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Sound Advice

Less Is More In Live Mic Selection

Bernd Neubauer
Professional Sound caught up with Bernd Neubauer at Cherry Beach Sound in Toronto during an event hosted by beyerdynamic and Techni+Contact Canada. In addition to his role as an application engineer for beyerdynamic, Neubauer has worked as a live sound engineer, with particular emphasis on miking drums, for Phil Collins and Genesis, Nickelback, Bruce Springsteen, The Eagles, Rhianna, Enrique Iglesias, and more.

PS: In Which venues or situations do you find it the most difficult to get proper sound when you’re miking your sources?

BN: The most difficult are small clubs. If you have huge bands with many people in a small space, it is a little bit tricky to find good positions because you would like to pick up only the sound from a specific instrument and not the rest of the stage. So sometimes, it is not possible to use two condenser microphones for the lead vocal singers. If the drum set is directly behind him or her and you have only two metres [separating the drummer and singer], you’re picking up a lot of noise with two condensers, so sometimes it’s better to select different microphones for the clubs for the different situations.

PS: What are you selecting in a situation like that?

BN: There is no one answer. You have to try and figure out what is the best for the situation. You can try and select the best microphone for that situation for today in this venue, but tomorrow, it could be totally different because you have two metres more or the PA system is more out front. You have to try things to find the best solution. Normally, if the band is on tour, the set-up stays the same all the time but the sound engineers know, for example, if we have a small stage, we have to move from cardioid to hyper cardioid so that you’re not picking up so much from the side fills, depending on the situation.

PS: When you don’t have an unlimited budget, what are the main microphones that every engineer should have?

BN: For the overheads, a pair of good condensers will be a good solution. Sometimes less is better than a lot. That is what I tell all the drummers, for example, if they would like to start buying a drum microphone kit. Maybe it is better to start with a smaller but high-quality package, like a kick, snare, and two overheads, as they would spend the same money on a kit of nine microphones. It is quality over quantity. You can pick up a drum set very well with good overheads.

With Iron Maiden’s [drummer] Nicko McBrain, for example, the engineer always starts with the overheads and then he mixes only two overheads for the toms. There is a high-hat microphone but this is only for the in-ear system, so he is picking up the high-hat with the overheads.

It also depends on the style. For jazz, you normally start from the top and work to the bottom – not like a rock and roll kit, where it is bass drum, snare, high-hat, and all the rest around it.

PS: Which instruments do you find difficult to mic?

BN: It is difficult to pick up guitar amps because you would like to have some special sounds there and they are often switching from A to Z, sound wise. There, [I’d use] a hypercardioid ribbon microphone, and the advantage is that you have a very smooth sound all the time. It doesn’t matter how loud or how much level comes out of the guitar amp.

PS: What are common things that are often overlooked but that make a big difference?

BN: If you have different bands on a stage, like at a festival, for example, we make sure that all the stands and all the angles are correct [for each artist]. We put tape on the wall behind the monitor desk and make some notes on it so that we know what we are doing for each microphone and stand. These are small things, no big secrets, which you have to take care of all the time.

Also, this happens often that there are many microphones on stage but you don’t need them. “Less is more” is my personal motto. We would like to try to use as few microphones as possible because we would like to use the microphones only to pick up the instrument and bring it to the front of house desk. That is the reason why sometimes, for example, if you use a tom microphone that has a good general separation with some microphones that are not picking up all the noise from the rest, I would like to transport only tom one or tom two to the mixing desk and not the rest of the drum set over the drum one line or drum two line. So less is more on stage – better quality microphones, but fewer of them.

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