Adventures In Audio

When recording vocals, should you always be the same distance from the mic?

Some comments on this video

Basspig: My take on it is that those incidental sounds really don't decrease at a greater rate than the sound of the instrument itself but that a masking effect of other sounds in the room such as the orchestra and ambient noise mask those sounds more effectively than the sounds of the instrument plus you don't notice them.

Zickcermacity: Common sense should dictate the distance between lips to mic, and how tightly that distance is maintained. However, I have no tolerance for mic 'swallowers' or those who allow their lips to touch the pop screen or outer shield. There's this really cool person typically at the other end of the cable attached to your microphone, called an ENGINEER. Or "sound guy". They can control, via input gain and fader, how much of 'you' gets through the desk, or DAW if it's a tracking session, and onto the PA speakers, or tape, or recording drive. So it's ok if you're more than 3-4" from the mic. My rule of thumb is minimum 2 inches, or 5cm. We can control your level from here! Plus, it's more sanitary that way.

Meg Watts: I'm guessing. intuition tells me transients from the flute keys that are dissipated with distance. I've noticed that clicky mouth noises are in a close-mic situation. My theory is that mics pick up transients in a way our ears don't. But I'm only guessing...sorry.

Transcript

When recording vocals, should you always be the same distance from the mic?

This applies whether you are recording your own vocals, or you're recording someone else. Let's say it's you - Should you be the same 'perfect' distance from the mic every time you record?

Yes. The answer is yes. Except when it's no.

There are three factors in play here...

1. The balance between the direct sound from your mouth and reflected sound from around the room.
2. How the microphone reacts to a close-up sound source
3. How the character of the human voice changes with distance

One thing before I continue. From the microphone's perspective, any sound source will be lower in level when it's further away. You have a gain control on your preamp or audio interface. Use it.

Back to my list. I'm going to start with item 3 here because I'm lacking in scientific evidence but I know this to be true from long experience with many singers and many different instruments.

The closer the microphone is to any sound source, the more it picks up the small sounds. Take the flute as a lovely example. If you ever hear a flute in real life it sounds beautiful, floating, the sound of an angel gliding on a warm summer breeze.

But get close to it, either with your ears or with your microphone, and you're going to hear an awful lot of clicking from the keys.

I honestly don't know why this is. I would have thought that the musical sound and the clicking would be in proportion whatever the distance. But it isn't so in real life. I can only assume that the click sounds some how dissipate over a longer distance. If you're an acoustics expert and you know why, I mean actually know why and you're not guessing, let us know in the comments.

I might have thought that the clicking is mostly a higher frequency than the notes, but the same happens with a piano, but at low frequencies. Place your microphone, or your ears, very close to the piano and you'll hear thumping from the pedal and to a lesser extent from the action. At a distance, this totally disappears.

Regarding vocals, it's the sloppy, slobbery mouth noises. I should know. My mouth is hard to control in this respect. Mouth noises rarely enhance a vocal. I said rarely, not never.

Anyway, that's enough for that. These noises are a nuisance but you'll have to balance out gain against pain. Often the close microphone position is worth it. There may be other distance factors here, but in my opinion they are less significant than the small sounds issue.

On to item 1 in my list - The balance between the direct sound from your mouth and reflected sound from around the room, which we can call ambience or reverberation.

This is a big issue, paradoxically a bigger issue in a smaller room.

In general, for any music other than classical, I prefer a drier sound because it's easier to work with later, and process any way I like. If the sound has baked-in reverb, there's no way to remove it other than fancy sound-mangling software that might be useful in an emergency but to my ears hardly ever sounds quite right.

In a larger room there will be reverberation, but because the distances are greater that reverberation will subjectively sound more detached from the direct sound and cause less of a problem.

In a small room however, you can't get a really dry sound unless you are very close to the mic, which as we shall see brings in issue 2, but I'll leave that for the moment.

So in a small room, your ideal mic distance will have something to do with the amount of ambience or reverberation you are prepared to tolerate. I'm tolerating some as I speak right now and if you're wearing headphones you'll be able to hear it.

So, regardless of anything else, if you want a dry sound then you'll need to be closer to the mic.

Item 2 - How the microphone reacts to a close-up sound source.

I could wish that microphone manufacturers - the people who actually know this stuff, would be more forthcoming on how their products react to distance.

We know, as part of every audio engineer's education, that directional microphones boost low frequencies when the sound source is close-to. But that's not the only thing that changes.

Imagine that you're having a conversation with a workmate at what you both consider to be a close-enough, but respectful distance. Imagine the sound of their voice.

Now imagine intimate small talk with your significant other. Perhaps you're lucky enough that they whisper into your ear.

