYPES OF TUNER
You can get electronic tuners in guitar pedal format, where the impedance will be suitable for instruments with pick-ups and jack socket outputs.
There are also electronic tuners in clip-on formats that you temporarily attach to the headstock of a guitar while you tune it, using a simple plastic clip arrangement.
Electronic tuners can also be found as standalone units of various shapes and sizes.
A less common type is the rack format tuner. These can be picked up relatively cheaply and work without the computer being on.
Today the best option perhaps is a software tuner for home studio recordings.
For a gig, hardware tuners are probably more reliable, I would suggest, but you can always take both software tuners and hardware tuners to a gig if you really want to. Carrying spare accessories at gigs is always a smart move.
Software tuners are the most prevalent and useful tuners out there. Not only are they able to be inserted into any DAW track in Record Mode or Input Monitoring Mode for you to check your tuning is accurate before and during takes, but also they allow you to choose from a gazillion weird and wonderful tunings, many of which seem utterly bizarre to my Western ears.
Micro-tonal tunings can be set, and I wish you luck in making music with them. Not my thing! Altered tunings such as DADGAD on the guitar are easily set. You can step away from the equal-temperament tuning of Western music history and explore all sorts of world styles.
A First Aid Kit is heartily recommended, and a fresh pack of throat lozenges may be popular. Fire extinguishers are advised, though I’m happy to say i’ve never used one.
It’s also handy to collect a whole range of little doo-hickeys about the place for recording purposes.
Cable testers are always useful. You do want one of them if you have any number of cables, especially if they go out to gigs with you as well as being on home studio duty.
Another handy thing is to clean and set aside a small jar or container that can hold plectrums and fingerpicks and other small, plastic bits and bobs like USB thumb drives and the like.
An old biscuit tin may prove useful for storing spare guitar strings and those essential batteries for guitar pedals, active instrument pickups or pedal tuners. You can also play it as a metallic-sounding thin drum when it’s empty.
Strips of sandpaper can generate good hihat rhythms, when dragged across a suitable surface – more sandpaper, perhaps. Dry rice and beans make fun and functional home-made shakers possible. Think outside the box here, my friends, and enjoy unique inspirations.
In-line barrel-type mic pads can be very useful, and obviously spare cables of all types are worth keeping around.
Pens, pencils and paper still have their place, thankfully, and a tablet device can be a lifesaver for more complicated tasks.
Tablets can also double as tuners, multitrack DAWs, lyric notebooks and displays. They also work well as remote controllers and input devices, for example allowing a musician to operate the transport of the DAW wirelessly at a distance, say from behind a drumkit. You can also clip-mount a tablet to a microphone stand for the singer to adjust his headphone mix remotely with the right accessory.
Naturally, it takes software apps to perform specific functions with your tablet, but there are lots of apps out there. There’s an app for that!, as they say .
A second display is always useful, screen real estate being in great demand in a DAW. A tablet can do that job too on a smaller scale.
Finally, for microphones, your shockmounts, clips, clamps, windscreens, pop screens will all prove their worth sooner or later. Add to that a stereo mounting arm for using two pencil mics on a single stand in X-Y position – yet another great thing to keep around, for that X-Y stereo recording of acoustic guitar.
My next blog is on tracking audio in general, and then I’ll cover recording specific sources like drums, string quartets or acoustic guitars.