Acoustic Guitar Recording in Pop Music
Today I was at a recording studio in the valley doing some acoustic guitar recordings and the engineer and I were messing about with the usual questions of what Mic/s to use, what distance we should have the mics at, what preamp to use, and so forth…. Then suddently something struck me about the whole ‘purpose’ of this session… I realized that I was missing the bigger picture here and was way too focussed on the ‘technical’ aspects of capturing the best ‘take’ so to speak with absolute precision and being true to the instrument as well as the ‘gear’. I decided to ask myself the ‘purpose’ of this session itself and the message of the song as well as the vision behind the singer’s performance on this.. I realized that at the end of the day, as much as I needed to follow all the technical aspects of getting a ‘proper, acoustically correct’ recording done with all the technical aspects right, no matter what, it was quite insignificant in terms of the actual composition itself and the relevance of this recording, as it was a simple pop song, more focussed on ‘vocal’ and the ‘beat’. I asked the engineer if we could actually stick a lesser quality microphone infront that may give more a ‘tone’ or a ‘lo-fi’ type sound rather than a $4K condenser microphone… and we just did exactly that. We threw in a very mediocre Senheiser in there and spent a little more time on the ‘delivery’ itself.
I listened to what we tracked and to me, it had so much ‘character’…and better still, it sat so well in the ‘mix’ amongst the other instrumentation for the song. This revelation took me back to reading about Mr. Bruce Swedien’s recording of Michael Jackson’s all time top seller album ‘Thriller’. Bruce Swedien had mentioned that he used a Shure SM7 microphone to lessen the impact of Michael’s pops/plosives on expensive condensers and their capsules due to his vocal projection and plosives. A new SM7 today is around $350 from Guitar Center (second hand can be found as cheap as $200 sometimes on Ebay!!). So, believe it or not, the late King of Pop having his vocals recorded through a $200 microphone on the Thriller album pretty much summs it up. Something we producers/engineers and musicians should try to live by I truly believe, is the famous quote by U2 producer Daniel Lanois “Remember, energy and ideas override technology”…..