You will encounter various instruments that you will need to record, and record well. Some will be very easy, such as plugging in a bass or a synth. Some will be difficult, such as recording a quiet singer standing between a loud drummer and a Marshall Stack.

It helps to have an idea what the instrument should sound like in the end (which you learn by listening to “model” songs with specific sounds you want to emulate), but also to have an idea of how the instrument actually makes noise.  You need to know that a flute projects important sound from the top, and that shoving a mic into an instrument’s hole or flared end is not necessarily the right thing to do.

RESEARCH any instrument before recording it for the first time.  Where does the sound come out?  What part of the overall sound will it be expected to fill?  Is the instrument a solo sound or part of an ensemble? These things will influence any decisions you make. Remember to use any pictures or descriptions of mic techniques you see as something to TRY, not something to automatically do (even whatever you read here). 

TALK TO THE MUSICIAN and ask what they usually do to capture “their” sound.  Most people do not do this, but rather just grunt at the musician while setting up the mic in the same old way.  You might be surprised at what you hear, and just the act of asking makes the musician trust you a little bit more.  Take what they say into consideration, and even set up what they usually do as an alternative to compare to if you have the extra mic and fader.  Do not forget you are capturing THEIR sound, which they sometimes know well.  Of course expect the occasional person who sounds one way in their head and another way out their horn.

WALK AROUND and move your head up and down around the instrument until you find a “sweet spot” (please use caution with drums and Marshall Stacks).

CHOOSE A MIC that will optimally capture the tonal characteristics you noticed are important when in the sweet spot, such as a bright sounding mic for cymbals rather than something boomy (like an RE-20).

PLACE the mic where you thought sounded good, and MOVE it if needed or if just curious.  You can always go back to where you were, especially considering how easy it is to document with cell phone pics these days.

If you are dealing with a direct plug, such as with a bass, synth, computer (etc), you will need to make sure you are getting into your system the right way (often through a DIRECT BOX).  That’s it.

Once you have your instrument (from either mic or direct) in your input channel, now you can process with compression and eq if needed and record your sound.