The one mic that I can’t live without and why
When I first started recording 12 years ago, for some reason the majority of clients were metal clients with loud and proud screamers for vocals. I guess it was because of the new metalcore phase that everyone was into. Everyone played in dropped tunings and every progression consisted of double kick pedal blazing away. Although I was not a big fan of the genre at the time, today I feel like the luckiest person to have begun my recording career at that time. This was the early era of sampled, replaced and layered drums with time corrected tracks and the explosion of autotune. It was such a magical time in recording. Everything was changing and the techniques that were developed during this era later laid the foundation of modern music production.
At the time, because vocals were still a difficult element for me to record, I tended to use a Large Diaphragm Condenser on most vocal sessions including screamers and growlers. I found myself handling the clean aspects of recording vocals ok but struggling with the louder sections. Because the condenser mics were so sensitive, as they should be, screaming was difficult for me to record. A voice yelling at that level into a microphone tended to produce clipping and unwanted artifacts in my recordings. I found myself spending hours upon hours trying to fix these tracks in the mix not knowing that it was my source material that needed addressing. In came the Shure SM7b to the rescue.
Suggested by a fellow engineer at the time, I purchased one for our studio. After doing my research and finding article after article that described this mic as a radio/podcast mic, I admittedly was hesitant to buy this mic. I was assured that I would not be disappointed. So, I took the plunge, ate the moderately priced charge and ordered one
From day 1 to a few years later, the Shure SM7b is used on every project I work on. Not only is it an amazing vocal mic, I regularly use it on drums and guitar. The versatility of this mic is just remarkable. Due to it being a dynamic mic it can handle the harshest transients you can throw at it, especially in the metal genre.
Loud Aggressive Vocals
For loud, aggressive vocals this is my go-to every time. You can have the loudest screamer in town, and they won’t even come close to clipping this bad boy. When paired with a high-end preamp, you are pretty much at professional studio standards. A vast majority of professional, label run studios have a few of these lying around at all times. The ability to handle high sound pressure levels while maintaining clarity is what this microphone shines at. Every loud aggressive vocalist I have worked with always sounds good through the Shure SM7b in my studio. The best part for me is the lack of proximity effect that this mic has. This enables the vocalist to get as close as they want to the mic, sometimes touching the grill of the mic. This allows max comfortability which in turn leads to better performances. If your niche is the metal genre you definitely need this as part of your mic locker.
Podcast and Spoken Word
As the world of digital communication advances towards producing online content, the SM7b is another staple. Podcast and YouTube content are very widely recorded with this mic. Why you ask? It was originally built as an over-the-air broadcast mic for radio stations. Its sound is the sound of legends in the radio world. When we produce podcast content here at our studio, we usually have 2 or 3 of these on all of the participants. It just works so well and sounds so recognizable making the session run smoothly.
When it comes to loud guitars, the Shure SM7b shines again. With its ability to handle loud sound sources, you will burst your eardrums before you clip this mic blasting your guitar amp. Typically, I use this mic around the outer edge of the cone to capture the low-end information while simultaneously placing something like a Shure SM57 near the center of the speaker for more high-end clarity. When I combine both mics in the mix, the sounds are epic. It truly captures what the amplifier has to offer.
Although I specialize in recording drums and it is undoubtedly my favorite part of the recording process, I cannot stand loud cymbals. A drummer who is very cymbal heavy will ruin good takes for drums. Cymbals just contain too much high-end information that it can sometimes cover up the shells of the drums with an inexperienced drummer. With that being said, having quality mics that can handle transient rich instruments is the way to recording clean and clear drums. One often overly hit part of the drum kit are the hi-hats. Since most people are predominantly right handed, they tend to hit the drums with more pressure from their right arm thus creating higher transients and volume on the hi-hats. In comes the Shure SM7b. In recent years I began using this mic on all hi-hat recordings in every one of my productions. Its ability to not clip with high level of sound pressure allows the hi-hats to come through the mix clearly without any noise or rattle from the hi-hats. When equalizing, I typically boost just a little of the top end while cutting the majority of the low end to achieve a great hi-hat sound.
As your career progresses you will begin to make personal connections to the gear you purchase. The Shure SM7b is definitely one of these connections I have made. Upon its purchase over 10 years ago, it is part of who I am as a recording engineer and mix engineer. It consistently produces the sound I need, and it offers itself so effortlessly in multiple recording applications every time. Try it and you won’t be disappointed.