Microphone Technique

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Picture by Charlotte Marez-Vanhecke
http://www.charlottevanhecke.com

If you’re not a classical singer, chances are you’re using a microphone when on stage. Knowing how to handle it is crucial if you want to do justice to your vocal performance.

The spheres

The spheres are a way to describe the distance you create between your microphone and your mouth.

SPHERE 1
Closest to the mic
Only suitable for very low volumes.
Bass boos / Proximity effect: Low frequencies are amplified more than middle and high, which results in more “body” in the voice.
Neutral with air works perfectly here. It sounds rich and broad, which is impossible without a microphone.

SPHERE 2
This is the sphere you use the most
All frequencies of your voice are picked up equally
When you sing the loudest, pull the microphone away more than when you sing more quietly

SPHERE 3
Here, the mic only picks up less frequencies
You are more audible acoustically than amplified
Hence only suitable for intimate performances where you want to add an acoustic element

Exercise: Practice singing a dynamic song in a microphone while looking at the lights of the input-volume. Your task is to keep them at the same level! Quite frustrating in the beginning, but oh my, how you get to know the spheres like this ;o)

Holding your microphone

Hold it a bit angled at the level of your chin. Above all sing straight into the microphone unless you want to obtain a special effect.
Holding the capsule of the microphone or covering it with your hand / arm creates a special sound, but beware of feedback (the screeching sound coming from the speakers…). You also make the job of your sound guy a lot more difficult, and you really don’t want to get him into a bad mood ;o)
Never (ever) aim the microphone towards the speakers or monitors. Feedback!

Exercise: Practice singing with a microphone with the sound only coming through your headphones. Mute your speakers. That way you eliminate the acoustic element of your voice. Now you only hear what the audience will hear, so you can practice functionally.

Buying a microphone

indexEvery microphone will pick up different frequencies and thus change your sound. Take your time to choose and don’t economize. It is a crucial lengthening of your voice that will define your sound substantially. If you’re a beginner at this, don’t hesitate to ask advice to the people at the shop, friends, colleagues,… Use extra sets of ears that will help you to know what to listen for when trying out microphones. Tip for beginners: a good quality microphone that works for a lot of voices is Shure SM58. But still, don’t trust me, test as much microphones as you can!

I won’t go into technical details too much, but there are 2 types of microphones that are used the most for amplifying voices. For live performances, you will in general use a dynamic microphone. As its pick up pattern is cardioid – will pick up sound mostly at the front, it is suited for louder bands. A condenser microphone is much too sensitive for that and will pick up the sounds of other instruments… which you don’t want. Hence, these microphones are mostly used in studio or for more intimate performances (jazz and such like).

General tips

Take care you don’t drop your microphone and protect it (also from moist) during transport.
Allow your mic to heat up a bit before using it, when it has been stored in a cold place, because condense will ruin it.
Smoke is bad for your voice ànd for your microphone. The tarnish on the membrane of the mic will dampen high frequencies.
During a sound check you sing a song. Don’t hit or blow into your mic, especially not a sensitive condenser mic, as it could damage the diaphragm.
Don’t forget the batteries + spares if your mic needs them… I know what I’m talking about.

What happens after the microphone?

indexMake sure you have some basic knowledge of equalizing, compression and effects. You will be able to communicate with your sound guy during the sound check and make him perfectly clear how you want your voice to sound. Don’t leave it all up to him as it is quite possible that his artistic opinion doesn’t match yours…

Because this guy will define your sound, it is very important that you build a good relationship with him. Say hi, introduce yourself, be polite, communicate clearly and say thank you afterwards. It’s incredible how many musicians forget this…

Have fun with your microphone!

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