Let’s face it… we’ve all done it, probably often. In the heat of battle when a new input has suddenly been brought before us, we tell our A2 to just “stick a ’57 on it and it’ll be fine.” 

I know I have done this much more than once. The Shure SM57 is arguably the most prolific mic ever produced and not an engineer alive hasn’t used one a million times. 

I would estimate that at least three quarters of the snare drums ever miced in the world, at any time, were miced with a ’57.  The same goes for guitar cabinets.  It’s a great overall mic and the fact that it’s design hasn’t changed much at all since it’s inception proves how viable it is. 

Now, I fancy myself somewhat of a mic connoiseur. 

Every few weeks a new box of mics show up either for my review or purchase and I tend to keep anything I review that’s decent so I’ve built up a pretty good complement.

It may seem odd that I don’t actually own any ’57s but that’s simply because I can’t go near a venue of any size that doesn’t already have a bunch of ’em at the ready.  I do plan on geting a pair or three just so I know that they haven’t been abused and are operating at their top specs. 

sm57 c 022613

Our Hero

When I get a new mic I spend as much time as possible getting to know it and I try it out on as many things as I can.

I try to match my mics with the source they’re picking up to maximise the sonic potential of the signal.  To that end I have spent a lot of time experimenting with various combinations of tried and true pairings as well as some rather unorthodox ones. 

Some things are pretty much a given, like an LDC (A/T 40xx series) on a guitar amp or an SDC (AKG 451) on cymbals and such. 

To me it’s great fun to try things out and hear the results. Some combos make a huge difference sonically, while others are very subtle.  The bottom line is that there’s a maximum sonic potential for each combo of instrument and mic and I always try to find it.

So, I recently came across the very situation described above where my mic box had already been sent offstage or otherwise out of easy reach, and I suddenly had to mic up a trumpet player. 

Now it might not seem so out of place to mic a trumpet with a ’57 since that’s done all the time but it got me thinking… can I mic EVERYTHING with a ’57? 

Does my expensive collection of boutique mics amount to nothing more than my ego and an obsession akin to a woman and shoes?

sm57 022613

Our hero in action.

Having done many times exactly what I stated above by telling a stagehand or A2 to just put a ’57 on something unexpected has proven to me that a ’57 will work in every situation, every time. 

In reality, would an audience at a live show know the difference if I miced the stage with all ’57s or with a mixture of everything like we all typically use? 

I know a lot of artists that are endorsed by Shure and as such they pretty much have to use all Shure mics.  To my ears almost all Shure mics sound a LOT like ’57s anyway so it seems very likely that a stage with all ’57s on it would be just fine.

When it comes to my job as an engineer I feel I have two responsibilities; and those are to satisfy my client and their audience whether it’s live or in the studio. 

To some it may be believed that in the studio, with the magnifying glass on everything, the choice of mic is far more critical but these days I tend to think it’s the same in the live world, especially with high-end line arrays getting us ever so much closer to a more accurate soundscape. 

In my travels both live and in the studio I have adopted techniques for certain mics that give me that warm and fuzzy feeling, and I rely on those techniques to get things moving quickly. 

But if I were blindfolded would I even be able to tell the difference between a ’57 and practically anything else? 

In the end, after going through the preamps, summing buses, amps and speakers, how much of that initial mic choice can be heard by the audience and how much would they care anyway? 

You might also be interested in:

Microphone Basics Part 2

Houses of the Holy: Mic Placement