I’m sure there are a handful of you sitting there shaking your head at the suggestion that you should ever use two microphones to record a single voice, but there have to be a handful of others nodding in agreement. After all – if you can get a better guitar tone out of two microphones balanced with each other, why couldn’t the same be done with vocals?
There are some situations where two microphones are a necessity – such as when you’re trying to track in a truly stereo fashion. There are other times where the versatility of two microphones can hugely benefit your workflow. Then there are the other times where using two microphones is a purely artistic decision.
Regardless of the situation you find yourself in, there are some key considerations to keep in mind as you explore your two-microphone vocal recording options.
Decide on Mic Placement
Is the goal of your two-microphone strategy to have two equally usable solo mics or are you trying to get something different out of the pairing?
Starting with this question has huge implications as to how you’ll actually set your mics up for tracking. If you do want the two mics to be virtually exchangeable, keep their capsules close together while keeping them in phase as much as possible so that the vocal hits them at the same time. Many engineers will flip one mic upside down and position them grille-to-grille nearly touching. Taking this approach minimizes any differences between the mics that might result from placement.
A second, common approach to mic placement involves a close mic to capture the direct vocal source and a far/room mic to pick up more of the ambience around the voice. If you’ve got an especially unique sounding room, this approach can be better than the results any reverb plugin can get you. If you want to experiment with this technique, try out some different polar patterns. For example, an omnidirectional polar pattern will pick up in all directions evenly, while a cardioid or hypercardioid pattern is going to be much more focused on the vocalist and less so on what’s behind the mic.
Blending Two Vocal Mics
Recording is one thing, but getting those two tracks to fit nicely in a mix is another challenge entirely. For some engineers, the simple solution is to find the right blend of the two mics from the start and print those down to a single track before editing or mixing. This approach can also work nicely for guitars recorded in a similar manner, but you do lose some flexibility.
Rather than printing the two mics down to a single track, I recommend routing them to a shared vocal aux track. On this aux track, I’ll do as much processing as I can rather than working the two recordings separately. Compression is especially powerful at an aux level – the compression both tames peaks from both tracks and glues them together sonically.
At a certain point, this aux track becomes all you’ll need as you mix – you won’t even notice that you’ve got two tracks feeding into it. As you go on mixing, it just becomes one vocal in the context of an entire mix.
If your two mics ultimately end up becoming one in the mix, why should you even bother tracking with two microphones in the first place?
In an ideal scenario, you’d be completely right – but we’re not always faced with ideal scenarios.
In a situation where you have an amazing studio with a singer that you’ve taken the time to try out dozens of mics and preamps on and have narrowed in on their perfect signal chain, you will rarely need more than that one mic to get the sound you’re after. But recording setups aren’t perfect. Mic lockers aren’t unlimited. Sometimes we just have to work with what we’ve got.
So when you’re looking for a unique, full sound for your vocal, why not try something out that harmonically reinforces a voice naturally? The ability to combine different microphones expands your options and gives you a fresh new perspective to work with in the studio.
Go ahead and try it out – the worst that can happen is you’ll mute one mic in favor of the other!
Vocals Are More Than Mic Technique
If you want to get chart-topping vocals, it’s about more than the gear you use or the techniques you record with. It’s not just the editing and mix that get your music recognized. It’s as much about the production of those vocals as anything else.
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