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There comes a time when someone walks into your studio or venue carrying an instrument that you haven’t recorded before. In this scenario, let’s say that the instrument is a melodica.
The melodica is becoming a popular instrument, much like the ukulele has over the past decade or so. This is in part due to the resurgence of synth pop, and bands emulating the setup of an ‘80s band which includes the occasional melodica or even talk box.
A melodica is kind of like a flute with a keyboard attached to it. It’s played by holding the instrument in one hand, blowing air into a mouthpiece, then playing the keyboard one-handed. With this strange instrument, it can be a little confusing to know how to mic and record it. What kind of microphone is best? How far away should the melodica player be from the microphone? Is reverb and unwanted noise an issue?
We’ll explain everything but here’s the quick answer for how to mic a melodica:
A dynamic mic is usually best since it won’t come through as shrill compared to other mics. From there, place the mic roughly 1.5 times further than the length of the full instrument. By fulling that rule, you’ll be able to capture the sound of the entire melodica and minimize room sound.
But let’s take a closer look at what you need to know about mic’ing up a melodica.
Mic Setup When Recording A Melodica
There are three steps when it comes to recording a melodica:
- Find the best acoustics for the melodica in the room
- Set up your microphone
- Balance the sound in the mix
Let’s go over these three steps in more detail so that they make more sense to help you record the natural sounds that the melodica creates.
If the melodica is a new instrument to your studio or venue, these steps are the best way to get started with amplifying it through a mic for the first time.
Find The Best Acoustics In The Room
If the natural sound is what you’re wanting to capture, starting by listening to the sound only is crucial.
The musician should be placed in the room where they’re comfortable playing or where they sound the best. Then you should walk around searching for the best place to listen as if you were an audience member. What points in the room have the best acoustics?
For recording, you want a spot where there’s no (or very little) echo or reverberation when you clap. You may need to make some adjustments to the room in order to make this happen.
A dry audial setting like this will cleanly capture the sound, allowing you to manipulate more in the mixing and mastering stages. If you’re mic-ing for a live performance, you’ll be able to manipulate the sound through your PA system, so you don’t need to worry about stage placement so much. Audience members do love to watch a melodica solo though, so keep that in mind!
Set Up Your Microphone
While there can be a few decent reasons why you should point the microphone in a different direction than directly at the melodica, but you should point the microphone at the instrument to begin. You can change the position of the mic as the sound check or recording session happens so that you get the best sound.
Selecting The Right Microphone
A dynamic mic is preferred over a condenser for a couple of reasons.
One, it cuts out the intense high end of the melodica which can come through as shrill-sounding on the speakers. Two, it’ll pick up the sound and melody without all the extra, not-so-pleasant melodica sounds like the player’s breath and fingers on the keys. Also, with a condenser mic you risk blowing the microphone with the power that a melodica can provide. Dynamic is a better option, particularly for a live gig.
Picking The Right Placement
When it comes to placement, a great way to get started is to consider a distance that is 1.5 times the dimension of the full instrument. By following this rule, you’ll be able to catch the sound from the entire instrument instead of just a part of it and keep the reverberation from the room to a minimum.
Normally, when you place a microphone, it’ll be closer than the location where you found the best sound. This is because the human hearing system can sort out reverberant sounds from direct sounds, making it so you can hear well at a distance.
If there is too much reverberation, then you should move closer to the instrument. The closer that you get, the more that you will more you will have to experiment with the placement of the microphone. However, that’s okay! You should experiment as much as you can to help you get the best sound possible.
Mixing and Mastering
Any additional sounds or dynamics that you don’t love can be adjusted in the mix. If you’re recording in a studio, you or the engineer can EQ to remove any unwanted high or low-end frequencies that could be coming through. At a live performance, you can likely do this as well so long as you have a decent PA system.
However, as mentioned above, a little extra reverb or noise through the melodica mic probably isn’t a big deal in a live setting, because you’ll have so much other noise going on.
Amplifying a Melodica
What’s the difference between amplifying the sound of an instrument and recording? There are two distinct differences between recording and amplifying:
- You have feedback to work with; and
- Effects from the amp need to be set up perfectly
First, you’ll connect a quarter-inch cable from your melodica to your amp of choice (provided that your melodica has a quarter-inch output). It doesn’t have to be anything crazy. A standard VOX AC30 would be great.
When amplifying sound, you’ll put your microphone directly in front of the amp. This allows the microphone to pick up more sound from the instrument and less sound from the front house speakers and the monitors. The higher this ratio, the less chance for feedback, and the more level you can get before feedback happens.
Getting the microphone close to the melodica’s amp also makes it so that the sound is separated from any other instruments on the stage. For example, you’re likely to have fewer drums bleeding through the mic than if you were just setting up a mic in front of the melodica.
This makes it so that the front house engineer has an easier time balancing the instruments, and it improves things for the on-stage monitors too (so everyone can hear themselves properly).
A melodica is a pretty strange instrument to play, and it might seem difficult to add a microphone or record the sound that it makes. However, it doesn’t have to be difficult. If you follow the guidelines that we’ve discussed with you, then you’ll be able to get the best natural sound possible. It’s also a lot easier than a massive instrument like a marimba or something with a strange sound signature like a clarinet.
Remember that the key to finding the best sound is to listen with your ears first, this applies to both recording and adding a microphone. Finding the place where the sound is the best makes it so that you don’t have to play with the microphone or recording device too much before capturing the right sounds. Plus, you or your engineer will have less work to do with the mix if you capture the sound well during recording.
So, how do you mic up a melodica? First, listen to your ears. Get close to the instrument and find where the most sound comes from. Try the microphone out in a couple of different positions and listen to the sound from the microphone – does the instrument sound natural? If yes, then you’ve found the right position. If no, then you need to keep adjusting the microphone.
Don’t be afraid to move the microphone or recording device if something doesn’t sound right to you. The more that you move the device and try different angles, the better sound that you’ll be able to get. You want to find the area of the instrument that creates the most sound.
With all of this in mind, go forth and add a microphone to your melodica and play some awesome music!