I’m always on the lookout for interesting microphone setups. There’s a lot to be learned about how mics can sound in various configurations, often with performers of a quality that is rare to come across in everyday experience.
Instrumental performers don’t get much better than Nigel Kennedy, who is renowned as one of the world’s finest classical soloists, and also plays a very creditable jazz fiddle.
So here he is playing his second-best violin on the BBC’s The Andrew Marr Show (apologies for the video quality, which was the best I was able to source, but the sound is good)…
All I can see here are two microphones. One pointing at the double bass, the other at the guitar. The violin – which is the whole point of the performance – seems to be ignored entirely. It isn’t at all what you might call conventional.
Listening closely, the mix of the instruments seems to be mono. There is a huge tradition of working in mono in television, which graduated to stereo far later than FM radio. Indeed, I have heard many mono TV mixes of live music that were better than their stereo radio counterparts.
In this example, the stereo information seems all to be in the rather ugly artificial reverberation, but let’s not be distracted by that. The instruments do seem to wander a little in the stereo sound stage, but this might easily be due to the lossy encoding of the downloaded program.
Guitar and drums
It is an interesting task to balance instruments through microphone positioning. Since the drum appears not to have a mic, then a position has been chosen that balances the drum and the guitar appropriately. That wouldn’t be much of a problem, although you would expect the drum to have more ambience than the guitar. In this case the ambience is obscured by the resonance of the drum and the artificial reverb.
Violin and bass
Balancing the violin against the bass with one mic would be possible too in theory. However the violin is clearly the most important instrument here and the mic is positioned very low down, and clearly angled towards the bass.
My guess is that there is a mic mounted on the tailpiece of the violin. Indeed, you will see a fuzzy black blob there, which is all that the video can resolve. It could be a mute. Many violinists have a mute that is pushed back towards the tailpiece when not in use, then clipped to the bridge when needed. But I think it’s a mic.
The giveaway occurs at the very end of the performance when Kennedy steps back from the stand-mounted mic, but the level and sound texture of the violin hardly changes. Fitting a microphone to a string instrument often results in a rather hard and harsh sound, but here the sound isn’t too bad, and it suits the jazzy idiom of the performance.
In summary, it’s always good to learn from the microphone techniques of others, and often television provides a good opportunity.