How many microphones do you need?

How many microphones do you need?

Elsewhere on this website we have mentioned a few times that Record my School operate two 16 channel mobile recording rigs.  But what exactly does this mean? What benefit is this and why do we make it out to be important.

What is a channel?

There is often confusion caused by the distinction between a channel and a microphone.  Some people refer to a channel as a ‘microphone channel’ which only serves to confuse things further. So lets take this back to basics.

A channel is a single input which goes into the computer.  For present purposes we won’t worry about how the channel is connected to the computer or the clever bits between the microphone and the computer.    For now, let’s imagine a channel is represented by a cable.  When we turn up to record we connect a big red box to the computer via a single cable.  And then out of the red box we have 16 cables.

Each one of these cables represents a channel and can be connected to either a microphone or directly into an instrument such as a guitar or keyboard.

A typical setup

16 Channels may sound a lot but in reality can be used up quite quickly hence why we have 2 rigs which if necessary can be connected together to give us 32 channels.  We also have a backup 24 channel rig.

Let’s imagine you are recording a standard band which consists of Solo singer, backing group, keyboard, lead guitar, bass guitar and drums.    At first sight there are 6 elements comprising the band so you might think you only need 6 channels.  But no.

The solo singer needs a microphone – so that’s a channel.  The keyboard is likely to connect directly but has both Left and Right outputs, so thats 2 channels needed.  The guitars also need a channel each for the direct connection but it’s also useful to have a microphone either on the cabinet and probably near the frets if you want the actual sound of someone playing the instrument. Potentially then the guitars could have 3 channels each.

The backing singers – lets assume there are three of them. They will ideally need a microphone each. You could get away with one or maybe two if they only sing as a group but much better to capture everything and blend in the studio later.

Then there are the drums.  Depending on the size of the kit a standard drum kit will need at least 5 microphones to cover the snares, the hi hat, cymbals and the bass drum.   If you have lost track of where we are, in fact we are already up to 16 channels just on a fairly basic set up.

Below is a summary of the channels required:

1 – Solo Singer

2, 3 – Piano

3,4,5 – Lead Guitar

6,7,8 – Bass Guitar

9,10,11 – Backing group

12,13,14,15,16 – Drums

Obviously the exact setup will vary according to what is being recorded and sometimes channels are used for other things.  In post production additional channels can be used for all sorts of things such as adding effects but that’s a whole other discussion.

The point is that 16 channels is really the basic minimum for anyone who takes recording seriously which is why this is also our starting position.  For larger groups or more complex recording jobs we would take 32 channels as we have some microphones which require 2 or 4 channels per microphone.


Ultimately, the vast majority of our clients do not care exactly how we go about recording them. However, there is always an expectation that every aspect of the musical performance will be captured. And this is why we need lots of channels, so we can always bring in a microphone to pick up a solo singer or instrumentalist as necessary.

If you would like to find out more about recording a CD at your school then please call us on 01225 302143 or click here to email us


About the author

Jules Addison administrator

Jules Addison is a Director of Record My School and also runs a number of Community Choirs in Wiltshire.

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