When recording with microphones, whether in the studio or in live/remote situations, the microphones themselves are, of course, not the only gear required—a host of essential accessories are also needed, and various additional items may also come in handy. Some are obvious, while others may be easier to overlook in the prep or the hustle and bustle leading up to a recording a session. Before the red light goes on it’s important to make sure that any and all necessary extras are readily available; in the case of live/remote recordings, a go-bag of mic accessories should be assembled and packed up with the mics, to ensure smooth sailing.
Of course some items are blatantly obvious, like appropriate cables and stands; still, there may be room for error even with these no-brainers. While it’s unlikely that anyone would be going into a studio recording without the necessary XLR mic cables, smaller setups that don’t have a pegboard full of cables at the ready might find themselves coming up short if a longer cable run than anticipated is suddenly needed, or a cable fails—a generous supply of extra mic cables should always be on hand, even for the smallest rigs.
For live recordings, don’t assume that a club will have all the needed cables just because they run their own mics into the sound system; there may not be enough extra cables, or the area designated for the recordist may require longer runs. Besides the usual prep, always bring enough extra cabling to deal with surprises.
The same is true with the other most obvious item, the mic stand. Don’t assume a club or venue will have stands that the recordists can use, even if they say they do—always bring enough to be self-sufficient, just in case. In the studio make sure that any stands used are well-suited to the particular mic.
Boom arms are typically used not only to reach particular instruments—guitar amp, piano, etc—but even with vocalists, to keep the stands clear of the performers, avoiding thumps or bumps. Some mics—particularly the large-diaphragm condensers employed for studio vocals and instruments—can be heavy, and small round-base stands or flimsier tripods may not be stable enough to support them reliably, especially if coupled with a boom arm that doesn’t have a heavy-enough counterweight.
At the very least, be sure to arrange a tripod stand so there’s a leg under the mic to minimize the risk of tipping, and make sure that a mic at the end of a boom arm is properly counterbalanced with sufficient length and weight at the other end of the boom. Those large, expensive studio mic stands may seem like an extravagance for a small setup, but they are the best choice for large high-end mics, despite the potentially larger footprint.
Sometimes the smallest details can trip you up; a good example is mic clips. Ideally you’d want to use the clip that came with the mic, but if necessary even those spring-loaded universal clips can be fine, depending on the mic. Just be sure that the mic is held securely, especially if it’s later positioned at a more extreme angle—even if a downward-angled mic doesn’t immediately slide out of a too-loose clip, it could gradually slip, thanks to vibration, and eventually end up touching or leaning on a close-miked sound source—a must-avoid situation.
And keep in mind, there are different thread sizes for mic clips and stands, making it possible that a certain clip can’t be screwed onto a certain stand without an adaptor. Make sure all your clips include these—most incorporate an adaptor for different sized stands that can be screwed in/out, but they’re easily lost.
In the studio, shockmounts are commonly used for the more sensitive high-end condenser mics.
Once again, you’d ideally use the shockmount that came with the mic, but if that’s not available you may have to use a general-purpose third-party shockmount. If that’s the case, be extra careful when mounting the mic! Some mics are just not a good fit for some generic shockmounts—if a mic tilts or slips slightly, think twice about using that mount. Shockmounts may use different approaches to hold the mic—some are clamped onto the mic; at least one brand requires the user to carefully—and evenly—tighten four thumbscrews to assure that the mic is held properly and won’t slide through and hit the floor.
I’ve seen engineers rig up a makeshift hookup for an ill-fitting shockmount which is not only a bad idea in terms of safety, but may compromise the audible effectiveness of the mount. If the mic can’t be used without a shockmount and a suitable (safe) one is unavailable, it might not be a bad idea to use an alternate mic and go out and get a proper shockmount for the next time.
In the studio, with sensitive vocal condensers it’s standard practice to utilize an external pop filter to augment the mic’s own internal popscreen. Most of these are effective in most cases, and there’s the added benefit of being able to position one to enforce a minimum distance from the vocalist’s mouth to the mic. But some vocalists may still produce pops even with a properly-mounted screen, and it may be necessary to also angle the mic slightly to more effectively address the problem.
Some accessories may not always be needed, but can be lifesavers in particular situations. Most consoles or interfaces provide the Phantom Power needed for modern condenser mics, but if you’re bringing condensers to a live/remote recording don’t assume it’ll be available—it would be a good idea to bring your own external Phantom Power supply (supplies), just in case.
Some condenser mics (some stage condensers) may require an onboard battery to work—if you have one of these, make sure you’re aware of it and always have suitable fresh batteries in your live recording go-bag.
Also for live recordings be sure to bring a pair of efficient closed-back headphones and a headphone amp that can provide healthy level even in a loud environment—you’ll need this to check for potential problems like noise, rattling, breakup, or low-level feedback in a particular mic that may not be audible in the room, but may show up as a potentially serious problem in the finished recording.
A cable tester is another accessory that can be invaluable, making short work of detecting and replacing a bad cable when a problem occurs—better yet, a periodic pre-gig check of all cables, or a quick check of any suspect (worn, beat-up) cables before setting up can prevent such problems in the first place.
If you’re walking into a club or rehearsal room to do a live recording/remote, naturally you’ll do your homework and determine ahead of time if you’ll need to interface with the house console. If you’re planning to use (some or all of) the club’s mics and take your own feed, you need to determine if you’ll have to provide the mic splitter to do this, or if the club/console can handle this for you.
Ideally you’d always bring your own splitter, even if you end up not having to use it, just in case. Of course, if you intend to use all your own mics, then besides all the dedicated stands and cables you’ll need to bring, you’ll also have to coordinate with the club and artist regarding all those extra mics on stage, which may become a problem if not worked out in advance.
Occasionally you may find that a direct input may be desirable either instead of a mic on a certain source, or as a adjunct to the mic—typical examples might be an upright bass or an acoustic guitar on a noisy stage. It’s a good idea to have a direct box or two in your mic accessory kit. Even in the studio, if a player brings in an instrument with an onboard pickup that’s part of his “sound”, a suitable instrument-level DI may be needed—while many interfaces include one or two, not all do.
And finally, the universal accessory for any recording is Gaffers tape.
This has so many uses, from securing cables to marking a vocalist’s position, I won’t even try to list them. But make sure you use real Gaffers tape, not cheaper Duct tape or other variants. Gaffers tape can be used and pulled up without leaving a nasty sticky residue like the others—this is key, especially if you use it on someone else’s gear. Gaffers tape may not always be available in a typical hardware store, and some no-name rolls aren’t really proper Gaffers tape. It’s best to order it from a store that caters to audio or video professionals—even though it’s pricey it’s well worth it.
When it comes to recording, we all naturally tend to focus on the mics, but without a well-stocked supply of accessories—major and minor—we can run into problems that at a minimum can waste time and in the worst case can bring the session to a grinding halt. So go about making a list—checking it twice—and put together a comprehensive collection of mic accessories for both studio and live/remote sessions—it’ll serve you well when that red light goes on.