Stereo imaging and widening plugins are nice when you need to simulate some width on a track, making that track seem larger via the stereo field. Even better when you’re still in the recording phase is to try using a natural approach to generating width on an instrument: the mid side mic technique.
This technique involves using two microphones to record your source: one dedicated to the middle of the stereo field and the other for the sides.
Let’s talk about how to easily create some natural and versatile width on a miced up instrument via the mid side mic technique.
The Mid Side Mic Technique
How to Do the Mid Side Mic Technique
As I just mentioned, you’ll need two microphones to do the mid side mic technique.
The first microphone should be a cardioid pattern, meaning it just picks up the signal of what its front is facing.
Just yesterday I did an overview of the polar patterns of microphones, so refer to that for more information as the mid side mic technique uses two differently patterned microphones.
A cardioid microphone will capture the heart (no pun intended) of our source and will be centered in the mix.
You should position this where you get the best sound from your source. Take the time to monitor the sound with headphones on as you move the source around the microphone or vice versa. Ideally you can have someone else playing or moving the microphone while you listen live for that sweet spot.
The position of the microphone is doubly importantly in this case because it will dictate where the second microphone goes.
The second microphone should be a figure-8 pattern microphone. This means that it picks up audio facing the front and back of the microphone.
This figure-8 microphone should be placed directly above the first microphone but set at a 90 degree angle. In other words, while our first microphone is facing the source, this microphone’s front and back should be facing to the left and right of the source while being right above the first microphone.
It’s important that you get the microphones as close to one another as possible, meaning they’re the same distance from the source, in order to avoid any phase issues.
Once you’ve got the input gain levels set for each microphone (ideally both averaging around -18dB and peaking around -10dB), you can go ahead and start recording.
If you’re recording something which isn’t stationary, like an acoustic guitar, try to keep it as still as possible while you record.
Now that you’ve recorded both tracks together, duplicate the figure-8 track in your DAW.
Next, invert the phase of the copy that you’ve made. You’ll notice that if you play the two identical tracks together once the phase is inverted that you’ll hear no audio. This is because they’re cancelling each other out because of the inverted phase.
Now pan the tracks left and right to hear that stereo image. You’re hearing the two sides of what the microphone picked up, giving you a very natural sounding stereo image out of that one microphone.
Now drop the levels of those left and right panned tracks until all you hear is that centered cardioid mic track. Slowly bring them up until you have a mix that you like and just like that you’ve got a natural sounding stereo track of your source with minimal effort.
What’s especially nice is that you can effectively dictate how wide that source sounds in the mix simply by mixing in more or less of those side tracks around the mid track. When the side tracks are louder, the source sounds wider. When you drop them back down, the source sounds more narrow.
Automating this can be a neat production track at different points in the mix.
For instance, keep the panned tracks silent until the chorus hits, then bring them in hard to really open up the width and emphasize the change. You can also mute the center track to get a sides only instance on a bridge or for a thin aesthetic effect.
What to Use The Mid Side Mic Technique On
This technique works great on anything you normally want to get more width on. A few of the most common applications for this technique are:
Using the mid side mic technique on your room drums is great for giving your drums more or less width in the stereo field in the mixing stage. You can also create some interesting effects in the mix, soloing out the mid (cardioid) room mic or the sides (figure-8) room mic at different points.
I particularly love the mid side mic technique on acoustic guitar.
Sometimes I want to just track one guitar either to keep the composition more simplified and intimate in the case of a singer songwriter song, or I just want one acoustic guitar track to supplement a mix in a song with a lot of instrumentation.
So instead of recording the part twice and panning those left and right, the mid side technique works wonders for having a single recording without sacrificing width. Just EQ and process the mid track and side tracks differently (I like a bit more top end on the sides and body in the middle) and you’ve got a full sounding guitar after one take.
When you record piano, you typically want to hear that natural width of the instrument with the lower keys on the left and higher keys on the right.
The mid side mic technique works perfectly for capturing the full spectrum of the piano. Place that cardiod microphone (or even an omni) in the center over the piano with the figure-8 mic right above it. Repeat the steps above and hear that natural size of the piano without laboring over where the put both microphones.
This technique doesn’t apply to single vocals, but if you want to record a group of people singing together and want to create a choir-like width, the mid side mic technique will work nicely.
The same technique applies, but keep in mind that setting the pair of microphones farther away from the vocalists will result in more ambient room sound which can actually add to that choir effect and necessitate less artificial reverb in the mixing stage.
If you’re recording an entire band live in a room and have a room microphone set up, use this technique to add more natural width to the entire performance.
Mid Side Mic Technique
- The “mid side mic technique” allows you to create a natural width in certain instruments and is ideal over using imaging plugins in post.
- This technique requires two microphones: a cardioid and a figure-8 pattern microphone.
- The cardioid microphone should first be moved around to find the ideal position to record the source.
- The figure-8 pattern should then be placed directly above the first microphone without touching it in order to avoid phase issues.
- After recording your source with both mics simultaneously, create a duplicate of the figure-8 microphone track, invert the phase on the duplicate, and pan each of these tracks left and right.
- Mixing in more of the left and right tracks will result in a wider stereo image for that source. Dropping the level of these tracks will narrow the width as you place a greater emphasis on the cardioid/mid track.
- Process each track differently to create a more unique yet natural sounding stereo image for that source/instrument.
- This technique works well on drums, acoustic guitar, piano, group vocals, or any room microphone situation in particular.