While interviewing Andrija Tokic for this issue of Tape Op he told me, "Mics are nothing like ears. It's about learning how to get what you like out of a sound." I couldn't agree more. I'm constantly reminding students at schools I visit, as well as attendees of my workshops, that simply placing a mic near a source is not enough. Even if it's a great mic, one recommended by a professional for this very same source and it's running into a high-end mic preamp, it still might be the worst sound ever. Everything on a recording should be tailored by the opinion, taste, and skills of the recording engineer.
Whether one is placing a stereo pair of mics in a room to capture an orchestra, putting a dynamic mic in front of a guitar amp, or setting up a tube mic in front of a vocalist, all these same parameters matter:
Where do we put the mic? How close? What part of the instrument or performer are we mic'ing?
Is this the correct mic to get the sound we need? Does it pick up too much other information?
Does the mic need to be baffled from another source or room sound in any way?
Am I hearing what I expect and want out of this mic?
How does this resulting recording work with other elements in the final track if it's being combined with other sources? Is the sound too small? Too big? Too bright? Too dark?
Do I need to use EQ to remove any part of the sound while tracking to get what I need?
Is it plugged into a mic preamp that works well for the source? It is distorting? Is it dull? Is it sizzly? I've seen some mics that sound terrible on certain preamps. Is this one of these situations?
Is the resulting sound too dynamic? Does it need limiting or compression to work musically?
But back to what Andrija said, "Mics are nothing like ears." We need to select what the mic is really "hearing," and make sure it is part of the intended goal of a recording. No matter how amazing, expensive, or shiny, no microphone will ever take the place of an attentive recording engineer with taste and goals who is putting the mic to use properly.
Don't trust your microphones. Trust yourself.