Erin Spencer - flute expert

How to Sound Great when Recording the Flute

Useful tips to record the flute with outstanding results

In this video, Erin gives you very useful tips to record your flute at studio quality.

Released on September 2, 2020

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DISCLAIMER: The views and the opinions expressed in this video are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Virtual Sheet Music and its employees.

Video Transcription

Hello. This is Erin, back for another video on virtual sheet music. I'm really excited for today's video, because we're going to learn all about how to sound our best recording flute. My first tip may seem pretty basic, but it's really important, which is to eliminate as much extra noise as possible. That means you might have to turn off your AC or your heat. You might need to banish your cat to another room, make sure you're not wearing a loud, jangly bracelet or anything like that. If you have sticky keys, take care of those before you record. These are all really basic things, but if you just think about them and put a little bit of effort there, your recording will sound much better.

Step two, mike placement. This is going to depend on what kind of microphone you have, and also if you're recording video and audio on the same device. For example, if you're using your phone to record your audio and your video, then you're going to have to make a trade off between your mic sound and your video quality. I usually, if I'm editing videos that people have recorded and sent me, I will ask them to record a little bit further away from themselves because a lot of the mic distortion we get on phones just comes from the levels being too loud, from the phone being too close to you. If you listen to a recording of yourself from your phone and it sounds really thuddy, then that just means that your recording device was too close to you, and the levels were too loud for the microphone.

There's no way that I know of to adjust your levels just using the camera app on your phone. If you're only recording audio on your phone, I like the app RecForge because it does let you bump your levels down and then you can record pretty great audio just on your phone. If you have a detached, a separate microphone, the best place you for most kinds of microphones to place for flute is about two feet in front of you about halfway down the body of the flute, so somewhere around your G sharp key, and ideally it's a little bit above you and angled down. For me right now on my separate microphone, it's on a music stand really close to where my phone is, but it's a little bit higher up and tipped down towards me.

If you're getting too much of an airy sound in your microphone, you need to move the microphone further towards the foot joint. If you have the mic too close to the head joint, it'll sound harsher and you'll hear more of just the straight up air sound coming from your mouth. Let's look at how Mike placement affects the sound. This is my ideal mic placement I just described. Definitely factor in your room acoustics, too. If you're in a really boomy room, it might need to be closer to you, or if you're in a dry room, you can place it further away. For piccolo the microphone should be further away from you, and for low flutes it should be a little bit closer.

Now, if you're going to invest in a microphone, what the heck should you get? I know. It's like completely overwhelming. Before COVID, I took some sound recording classes at my local library, which were super helpful. I haven't invested in all of the technology that I could have after that class, because it does get really expensive really quickly, but I did get a Blue Snowball iCE microphone. This is super cheap. It's 40 or 50 bucks, so that's like as cheap as a decent microphone gets. It looks like this. It comes with a little stand. Until now, the audio you had been hearing was from this, but since I'm holding it, it would sound really weird. But, this is a great little microphone.

Now I'll play a scale of one time, but you'll hear it twice ... once from my phone microphone and once for my Blue Snowball iCE microphone. If you want just a little microphone that can plug straight into your computer, that's a great one to get. When picking a microphone, it's really important to know the range acoustically of the flute in hertz. That means the lowest sound wave we can make and the highest sound wave we can make. The flute's going to go from about 200 hertz to about 12,000 hertz, so it's a pretty wide range. If you get a microphone that's going to cut out the high end, that's going to make you sound really bad.

For flute, if you're going to go all out, a ribbon microphone is wonderful. They will give you a really nice full, dark sound that's probably the closest to what hearing a flute in-person would sound like, but they're quite expensive and there's some of the most fragile microphones. Only go for a ribbon microphone if you're super serious about this. The Avantone CR-14 is a really great ribbon microphone for flute. A condenser microphone will be great for most people, but it will have a little bit brighter sound than a ribbon microphone would. If you're doing a recording where you move around a lot, they do make condenser microphones that clip onto the flute. Those will definitely pick up more of the key sounds and everything, but if you're a very dynamic performer who moves around a lot and you can't be tied to a microphone, that's a great option. The Audix ADX10-FLP is a great clip on condenser microphone. The Neumann TLM 193 is a good option for a condenser microphone that you would put on a stand.

