This is a slightly edited repeat of the post I wrote for The 4014 Project and posted the other day, and I thought it might be appropriate to add it to this, my personal blog, too. It is the start of a series of posts looking at a few basic techniques and tricks of the trade for live singers and musicians, starting this week with microphone technique.
Microphone technique seems to be neglected by a lot of singers when they’re starting out, in fact a lot of singers seem very reluctant to embrace it at all (especially those used to singing acoustically in folk clubs etc.).
“But why should we listen to Ells?” I hear you cry… well, because I said so. And also because I’ve experienced both being on stage and at the sound desk, and I’ve also learnt a lot from fellow musicians and sound techs over the years.
The Importance of Microphone Technique:
Mic technique is certainly something I didn’t really think about until I started learning more about the technical side of music, but it can make a real difference when you’re on-stage… You will feel more confident, and come across better if you have practiced and developed you microphone technique. It’s no good singing your heart out if no-one can hear you because you’re miles from the pickup area of your microphone!
And that brings me on the first point:-
Most microphones will pick up best from the grill to around 6 inches away from the diaphragm (the moving part that converts the sound energy into movement, which is then converted into the electrical signal). If you move further away from the mic than this, chances are that your voice will get lost, or, your friendly sound person will have to turn up the gain so much that feedback is a real possibility. I would recommend staying fairly close to the mic, around 1-3″ away.
Position the mic so that you’re singing into it… some people recommend singing over the top of, or from the side of the mic to reduce ‘pop’. (‘Pop’ is when plosive sounds such as p’s at the beginning of words, cause the mic to make a boomy popping noise as the outrush of air hits the sensitive diaphragm).
Personally, I think that if you’re the correct distance from the mic (6″ away max.) and it is at a slight angle, that should be fine. If the mic is pointing too much at your chest or chin, the general pick-up is not as good, and I always think a tiny bit of ‘pop’ is better than not being heard at all!
Also, you’d be surprised at how many people set up a mic directly in front of them… and then look at their guitar for the whole set. I have seen this many times in my role as Open Mic sound person, so I will say this: If you are playing an instrument and need to look at it, there is nothing at all wrong with positioning the mic a bit to the side so that you can sing into it AND see your guitar neck/keyboard or whatever wonderful instrument you happen to perform with. In fact, your sound person will probably thank you for it.
If there are helpful people positioning things for you, don’t be afraid to tell them what you prefer (in a nice way – sound people are sensitive beasties!). It is much better to get it right while you’re setting up – remember; they want you to sound good too.
One final note on positioning – try to put the microphone where you don’t need to lean in to it or to tilt your head up to much to get close enough to it… this will just generally make you more comfortable and allow you to stand correctly when you sing. Because good posture is important, ’nuff said!
Practice makes perfect:
I would definitely recommend practicing with a microphone if you can, so you can hear how much you’re getting back from it in different positions, and how the position of the mic affects the tone of your voice. A lot of live vocal mics have ‘presence’ if you get near to them (a frequency boost around the mid-tone of the human voice), and many singers use this to their advantage. Whether you decide to do this or not is totally personal preference, and depends on many factors, such as the mood of the song and what works best for your voice.
If you don’t have a mic you can sing with, then setting up a pretend mic when you practice can also be a help (although you might feel a bit silly!), particularly if you play an instrument, just because having something physically in front of you will make you more aware when it comes to a performance.
I hope these tips will be of use to you. If you need any more explanation, have any questions, or even any disagreements or more tips, let me know in the comments or email firstname.lastname@example.org (just make sure you mark in the subject that it’s for Ells, regarding this blog) and I will do my best to help.