Vocal Technique - Mastery

March 28th, 2009 | by Greg Barker

Your Mic Habits: Naughty or Nice?

VoiceCouncil announces its Top Mic Tips & Techniques for Live Performance. Vocalists, Audio Experts and VoiceCouncil readers have all contributed to the list below. Agree? -Go to our forum to express your view.

Before Performance

1. Test the Mic.
A mic should only be used if it’s in good shape, regardless of its age. A test at home before you take it to the gig is a good idea. A dynamic mic can last a long time (decades) without wearing out, but moisture and mishandling can damage a mic. One of our readers recommends putting those little ubiquitous packs of silica gel that comes with commercial packaging in your mic case – but keep these away from the business end of the mic.

2. Leave the Foam Wind-Shields at Home.
Those foam wind-shields are pretty much useless, moreover they muddy up your sound. They could be useful during an outdoor concert with gale force winds…they are, after all, wind-screens. They may also help your sound personnel to be able to differentiate your mic from someone else’s but there are better ways. If you’re having trouble with popping your Ps and Bs, try singing slightly over or under the mic.

3. Mic Cable Issues.

Always check your mic cables and jacks long before the performance starts. Even good cables can develop issues, or have been crushed under a road case along the way. Check to see not only that it passes signal, but that it doesn’t crackle when moved. Although some people recommend gaffer tape, this leaves goo. Shrink-wrap is more common. Moral: just buy good cables. You can often tell a good cable by how nicely it wraps: kinks = cheapo. If you’re wireless, have a corded mic and cable at the ready—you never know.

4. Mics and Monitors.

In order to avoid feedback from your monitors, learn two common mic pick-up patterns:

(a) cardioid: this mic is most sensitive to sounds coming from the front and least sensitive to sounds coming from behind and

(b) hyper-cardioid: this mic has a narrower range of what it will pick up from the front, but is more sensitive to sounds coming from behind. Thus, a cardioid mic will have the monitor directly in front, whereas the mic with a hyper-cardioid pattern will work best with the monitor at the side. If you hold your mic by hand, don’t drop the hand holding the mic to your side when near the stage monitors. You can expect damaging feedback noise, or hear about it from the soundman frantically flicking your fader up and down at the console to prevent the squeal.

5. Reduce Handling Noise.

Noise can be reduced by ensuring that you have a good quality, solid mic stand. Of course you don’t want to use a cheaper mic which makes noise when it is handled. Attach the lead to the stand with reusable clips or Velcro (tape leaves marks) in order to reduce vibration noise unless, of course, you wish to move around on stage. One of our readers swears by her shock-mount clip for quieting the mic in the stand—but these do make it a little more difficult to remove the mic.

During Performance

1. Your Posture and the Mic.

It’s important to maintain proper posture (the best you can) when singing, so make sure you position yourself properly if you’re using a mic on a stand. Be sure to adjust the height so that you are ‘forced’ to lift up to a proper posture. One of our subscribers writes: “I was singing and playing guitar hunched over my mic– this compressed my entire breathing apparatus. I now have my mic up on the stand a bit higher so that my head is up and looking over the audience. I am able to breathe better and to form phrases as there is less pressure on the front of my body.”

2. Holding the Mic.

If you choose to hold the mic, posture is equally important. It’s a lot easier for some people to lose track of where their mic is when they’re holding it. Working the mic has it upside—if you do it correctly. Watch over working by arching your back, you’ll actually lose power and possibly pitch control. Stay steady on the mic to make your sound personnel’s job easier. It’s also important to watch how you hold the mic: if your hand is too close to the grill you cut out some of the lower frequencies. So keep your hand from actually touching the grill.

3. Close But Not Too Close.

In a high volume situation, you need to find a balance between being as close to the mic element as possible, and not over-driving the mic element with your sheer vocal volume. When you get that close to the element, you hear breathing more and sometimes get more bass frequencies than desired. Optimally, most people are an inch away—though many performers touch the mic lightly with their lips while playing/singing because it lets them know where it is without having to look at it.

For an example of mic technique in a low volume situation see the video below of Queensryche; here, the lead vocalist (Geoff Tate) is using a Shure SM58 within an inch or two:

Here is Ronnie James Dio right on the mic in a higher volume situation (forward to 1:00 or so)

4. Eating the Mic?

It’s important to stay close to the mic when using a dynamic mic (even a condenser mic to an extent), but get too close and you’ll be overcome by bass frequencies. Unless that’s the effect you’re looking for, try to stay about an inch away from the mic and this way you’ll also have much better control over your diction. If you are approaching a higher volume, (or screaming or hollering) you may need to back off a bit to keep the level consistent. We call this ‘mic technique’ and sound technicians love it—so will your audience. Make sure you practice with whichever mic you’re going to be using, practice can make all the difference in achieving the sound you want.

5. No Hitting Allowed.

If you swing your cable-reinforced mic on stage, don’t hit anyone – including your audience. Give yourself some room to work and know your boundaries. No surprises – work out all your flamboyance in rehearsal.

Did we cover it all? Click here to share your opinion.

Useful Links

The VoiceCouncil Forum on Mics for Vocalists

Mics for Live Performance

Mics for Recording

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