If you’ve got a music maker on your Christmas list, stay tuned because this one’s for you.


Nothing lights up the eyes of your special musician friend or recording artist like seeing little boxes with tons of spinning knobs and meters and LEDs and such under the tree.

And if you think I’m going to dive into some basic holiday column that throws a few of the latest shiny gimmicks out there from the professional audio subcategory on Amazon, well, sorry.

Nowadays, a quick Google search for basic recording essentials will produce list after list like this, created by an intern at an SEO farm once and rewritten by multiple interns at competing online “institutions of knowledge” annually for best chance of clickthroughs.

Gross. I think a lot of the modern recording gadgets within gift-buying price range are lackluster at best, and frankly, at worst, take advantage of the naivety of the customer base.

This column is called Audio File, and recently I realized I’ve never focused on professional audio and recording before. I’ve spent countless hours behind the control room glass turning knobs, spent gobs of minutes in the studio placing musicians and microphones, and seen eons of time pass while behind the laptop, editing and mastering toward the final result.

So I know something about recording. And while holiday gift suggestions are cheap to produce, the gift of wisdom from tons of experience is actually a prize worth reading.

Over the next few weeks as we close out the year, I’m going to lay out what I learned, and I’ll try to focus on the things that I (and most people) had to learn the hard way.

We won’t follow a typical outline of how to gear up for recording, i.e. following the signal chain. Instead, it’s going to happen linearly from most important concepts and things to the least.

But it just so happens that we start with microphones. By the way — this intro is eating my real estate, so don’t think we’re going to close out the topic of mics today. I’ve got plenty to say on the subject, so buckle up.

Microphones are most important to the final result of your sound, just like speakers are most important to the final result of your stereo system. At the same time, the room is the most important element to the final result of your sound, just like the room is the most important element in a high end listening setup.

You see, we’re almost always listening or recording inside some building. And while yes, speakers and microphones make the biggest contribution to the character of the sound, the room surrounding them and the way the speakers and mics interact with it simultaneously affects the whole just as much, if not more.

A room giveth, and a room taketh in ways that can keep a crazy good microphone from showing what’s good about it at all.

So I want those two things, microphone and the room, tied together in your mind. You don’t go shopping for a new room to record in — you shop for microphones. You just need to make sure your room lets the best microphones you can purchase shine the way they should. Next week we’ll dive further into both.

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