If you get a ribbon or a condenser microphone, you will also probably need to get an audio interface to be able to plug them into your computer. They're not just going to have a USB. It's going to be like a microphone end of the cord, so make sure you also factor that into your budget when you're looking at microphones. Once you have a microphone that can talk to your computer easily, Audacity is a really great software to learn. It's a free audio editing software, and it's really simple to learn. There's tons of tutorials online. EQ, or equalization, feels really daunting to learn. Some really simple steps can make a big difference in your flue sound.

You can add warmth and fullness to your sound if you feel like that didn't get picked up in the recording, with a little boost from around 500 hertz to 2K hertz. If it's excessively breathy, you can cut it a little bit in the five to six kilohertz range to get rid of that breathiness. Anytime you're editing sound, use headphones. Do not trust your computer speakers to give you an accurate idea of what is happening to the sound. I hope that was helpful. I know we're all doing so much more recording nowadays, that we can't play together. If you just put in a little bit of effort and a little bit of energy, you can sound a lot better on your recordings. Thanks for watching. I'll see you in the next video. Bye.
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Comments, Questions, Requests:

Chad on May 10, 2021 @3:08 pm PST
Hello, I was wondering if you could help me with something. I recently hired a flautist off of to record a short flute section for a song that I'm writing. I was hoping to get a quality recording but what she sent me sounds to me like it was recorded on an iphone. However I'm no expert in this stuff and I don't really know what a quality flute recording is supposed to sound like. Can you please listen to this short clip and tell me if you think this is a crap recording? Maybe give it a rating from 1 to 10? I would really appreciate it! Thanks
Erin Spencer - host, on May 10, 2021 @5:05 pm PST
Hi Chad, thanks for commenting. That actually sounds like a pretty clean recording to me, I'm not hearing clipping or background noise on my end and the flutist has a solid tone quality. It could have just been recorded on an iPhone but honestly I have dealt with much lower quality recordings from friends and made them into a solid product. I'd rate it 8/10 for quality but if they have sections they go into the upper register or it gets loud and then there's clipping, it would be a lower rating.
Chad on May 10, 2021 @6:05 pm PST
Okay thank you very much for the input. I just asked her what kind of microphone she used and apparently it was an SM57, which is a good microphone. I guess the problem was on my end.
Rob Van Wyck on December 20, 2020 @7:55 pm PST
Any experience with the Shure 57 and the A81WS wind shield? I've been having success recently with the 57, but learned that the wind shield can help a lot.
Rob in Thunder Bay, ON
Erin Spencer - host, on December 21, 2020 @8:47 am PST
I do not have experience with that, but if you're getting lots of articulation sounds I'm sure it would help with that if you're going for a close mic placement. I have never had someone use a wind shield when recording me on flute, even with very close mic placement.
Rob Van Wyck on December 22, 2020 @2:31 pm PST
Hi Erin
How nice that you reply so quickly. I enjoyed your video too. Apparently the wind shield can have a significant affect on the tone of the mike. I have to try one. Changes can be darker sound, richness, protection from plosives AND I suspect but have no evidence yet, that noises from your mouth, tongue, breathing etc. might be diminished, allowing you to mike closer to your mouth. Thanks for the suggestion to mike in the middle. I'll be trying that for now. I'm a retired teacher and flutist. I taught in the school system and managed to keep playing all my life. This covid has brought out the creativity in all of us. For me it's exploring recording. Thanks and good luck with your career. Rob
Erin Spencer - host, on December 23, 2020 @6:12 am PST
Interesting! Yes, protection from plosives and thus reducing excess mouth noises makes sense to me. When I'm recorded in an ensemble setting the mic is always right in front of the lip plate to try and pick up only the flute sound but I really like the sound better when the mic is further down the flute. Thanks for watching, good luck with your recording projects!
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