The crack team of Paul White and Hugh Robjohns have travelled the world solving readers' problems. Here, they down the Hob Nobs and answer some of your recording queries in our Q&A mini-series, Sound Advice.
Hugh: I can say in all honesty that I've never had to record handclaps — other than over vocal mics as band members clap along during a session! These have always been enough for any recording (involving handclaps) that I've undertaken, although for a more purposeful and deliberate handclap recording there are obviously techniques that should help to create the optimum clap!
Paul: Handclaps are just another form of percussion and so can be miked conventionally using a condenser microphone (for better high-end definition), or whatever you have lying around the studio if you decide that you don't need such a sharp attack. Keep the mic far enough away so that it's unaffected by the blast of air as the hands close and, if you can, work close to a reflective wall, as this may improve the subjective sound — the reflections thickening your clap sound. Technically, recording handclaps isn't much of a challenge, providing you set the record levels correctly, but getting the sound you actually want can be more challenging. A group of clappers can be recorded using any of the standard stereo mic techniques, much as if you were recording a choir.
Hugh: I would also approach the recording of handclaps very much as a percussion recording exercise or challenge. A microphone with a good transient response would be needed, so I'd go for a small-diaphragm condenser mic and place it overhead about three feet away. It should then be far enough away to avoid the need for a pop filter. Getting multiple people to clap hands near the mic simultaneously would be a good idea — as long as their timing is good — and then I'd probably overdub the track once or twice to build up some density.
Paul: Lots of records made in the '80s employed electronically synthesized handclaps, which were generated using filtered white noise passed through an envelope shaper. This created multiple successive short envelopes to establish the illusion of several handclaps slightly out of time with each other. The circuit that Roland used in several of their analogue drum machines provides the classic electronic clap sound. You can try the same trick with recorded handclaps, either by adding several digital delay taps at between 60 and 120ms, or you could use a bright early reflection or ambience reverb program with 60ms or so of pre-delay and a fast decay time. If the claps lack brightness, you can use a distortion plug-in or a harmonic exciter to liven things up. In the days of analogue mixing, I used to deliberately overload the mixer input channel to get the necessary distortion, which, combined with a bit of EQ boost between 1kHz and 2kHz, added a nice snap to the sound.
Hugh: I'd make sure that I recorded handclaps at a decent length — 32 bars or so would work well — then edit down a good section and loop this, as necessary, for the track. Alternatively, you could double up and repeat the original, with slight timing shifts and maybe some EQ changes, but I think this might start to sound artificial. However, if you're happy to emulate that '80s clap sound that Paul mentioned, this could work for you. A short gated reverb or ambience reverb with strong early reflections would help to thicken the clap sound too.
Paul: Yet another trick for increasing the illusion of the number of clappers is to copy the recorded clap track to a new sequencer track and then use the audio quantise function (assuming that you've worked to a click) to make the hits exactly regular. When you layer these quantised claps with the original part, complete with its human timing variations, you'll create the impression of more people clapping. You might also want to play in some clap samples — ideally these would be unquantised — and then layer the samples with the real claps to add depth.