Recording - May 2018 - 72

SNAPSHOTS FROM RECORDING HISTORY:

JUST ONE MIC
Guest editorial by Scott Dorsey

Like most of the other Snapshots I write about, this photograph was taken
by the great jazz photographer William Gottlieb, in this case at a New York
recording session for Columbia Records in March of 1947. (Many thanks
to the Library of Congress for making hundreds of these photos freely available to the public.) The band members are Stan Freeman on piano, Bunny
Shawker on drums, Bob Haggart on bass, Art Drelinger on tenor sax, Billy
Butterfield on trumpet, and Toots Mondello on alto sax. Pianist Mary Lou
Williams is looking on.
We're not sure which studio this is-likely Columbia Studio A on 7th Avenue, or possibly one of the studios in Liederkranz Hall-but the room is large
and the musicians are only in a small part of it. You can see the wall behind
the band is untreated, although there are some absorbing curtains to the side.
There is a carpet under the horns and drums, but the piano is directly over a
hard linoleum floor. The pianist and drummer are both positioned so they have
eye contact with the people in the control booth.
The entire band is gathered around one RCA 44 figure-8 microphone. You
might recall that this mic picks up sounds very strongly from front and back,
but has deep nulls on both sides where effectively no sound is picked up at all.
72

RECORDING May 2018

It is turned so that the snare and cymbals
are directly in the side null of the microphone,
so there will be a reduced pickup in the recording. Likewise the kick drum is turned so
the microphone is in the null of its radiation
pattern. Since the room is not aggressively
damped, a lot of the drum in the recording
will be room sound, even though the mic is so
close. That's because the mic's pattern reduces the direct drum sound.
On the other hand, the bass and the piano
are directly in the two lobes of the microphone
to bring their levels up to that of the horns and
drums. The bass player is brought right up to
the mic, and the mic is pointed up the neck to
get some definition into the bass sound instead
of just thumping. The horns are pulled away
from the mic and pointed to the side to reduce
their levels. Having the mic to the side also
means that levels don't change so much as the
musicians move their instruments around, since
the mic is getting a lot of room sound and not
the directional sound right out of the bell.
The engineers likely set the band up and then
started moving people around to get the balances. The balances come from the room and
the positioning, not from adjusting individual
microphones. But the instruments are still closemiked instead of having the room miked at a
distance, to get a close 'modern' sound.
Everyone is reading charts except the
drummer and bass player. So what is the
session? I don't know, but these guys were
all working session musicians who did a
lot of work backing Columbia artists. There
might be a vocalist on another microphone
behind a gobo off-camera (see the Snapshot
of Lena Horne in our March 2018 Fade
Out). Then again, they might be recording
an instrumental background for a soap commercial. Who knows?
The point is: you can get an inexpensive
ribbon mic and record like this today. Patience and care with positioning, angles,
and polar patterns can get a cohesive band
recording out of just one mic.
Scott Dorsey (dorsey@recordingmag.com)
would like to thank Dan Mortenson for his
help in trying to identify the studio.



Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Recording - May 2018

Contents
Recording - May 2018 - Intro
Recording - May 2018 - Cover1
Recording - May 2018 - Cover2
Recording - May 2018 - 1
Recording - May 2018 - 2
Recording - May 2018 - 3
Recording - May 2018 - 4
Recording - May 2018 - 5
Recording - May 2018 - Contents
Recording - May 2018 - 7
Recording - May 2018 - 8
Recording - May 2018 - 9
Recording - May 2018 - 10
Recording - May 2018 - 11
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Recording - May 2018 - Cover3
Recording - May 2018 - Cover4
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