Room microphone

Up until very recently, I have been recording individual guitars through a mixer and directly into my pc running n-tracks. Drums have been added using hacked about midi tracks. I am now in a (small and very badly rehearsed) band so would like to try and record rehearsals ‘complete’ as it were, ie not individually, to try and track down ‘band’ size issues rather than individual performances. Could anybody tell me what sort of mic I would need to capture the whole band please. The environment is a room at my home which is approx 15ft X 15ft so it is fairly cramped, but seems to work ok (I prefer to call it cosy !) I suppose I am looking for the next step up from a simple cassette (or mp3) recorder and I am not too bothered about very sophisticated quality. Budget is very limited, probably up to about £100 (is that about $150 ?) .

Any help would be very much appreciated

Well, I am no expert, but I’ve been using a Studio Projects B-3 into my little Tascam 788 recorder. I got the B-3 for about $150.00 (US), and it’s a 3-position switchable, Large Diaphragm Condenser: It records in Cardioid (uni-directional), Omni (from every direction, i.e., “Room sound”), and Figure-8 (Bi-directional).

When there’s a bunch of folks sitting around in a room pickin’, I stick the B-3 on a stand amidst everybody, in the most appropriate position I can work out, set the mic to “Omni”, and there it is. Depending on the room’s character, I can get a pretty good recording out of it. If I do a good job placing the mic, I pretty well hear everybody.

If you’re not hip to condenser mics, they need a phantom-power supply to work properly (or at all). I use a little mixer with phantom power to plug the mic into, then run out of the mixer into the recorder.

You can get an MXL (a dang good mic) for around $100, probably will be a cardioid pattern. Which can work also, you just might need to be more particular about placement- sound will tend to come from a general direction rather than from all around.

There are better authorities here on this, but this becomes a real subjective area. Experimention will lead to discovery!

Do you need a recorder as well as a mic- or do you have a recorder now? If you have a cassette 4-track, get a little mixer and a decent mic! Behringer makes little mixers that would suit your scenario for dirt-arse cheap, and the mic I’m talking about above is a pretty good deal too. It sounds like you can do this. Get your band to pitch in, and then pay 'em back (in case the ___ quits…).

Sloom, Hey, this is a great reply and sounds just what I am looking for. I didn’t detail the other gear I have in my original post but as well as the pc I also have a behringer UB1002 mixer which has a couple of mic inputs with ‘invisible mic pre’ so it must be good :laugh: . My intention was to plug the mic into the mixer then into the pc and just do a straight record to get, as I said before, an overall view of what we are sounding like. I’ll check out the mic(s) you mention and let you know how I get on.

Many thanks for the prompt, and helpful, reply

The thing is, you son’t get a good sense of how the band sounds that way - you’ll get a good sense of how the band sounds through whatever mic(s) you choose placed where they are placed in that room.

TomS, sorry, I’m not entirely sure I understand. Do you mean I should place mics near each of the players ?

How a group sounds is a combination of a whole lot of factors, one of which is the room; most people forget that. Suppose you are worried about timbre and balance, and want to work on those as a band. Well, put a mic up in the center, and record that, and what you will learn about will be the balance at that place in the room through that mic, room nodes and all. Will that help you when you get to the performance hall? I dunno, it can’t hurt, but given that many of us use reinforcement of some sort, it won’t be really helpful. On the other hand, suppose you close mic everything and record that; then you’ll find out what your group would sound like to someone who had their ears crammed up against every speaker grill (or whatever). That’s not natural either. On the third hand, suppose you set up in a typical (whateve that would be) performance space, and worked on issues like timbre and balance in that context, recording from the location of your “typical” listener with some reasonably representative stereo technique (like one of those “head” mics) - then you might be getting closer to useful. Unless you perform in 15x15 ft rooms frequently?

What issues exactly are you hoping to address? Not that it hurts to record practices, not at all, but I was just reflecting on having done that over the years and wondering what help it really was come performance time. Certainly helped think through arrangements and instrumentation issues. In the end, however, a recording of something is a separate work of art, in my mind.

Anyway, all that said, I’d try a mid/side recording (voxengo has an m-s decoder plug in for free, so all you’d need would be a figure 8 mc and a directional one) or a couple of small condensors in ortf configuration. Not that I’m an expert or anything, just what I’d try.

TomS. Many thanks for the reply. You’re right of course and it did occur to me that being able to identify how we sound in a small rehearsal room may have no bearing at all on how we sound elsewhere. I think what I am trying to achieve is to hear how we hang together as a band, whether any one of us is drowning out the others, whether we sound in tune, in time and so on. I did try to do this by ear but could hardly hear myslef think, let alone comment on how we are as a band. I think therefore I need to go for a simple straight recording, warts and all to try and smooth out any obvious rough edges. The actual ‘sound’ of the band will come later.
Again. many thanks for your valuable input (and experience)

My reply is not as thoughtful, but it sounds like what you need is to see how well you guys are meshing together as players in an ensemble. Some kind of room recording’ll do that- you might have to get used to the sound, and discern yourselves from ‘within’ the sound of the recording you get, but that’s all about listening, and it will sharpen your ears. It’s how we did it “when I was a boy”! Hyeh-hyeh… :D

EDIT: By the way, some of the most surprisingly good tape recordings my little avant-garde basement-band ever did were from a boom-box I paid $8.00 for at a Salvation Army. those little condenser-type thingies in that box really gave a nice, compressed, pretty darn detailed sound. I still have 'em- they’re in my archives, on CD now.

What sloom said about boomboxes - I’ve always liked that squashed sound.