It's a completely different sound texture, even allowing for the difference in speech quality, and the difference in level due to projection and distance.

It's the same with a microphone. For a rock music vocal, the sound of natural speech - even though it's singing - from a natural distance is good to aim for.

For a smoochy ballad, you'll want to get up close and personal with the microphone, simply because it sounds better for that style of music.

So yes, it is useful to adapt the microphone distance to what you're trying to achieve.

But for your voice, for your microphone, in your studio, there will be a kind of 'average distance' that will work well for most purposes, balancing out the issues I've talked about. Most of the time you'll use that. Perhaps nearly all of the time. But sometimes, you might prefer the sound from further away, accepting a little more ambience. Sometimes you'll want that close-up sound. Sometimes, you might want to vary the distance in different parts of the song.

It's all part of the fun.

Comments on this video

You can comment on this video at YouTube

@mannyknowles:  I'm going with psychoacoustics, binaural discrimination, streaming, and even temporal masking. People have an interesting ability to disregard unwanted sound. Get up close to something so you can pay attention to it and, well, you're going to suddenly hear the stuff you would normally, effortlessly ignore. Get further away and you can go back to discriminating. It probably helps that mechanical sounds from the instrument tend to be short transients, and comparatively low-level, whereas the musical component has the advantage in those areas, in addition to being more desirable -- bringing me right back to discrimination.

@edmundleung2098:  Material compression. All diaphragms have a mass greater then air whether it is your ears or the mic. And also in any given type of diaphragms, they needs a mechanism that returns the diaphragms back unto neutral position. With any type if compression, the nuance of any type if sound are increased. The closer the diaphragm to the sound source, the more compression it experiences.
For a thought experiment, a mic made of laser that can detect the movement of molecules without the use of a diaphragm might just eliminate this effect .

@vectragt2310:  What about doubling the vocals/signal with a second microphone beside and a bit further away for getting a bigger sound?
Is that recommended or are there any out of phase issues? It shouldn´t I guess!?

@AudioMasterclass replies to @vectragt2310: I never like to say 'don't do that', so I'd say try it but don't expect too much. If the mics are very close, it won't make much difference. If they are a short distance apart then you'll get phase cancellation. If the second mic is further away however you'll pick up room sound, and it may be good. Try pointing the room mic away from the singer so that you get more room and less direct sound. Then mix to taste. DM

@vectragt2310 replies to @vectragt2310: @@AudioMasterclass
Thanks a lot!
I´ll try next time. I thought about a second mic more "out of focus" ... 45° left or right in something like 0,5 - 1 m distance from the main to also catch a bit more of the room.
Then just use this in the background (30-50% of the main voc volume) to fill the vocals.
And yes - in the end it´s the taste 🙂
Great channel btw.
Listening quite often on many topics.
Greetings from Germany.

@basspig:  My take on it is that those incidental sounds really don't decrease at a greater rate than the sound of the instrument itself but that a masking effect of other sounds in the room such as the orchestra and ambient noise mask those sounds more effectively than the sounds of the instrument plus you don't notice them.

@Zickcermacity:  Common sense should dictate the distance between lips to mic, and how tightly that distance is maintained.

However, I have no tolerance for mic 'swallowers' or those who allow their lips to touch the pop screen or outer shield.

There's this really cool person typically at the other end of the cable attached to your microphone, called an ENGINEER. Or "sound guy".

They can control, via input gain and fader, how much of 'you' gets through the desk, or DAW if it's a tracking session, and onto the PA speakers, or tape, or recording drive.

So it's ok if you're more than 3-4" from the mic. My rule of thumb is minimum 2 inches, or 5cm. We can control your level from here! Plus, it's more sanitary that way.

@LosantoBeats:  My wild guess: the fundamental tone of the flute is very strong and concentrated as opposed to the clicking of the keys that dont have a specific/strong tone so it easily gets dampened over distance. Also the tone of flute might be closer to the vocal range which is where the ear is the most sensitive. 🤷🏽‍♂️ waiting for the scientists to come in with an actual answer lol

@AudioMasterclass replies to @LosantoBeats: Where are those scientists when you need them? DM

@megwatts1903:  I'm guessing. intuition tells me transients from the flute keys that are dissipated with distance. I've noticed that clicky mouth noises are in a close-mic situation. My theory is that mics pick up transients in a way our ears don't. But I'm only guessing...sorry.

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Saturday December 17, 2022

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David Mellor

David Mellor

David Mellor is CEO and Course Director of Audio Masterclass. David has designed courses in audio education and training since 1986 and is the publisher and principal writer of Adventures In Audio.

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