Sound engineers are careful when setting up microphones on live violin performances. These stringed instruments are quite sensitive, and more often than not, the microphone has the difficult job of capturing the true exquisite sound of the violin. Incorrect placement of the mic would not give justice to the violinist’s skills as it would sometimes sound too high-pitched or too box-like hollow.
There are no perfect ways to mic a violin with a live audience. It would always go down to match the kind of microphone to the appropriate venue and the violinist’s personality. That being said, here’s an expert’s guide on rigging up your live performances.
Know the Violin Sound
When miking up a violin setup, you must get to know first the sound of a violin. Understanding it would make capturing the sound easier. A violin sound is very similar to when one is trying to pick up the D’s to the T’s from a spoken word, which means the very first part of the sound is essential. The moment the bow touches the strings up to the time the bow is lifted from the string must be captured. The whole process involved ADSR: attack, decay, sustain, and release.
The violin sound has different characteristics which can all be heard on a live performance. It can be bright and lively but can also be dark and deep. If unchecked, it can sound piercing as well as boxy. The design of the violin dictates how it amplifies the sound or how the sound resonates. The higher frequencies would come from the outer shell, and the inner hollow body with the sound holes is responsible for the lower basic frequencies.
Remember these numbers to capture the true sound of the violin accurately:
- Overall Frequency Range: 196 Hz – 17,000 Hz
- Harmonics frequency range: 392 Hz – 17,000 Hz
- Fundamentals frequency range: 196 Hz – 3,520 Hz (G3-A7)
Violin Live Environment Mic Set Up
When recording a string instrument, whether for live performances or in a studio setup, positioning the microphone correctly will bring out the best results. However, other things to consider when miking up for special events include indoor concerts, film scoring, playing with a group or playing with louder and brighter musical instrument players, open-air concerts, and the like. The regular set up for violin sound recording, such as the ‘normal classical recording’ of an orchestra, cannot be applied to the other mentioned special live events.
Amplifying the violin sound would mean isolating it from other sounds and letting it shine brighter amidst other musicians playing their instruments. Most often, people use the close-miking technique to capture the sound. The downside to this method is that it can capture the unnatural sound of the violin, or worse, it would be overpowered by other instruments, and no one can hear the distinctive sound of this string instrument. The ultimate choice of recording method would highly depend on the location, the type of microphone, and the musician.
Types of Mic For Live Violin Miking: Acoustic Microphone Vs. Pick Up Microphone
Here are two ways you can amplify your violin sound: one is through using an acoustic microphone, and the other is via pick up method.
Nothing can beat using this microphone in capturing the natural sound of the instrument. The only problem is that it can easily capture other sounds too, such as the unwanted background noise. Microphone bleeds which is one of the main problems when recording during a live environment. Using a boom mic arm and placing the mic directly at the source would somehow prevent the microphone from letting ambient noise be included in the recording. Getting the right microphone with the appropriate sound pattern would do the trick. This method is quite perfect when recording in a studio, although it can also be used in a live environment but with less than ideal results.
Pick Up Mic
The other method is by using a microphone that can be attached to the violin itself. It is a small mic very similar to a lapel microphone, which is inserted in a hole and placed near the bridge area so it can directly capture the sound the moment the bow touches the string. However, if the violinist is not careful, it can easily generate feedback and capture ambient noise.
The good thing these days is that the microphone technology has developed new versions of these basic microphones in which they can reduce unwanted noise and isolate the violin sound to easily record it. They can make the sound of the violin brighter even when other instruments are being played simultaneously. The downside is that it does not capture the natural sound of the violin. However, if that is not an issue, then this is the best possible option in recording during live performances.
Close Mic Recording
It is a technique wherein the microphone is placed near the source of the sound that is needed to be recorded. A general rule most sound engineers follow is to position it 3 to 4 feet away from the source to get a clearer sound and avoid the consequences of proximity effect along with vibrations or electrical interference. It is best to use a microphone with the flattest frequency response curve as it will provide better results. It is also wise not to include any preamps and converters to make it sound better. There would be squeaking as the bow glide back and forth, and the less extra effect you placed on it, the better it would be for the recording.
Recording parameters vary depending on the location or the room size where the live performance will take place. It is recommended that all the microphone effects are down to zero from the beginning to avoid possible sound conflicts later on. It would be best to do some trial runs before the live recording to make adjustments early on, but if unable to do so, just record the sound as naturally as possible and lay the different effects afterward.
This is one of the most basic ways of recording a violinist. Overhead miking would mean placing the microphone above the instrument at 1.5 to 3 feet and directly aimed at the f-holes. For classical recording, the violin needs to be a little farther away to get the full sound, unlike when playing bluegrass, country, or folk where the mic should be nearer to capture the bowing rhythms.
Most experienced violinists would recommend placing the microphone to a position that you are comfortable with that will not cause any hindrance to the performance while getting the best possible sound. Putting it on top of the chin-rest just above the bow/string area is a good option. This is to prevent the violinist from getting distracted as it is away from the line of sight when playing the instrument. When the microphone is placed near the bridge, the sound gets too much high frequency, and when it is near the f-hole, the frequencies 250 to 300 Hz usually gets a boost. The best option to get the high tonal qualities of the violin is halfway up the fingerboard.
Capturing the sound of the violin is indeed a challenging task, but with the right tools and know-how, it can be done. If budget is not a problem, get the best option that technology has to offer and explore with different types of microphones. However, if the budget is tight, stick to the basic needs and choose a low-cost microphone setup that will give you professional studio type results. Take time to browse over several options before choosing what to buy.