Flip Flops in the Windy City: Why Owning a Microphone is Awesome

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If it isn’t obvious from the title, I will spend this post talking about why it’s totally awesome owning a microphone.

The Mircophone

I am the proud owner of a Rode NT1-A.  After an exhaustive weekend reading reviews of this microphone before I bought it, the entire internet seemed to agree that the NT1-A is the best bang for its buck out there.

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It is perfect for studio settings, and only has 5db output.  This means that the sound the microphone actually makes when it is on is negligible, ensuring quality recording (when used correctly).

Recording the Human Element

We spend an unbelievable amount of time attempting to emulate the sound real instruments make in a real space.  The phrase “easier said than done” does not even come close here.  Basically we try to get as close as we can to the real thing; so why not DO the real thing?  This is where a microphone comes in handy.  There are various degrees with which one can use real audio to enhance a piece of music.


Sweetening is a term used to describe the process of recording one or a few tracks of audio, and layering them on top of the electronic mockup.  For example, if you can’t record an entire string ensemble, one might sweeten the mockup by recording the first violins since they are often the most salient part of that orchestration.  Take this track as a personal example.  I recorded the strummed acoustic guitar throughout the whole piece, and male backup vocals at the end.  While everything else (even the fiddles and penny whistle) are electronically produced, the fact that they are layered on top of organic material makes them more human sounding.  This track features recorded male vocals at 2:09, and it gives the rest of the track a very human element.

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There is absolutely no way to effectively electronically mimic the human voice.  We’ve all heard automated answering services, computer programs that will read any text out loud, even devices that allow people like Steven Hawking to communicate.  One can immediately tell it’s fake, and that is what we’re trying to avoid.  (Obviously successfully mimicking the human voice isn’t the primary function of these devices, but they illustrate my point).  So I try to record the real thing whenever possible.  Take this track for example.  Pay attention to the first half, where I doubt you’ll have any trouble picking out the fake choir.  At 0:45, you can hear our real female vocalist sing, and the difference is neither subtle nor surprising.

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The Whole Damn Thing

Nothing but nothing can compare to effectively recording live musicians.  Part of it is the physics of the sound waves interacting with each other in a real acoustic environment, part of it is the performance technique that is impossible to duplicate with full fidelity.  Our ears are very sensitive, and whether we realize it or not, very discerning.  The only thing electronically mocked up in this track is the organ.  And because there is so much real audio going on, we don’t even notice.  I hope you enjoy the music!

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Tip of the Iceberg

Recording audio for strictly “musical sounding” purposes barely scratches the surface of what one can use a microphone for.  Recording abstract audio and digitally manipulating it is an entirely different and awesome world, filled with literally limitless possibilities.  For this, I suggest you check out Chris Beckstrom’s music.