The choice of what mic to use on what instrument is a very personal one and a subject of much debate. I’ve found that of course in many cases you can use a Shure SM57 on everything (see my previous blogs for that one) and it’ll work. It may not be the best choice but sometimes in the heat of battle during audio combat you go with what’s easy and you know will work. These days few shows are like that and I get the luxury of being able to bring my own mics to every show and I usually have the time to get things sorted before the doors open.
I’ve searched high and low for the perfect mic for each instrument or vocalist and I’m always on the hunt for a new mic to try out. With Cee Lo my MON engineer and I tried just about every wireless mic on the planet to find one that suited all our needs. We had to have a neutral-sounding mic to allow all the nuances of Cee Lo’s soulful voice to be heard. We also needed good (actually exceptional) gain-before-feedback since Cee Lo likes his monitors LOUD. He comes from a hip-hop background and thus he has the habit of cupping the mic which as we all know is less than ideal for fidelity and GBF. We tried all the variations of Shure wireless mics and caps as well as all the Sennheiser stuff. We tried Lectrosonics and Line 6 as well. We finally struck the ideal combination when we tried the Heil RC35 cap for the Shure system. The design of this cap is exemplary in that it still sounds good when a singer cups it and the GBF is extraordinary. My MON guy and I were shocked when we first rang out the rig with this cap and realized how high we could go with it. It truly revolutionized the mix we’re able to provide Cee Lo with on a nightly basis.
For drums I’ve found my favorites are mostly from Sennheiser’s Evolution series of mics. I’m using them on most parts of the kit except for overheads. In the kick I have the e-901. On the outside I use the e-602. Snare top gets the e-905 and the bottom gets the Heil Handi mic. Toms get e-604s (top AND bottom if possible… more on this later) but are likely soon getting an upgrade to the e-904s. Hi-hat and ride get e-614s. On overheads I’m trying out the Lewitt Audio 340 LCTs and so far I’m very happy with them. I like to get about 50-60% of my drum sound from the overheads so they have to be accurate and pleasing to the ear. I use them in an X-Y configuration directly above the drummer’s head to get a good representation of the kit and minimize the phase issues of spaced mics. I figure if the drummer is a good one and balances themselves properly than if I approximate the position of their ears with the mics it should sound right… and it usually does.
On guitar I use the Heil PR31 which is absolutely the best guitar amp mic I’ve ever heard. It has an uncanny ability to bring out all the detail and high end of a guitar amp on 11 without sounding harsh and brittle, which I’ve heard no other mic do so well. On occasion I will still use a Sennheiser e-609 on guitar amps along with the Heil or by itself just for another sonic option… you can never have too many. I also used to use the e-609 on the bass amp but I no longer use a mic in addition to the bass DI. I’ve found that it’s not worth the hassle of dealing with polarity and phase and I like the cleaner and more direct sound of the DI. This is only true for the time being with Cee Lo’s band, it’s very likely that I may end up using a mic by itself or in conjunction with a DI with a future project.
The current incarnation of Cee Lo’s band has two players playing horns, sax and trumpet. For the sax I’ve been using the Heil PR22 which is a great all-around mic I use on all kinds of things. On trumpet I’ve been trying the Lewitt Audio MTP 440 and I’ve found it to be a very capable and good-sounding mic.
For background vocals I’m now using the Lewitt Audio MTP 340 but I still use Sennheiser e-935s and also the Heil PR22 quite often. It depends on the singer so I’ll try ‘em out on each mic and select what sounds best with their voice.
Getting back to the top and bottom mics on toms… I’ve found over the years that it’s much easier to get that big, fat tom sound with less EQ using mics on both sides of the drum. To facilitate this as easily as possible I made up custom, 2-into-1 “Y” mic cables with one side polarity reversed. That way I’m only using up one mic pre and input but I still get both mics rockin’. Try it, it sounds awesome!
The important thing to remember with mics, DIs and anything else when you’re questioning its’ audio quality is that it is all cumulative. Anything can and probably will sound good when soloed and nothing else is playing. The quality issue comes into play when everything else is also turned on and you have things fighting for their own place in the frequency spectrum. With 20 or so live mics and direct instruments all firing at the same time that’s when the issue of tone and audio quality comes into play and you can really analyze things. Getting each input to sound ‘right’ with all the others is the real art of mixing and that’s why I spend so much time trying to match an instrument with the one mic that will really bring out its’ character and nuances. That’s why I don’t soundcheck the usual way which is to start with the kick and work my way through the inputs. Once we’ve line-checked and I know I have signal coming in to all the right places I simply have the band start playing. Preferably a “loud”, up-tempo tune to really get the mic pres going. I then start to balance things out and if all goes as it should everything falls into place rather quickly and we’re rockin’!