But keep in mind what I said about room nodes and such, it’ll help adjust for the “actual” sound givne what you have recorded, dhj.

Okay Tom, you got me going now!

I was in a Grateful Dead cover band for 6 months. One of the things the sax player always did at our gigs was to set up a spaced-pair of omni mics at a recommeded distance from the stage, and record to a Tascam Porta 02. Only a lowly cassette, we’d get together a few days later, and over a few beers run the device through a Yamaha mixer, with a hit of EQ and some light compression, maybe a little extra verb, directly into a CD recorder.

Generally got a decent, pretty listenable mix with a good stereo image, and a sense of what the room sounded like (with us in it!). It was a casual approach, and you can’t do it in your small room I guess, but it’s a thought.

Quote (TomS @ Mar. 06 2006,18:04)
...I've always liked that squashed sound.

You gotta love the lo-fi!

But your words are well-considered, Tom. I'm coming into this problem as my music studio's space forms up...

i’m not in the mood to read all the replies thoroughly, so if this is covered, my apologies…

I suggest two things. Use an Omni-directional microphone, and walk around the room…

I’ve read that often times the singer naturally gravitates to where the best mix of the band is in a particular space. Using this idea, place a omni mic about where the singer would typically stick his head.

This should in theory give you a good mix of the band even in a funky room.

some may recommend a cardiod mic instead, I’ve actually never tried this out… would any of you say our ears are cardiods or omnis?

I try to make every practice a “full” practice so my PA is set up in my living room and the band always plays through that with the speakers pointed at the band. Now my system is distinctly up-scale in quality and my bands are primarily acoustic, but I have found that we can develop our “sound” independent of the venue. The challenge is then to make the venue sound like my living room (impossible in many ways but straightforward in others).

Over the years I have used a stereo mike straight to DAT (Shure VP88 MS microphone - highly recommended), a stereo board mix, and multi-track recording off of my Tascam DM-24 or Yamaha 01V straight into N-tracks. The last option is my current favorite and gives us the most information about our playing. I can mix the band to represent the “best-case” and the band can listen to see if that is good enough. We can also give a CD to the sound guy and say, “This is what we should sound like” (of course most of the time I am the sound guy).

Most of the time the “problems” with the band have to do with the playing rather than the “sound” or to put it another way, if this is not the case you have to either start listening to your sound guy or fire him. A good stereo recording of your gigs can be useful but is very difficult to achieve in practice due to mic placement issues.

In any case I would suggest that getting a live take (no overdubs) and trying to get it to sound “right” will be extremely enlightening, even if it is not an “accurate” rendition of how things sounded in the room. A multi-track recording can help you identify if someone is playing too many notes, tromping on solos, singing off-pitch, whatever is musically important. The lengths to which you need to go to make it sound “right” will tell you about how much bleed there is between mics and all sorts of technically useful things (more reverb, less?, compression good, bad?).

In any case just agreeing on what sounds “good” can be a major step forward, the rest is execution.


Quote (guitars69 @ Mar. 06 2006,21:06)
...Use an Omni-directional microphone, and walk around the room...
... would any of you say our ears are cardiods or omnis?

Omnis, I'd venture. But 2 omnis, one near either side of your head. Not quite like the "Dummy Head" stereo miking system, not that isolated- not that close to either side of the Dummy Head (sorry, I love saying that!). But clearly, we have stereo hearing, so sounds get to one ear quicker than the other, depending on where they originate from. So I'm reasoning that two omnis'd get you that full-room sound on each account, like we tend to hear- but the result of them going to one source (your brain) would result in a pleasing stereo image. Like we get. If the band doesn't suck...! :p

Discuss... :)

This is all terrific information - I will try a few of the suggestions out and let you know how it goes.

Many thanks everybody for taking the time and effort to respond in such detail.

I use one Behringer metering microphone (ECM8000 or something like that, it’s omni) hanging from the ceiling (around at the height of players heads) where it sounds best in my head.

It gives very nice, natural sound in that particular application. Mono madness.

“…but the result of them going to one source (your brain) would result in a pleasing stereo image…”

Sorry about the confused entry- where the mic signals go to (“your brain”, in this example o’ mine) is not a source, it’s a destination! :p

And by the by dhj, if this were a forum discussion the proper technique for washing dishes, you might see some effort evident… but we are all, if you’ll account, pretty enthusiastic about mics and recording gear, about and using it! So it’s more like, “allright you guys, you can shut up now”! :laugh:

If you don’t need the multiple pattern capability of the SP B3, consider the SP B1, which is cheaper and actually considered the better of the two mikes – gets good reviews. It’s cardioid (directional), which is fine if you can find a good place to put it so it picks up everything. If something has to be behind it, put the loudest thing behind it (or else move it toward the loudest thing).

Another great thing to do, especially for band-check recordings (practice or gigs) is to record one channel from the room mike and one channel from the mixer. When you play it back on a stereo, simply adjust the balace knob until it sounds reasonable. First, you get a suprisingly nice image (though not one you’d ever publish). Second, you can easily kill one side or the other to better hear certain issues. Third, for gig recordings, you get a clue what the FOH guy is doing.


EDIT: By the way, some of the most surprisingly good tape recordings my little avant-garde basement-band ever did were from a boom-box I paid $8.00 for at a Salvation Army. those little condenser-type thingies in that box really gave a nice, compressed, pretty darn detailed sound. I still have 'em- they’re in my archives, on CD now.

Got to agree with that. I’ve got some pretty nice recordings of band rehersals done like that too. Sometimes “simple” just works.