Use your eyes to start mic placement, but use your ears to finish the process
by Jon Chappell
When listening to a source before miking it, a lot of people will stand comfortable “social” distance—say four to six feet—in front of the performer and listen carefully before putting a microphone two feet away (and often at a vertical position different from where they were standing). If you really want to find the best mic position, make sure you listen to the source from various distances, including the exact location (however intimate) you plan to place the mic.
First listen with both ears, the way nature intended, and then plug one ear and face your active ear toward the source at various axes. If you need both hands to make adjustments while listening (or to pick yourself up off the floor), then grab a set of cans and cover just one ear as you walk around, sit, kneel, and lie (if necessary). You might not have the complete isolation in one ear that sticking your finger would provide, but you look a lot less silly. And be sure to tuck the headphone cord into your pocket so as not to trip on it (please don’t ask why I always remember to offer this last bit of advice).
Jon Chappell is a guitarist and the Senior Editor of Harmony Central. He has contributed numerous musical pieces to film and TV, including Northern Exposure, Walker, Texas Ranger, All My Children, and the feature film Bleeding Hearts, directed by actor-dancer Gregory Hines. He is the author of The Recording Guitarist: A Guide for Home and Studio (Hal Leonard), Essential Scales & Modes (Backbeat Books), and Build Your Own PC Recording Studio (McGraw-Hill), and has written six books in the popular For Dummies series (Wiley Publishing).