Friday, March 2, 2012

Guest: Karl Maciag - Mics

Here we have what I am hoping will be a regular Friday thing here on SNR.  I met Karl Maciag mixing for a big worship act a few years ago.  We wound up working together quite a bit, usually with him at FOH and me at monitor world.  He's everything you'd expect a sound guy to be, quirky, knowledgeable, and it's rumored that on certain moonlight nights he can be found shredding a la Tony Hawk in the neighbor's empty pool.  He's also a guitarist which adds to his understanding of how things happen on stage and in the studio.  So sit up! Pay attention!  Even salty old dogs like me can learn a thing or two from this post.  -The Mister

So let’s see, where to start…I’m honored that Jon thinks highly enough of the way I handle productions, and specifically how I mix and control sound to ask me to contribute to his blog. I very much like the spirit of the whole thing because the goal is to collaborate, and share ideas, with the hopes that we all learn, and apply what we learn to make the music we love so much more enjoyable for other people to listen to.

I firmly believe that if you are pursuing a career, or even a hobby, it is valuable to have a mentor, and to be a mentor. It’s important to learn, and share what you have learned on a continual basis. Over the past couple years, I’ve taken big step back from mixing audio for different reasons, and I feel like I’ve just been sitting on knowledge and experience. I’m thankful for the opportunity to have an outlet like this to share ideas. If you have questions, please ask, you can leave a comment, or get at me through twitter or something (@KarlMaciag)

After some discussion with Jon, I’m going to start at the beginning of capturing sounds, and follow the audio through the signal chain. After that, I’ll probably focus in on more intense topics, like gain structure, and system EQ. The experience that I draw from comes from formal training in a studio environment, slugging it out in the local clubs, touring on a national level, and picking the brains of those that have been doing this much longer than I have, and watching them do it. I humbly submit
what I’ve learned for your consideration…

So I’m assuming we are reading this for sound reinforcement, which is a term to consider literally. I’ll not turn this into text book reading, but basically we are going to take a sound and make it louder, so that more people can hear it than if it was not amplified. We need a microphone to make this sound electrical signal so that we can amplify it. Right away before I plug anything in, I think about what it is I am amplifying, and what is around it that can keep me from doing that effectively. Microphone polar patterns are easily overlooked. Know the difference between cardioid, and hyper-cardioid. Sometimes you might want a omni directional mic, depending on the application. If you’re micing a guitar cabinet that is right next to a really loud drummer, consider a tighter pattern to avoid drum leakage. Understand how you need to position wedges if you’re using a SM58, and what you need to change if you switch to a Beta 58. Polar patterns are important. None are better than the other, they all have their place.

I think very much about the brands and types of microphones I use, and what I use them for. A lot of this is personal taste. I prefer a very natural sound to all of my mics. I do not like mics that have a hyped high frequency response. I prefer to not use EQ on my inputs at the console. I believe that if you have a good source, and the right microphone on it, you don’t need EQ. (I know I know, EQ is necessary to fix problems, more on that at a later time…) When I line check a band, I very often stop to either change the placement of the microphone, or change the microphone all together. Be intentional about how you place your microphones. For instance, I’m very picky about snare drum micing. I prefer a cardioid pattern dynamic microphone. I try to place the mic so that it is almost level with the head of the drum, no more than say a 20 degree angle on the mic. I don’t point the mic at the rim of the snare drum. I point it at the center of the drum. I don’t want to capture the sound of the head vibrating at the rim of the drum, I want to capture the sound of the stick hitting the drum. There is a big difference. I also try to position the mic in a way, so that the hi hats are in the off axis region of the microphone. This will naturally isolate the hi hat from the snare. If you have a drummer that plays a lot
of side stick, and rim shots, put another mic up to capture the sound of the stick hitting the rim. Remember, we are capturing specific sounds. Point the mic at the source of the sound.

I’m also picky about guitar cabinets. This has much to do with what sound you are going for. I’ve had a couple techniques I’ve used over the years with guitars. First, understand the different sounds that you will get from the speaker cones. The higher frequencies are on the center of the cone, and the lower frequencies increase as you move towards the outside of the driver. My rule of thumb is to start by having my mic pointed between the center of the cone, and the outside edge. If it’s too dark sounding, move it slightly to the center. If it’s too bright, move it to the outside. I make these placement moves before I engage an equalizer, and I usually end up leaving the console EQ flat for the guitars. One trick I used for a long time was two mics on the guitar cabinet, not for stereo effects, but for tone blending. I would put one mic dead center of the cone, and the other just about to the complete outside of the cone. I typically would mic the same speaker with this technique. I would bring up both channels flat, and then just by adjusting the faders, adjust the tone of the guitar. It really can make a distorted guitar sound huge in the mix.

Vocals are of course the star of the show. Much debate goes into which vocal mic is best. There is no right answer. Trial and error is the way to go trying mics if you work with certain singers consistently. The most expensive mic is not always the best. Also consider what is on stage around them. You might not want that sexy condenser mic for the singer that fronts the really loud thrash band (I know James Hetfield uses a condenser, but consider the size of the stage he’s on). Save that one for the singer of the jazz quartet. You don’t want a mic with a super-card pattern if they have a hard time singing right on the mic. Look at the frequency responses of the microphones before you try them. Have a singer that has heavy “s” sounds or sibilant sounds? Don’t use the mic with with a peak around 2Khz. Listen to what you get flat from the mic, and make choices on changing mics from what you’re missing, or what you need added.

So before you grab your mic kit, and put up your traditional mics, ask yourself why you’re using that mic, and if you should try something else. You might be surprised how much better your sources sound. If you come across an instrument you haven’t seen before, ask the musician where the sound comes from. Have them play it acoustically, so you can hear what it should sound like. Don’t freak out, put a mic in the right place, and let it rip. Have fun, and stay classy.

Karl also writes for his own blog over at Karl's Empty Space.


  1. WOW Karl was paying attention way back then LOL

  2. it's true. that glazed over look meant i was listening!

  3. It's all about the "integrity"


You're the Scotty to our Kirk