It has become tradition to help my friend, Dr. Lincoln Hanks, record the Christmas Concert at Pepperdine University. This year I was able to use one of my favorite techniques for placing a microphone inside piano.
The student orchestra played in front of a live audience. Christmas trimmings decorated the front of the stage (making it easier to hide mic cables). I was concerned about softer instruments getting lost in the main array. That’s why we put spot mikes on harp, first contrabass, and piano.
The mic technique for a solo piano usually tries to represent the full range of the instrument, often in stereo. But the spot mic was intended to help boost the level of the piano when it was too soft in the main array.
The lid was placed on the short stick. On the long stick, or without a lid at all, there is a lot more spill, making it difficult to raise the volume of the piano without raising the level of those other instruments too. Closing it down helped with isolation, but also posed a threat: a piano lid is an excellent reflector. Too often, a mic inside a piano sounds comb filtered and weird because of the reflections, especially on the short stick. But if you place a mic ON that boundary, you eliminate the reflection off of the lid AND get a 6dB level boost for being in the “pressure zone.”
I used plenty of gaffer’s tape to secure my Crown PCC 170-SW to the underside of the lid. The element was supercardioid — actually half supercardioid with the mic against the boundary. I aimed the mic toward the hammers.
Have a listen to this passage of Concert Suite from The Polar Express. First we hear the main array only, then the raw piano spot mic in isolation, then a mix of the two. The spot mic was EQed, panned and delayed in the mix.
It’s worth noting that the gaffer’s tape left residue under the piano lid. It wasn’t easy to clean up, so check with the piano owner before you muck up the finish.
See also: 2011 Christmas Concert, YouTube: How To Record Piano, Basics
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