If people will be hearing your horn via microphone, whether in a live setting or a recording studio, then you'll want to be sure that microphone is representing your sound well. In these cases, the microphone can sometimes have a greater impact on your sound than the horn itself! I once did a live radio broadcast in which I wasn't involved in the audio set-up. Sure enough, the engineer put a horrible microphone on my horn and my sound went out nationwide sounding like I played the whole night with a straight mute. I'll never let that happen again!
Knowing which microphone you like is something that will have to come over time by trying many different versions (ideally in a closed studio setting) and by asking many other trumpet players and sound engineers what they like. But whether or not you should own your own is dependent on the work you're doing. If you play into a microphone a lot, you may want to have that kind of control over how you're heard. I personally bring my own microphone to live situations. For recording sessions, I will usually consider what the studio has (often, they have spent much more money on quality microphones than I have!) and only on rare occasions have I felt the need to bring my own recording microphone.
I should let you know up front that I am not an expert in microphone technology, so please, as I mentioned, speak to a lot of sound engineers and other trumpet players, as well as try a bunch out yourself, before making a decision. This article is to help you start considering the process and make a decision.
For studio recording, many microphones can do a fine job, but hands down, the favorite type of microphone for trumpet is the ribbon microphone. Ribbons have been used for decades and many important trumpet recordings were done on these microphones. They are extremely fragile to handle, and a short burst of phantom power from an audio board or any slight drop can destroy the ribbon itself. The sound from a good ribbon is often very even and rich. Condenser microphones can be used on horns as well, but they can sometimes sound brittle or simply have too much high end and not enough body, especially when using mutes. For this reason alone, if you are looking at owning a recording microphone, I can easily recommend pursuing a ribbon microphone. One of the most popular studio ribbon microphones for trumpet is the R-122 made by Royer. They also make the R-121 version designed for live performance settings.
In a live setting, you have a few things to consider. If you are the only trumpet player on a performance then you have more options, but if you are in a live setting as part of a trumpet section, it is often best to be sure all the players are on the same model so that the sound can be matched across a section. In this case, you may need to go with whatever the sound company has multiples of in their arsenal. While it may not have been designed as the ideal "trumpet microphone" across the board, I have very often seen trumpet sections mic'd with the classic Shure SM57. They are inexpensive enough for sound companies to have many units available, but they also do a fine job. Over the years these have been used by solo players in a variety of club gigs – I can't count the number of times I've played on one! So, you can't go wrong by owning your own SM57.
If you find yourself as a featured soloist quite often, then owning a live microphone that you love is ideal. One of the most popular versions of live microphones these days is the clip-on style. This microphone clips on to your horn's bell and a little goose-neck lets you point the microphone directly into the bell. It also allows you to play at any angle (you don't have to point at a microphone on the stand all night) and lets you roam the stage like Mick Jagger. I personally use the Audio Technica Pro-35 but the AKG-C519M and Shure Beta 98H are also popular.
The main problem with the goose-neck clip-on, however, is that the goose-neck itself makes quick use of mutes, like the Harmon or cup mute, difficult as it has to be moved out of the way first, then repositioned. Properly using a plunger mute can be even more problematic. This issue could make playing in a Big Band difficult. The best style clip on for this problem is the Applied Microphone Technology P800 which keeps your bell free and clear for mutes.
And of course, any style clip on keeps the microphone attached to your bell at all times, so if you're someone (like me) who likes to play at different distances from the microphone for various effect, then a clip-on may not be the right route for you.
Again, I can't stress enough – talk to other players and engineers before you buy any microphone, and seek out every opportunity to play on a variety of microphones. You've spent all that time developing your sound…be sure everyone hears it the right way!
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Tony Guerrero is a freelance trumpet player in Los Angeles California. Performing and recording with a wide range of artists ranging from John Tesh to High School Musical, Tony is at home in nearly any style on both trumpet and piano. For more information on Tony including his latest Recording titled "Blue Room," visit www.tonyguerrero.com.