Microphone Guide for Vocalists
This is just a basic guide into microphones. I’m not an expert on sound, but I hope this will give you an insight about microphones, and how they work.
While most people think that they know how to hold a microphone, I’ve often noticed that when you actually give someone a microphone to sing into, they need to be shown Mic technique as to how it actually works, how to hold it etc, to get the best from it.
How does a microphone work?
Inside the microphone there is a membrane with some wires attached to it. When you sing into your microphone, the sound waves will hit this membrane, causing it to vibrate. These vibrations then create a small electrical current, which travels down the microphone cable and into your mixer/speakers etc, where it is amplified and turned back into a sound wave.
Your microphone will only work when it is plugged into a sound system.
There are several different types of microphones on the market, such as dynamic, condenser, ribbon etc, I’m going to concentrate on the dynamic mic as this tends to be the one that most vocalists use.
A dynamic microphone looks something similar to the one in the picture. A bulbous head which you singing into, with a shaft to hold. Depending on the make of microphone you use, there may be an on/off switch below the head. The cable is attached to the bottom via a XLR fitting, or in the case of a wireless microphone, the electrical components and batteries are fitted into the shaft.
The head of the microphone is foam covered grill which acts as a pop-shield (softens the force of air on some of the harder consonant sounds such as B, H, or P). Some models you can unscrew and replace the head of the microphone if it gets damaged.
Microphone Direction Pick Up
You may also have see the terms directional or omni-directional when looking at microphones. This basically is how the microphone picks up the sound. Directional meaning that the sound needs to come from the front of the microphone, Omni-directional, means that the microphone can pick up sound from around the sides of the microphone too. A quick mention here to about Cardiod . You often see this term with microphones – basically it means that the pick up area of the microphone is a heart shape.
When you sing or speak, sound is generated from your mouth, so you will need to direct your voice towards the pick-up pattern of your microphone.
Most microphones are designed to be held in a specific way. With the dynamic microphone, you will need to keep your hand away from the grille part of the microphone (as this is where the sound will enter your microphone) and hold the stem firmly. If you hold the grille part of your microphone, you will find that this can cause an increased chance of leading to feedback (that horrible screeching sound from your speakers).
You should aim to hold your microphone horizontally towards your mouth, rather than holding it vertically, where the sound can actually skim over the top of your microphone. If you turn your head when singing, move your arm and take the microphone with you, otherwise you will find the microphone fails to pick you up when you move out of its pick-up pattern. You may possibly find your arm aches from holding your microphone correctly after a while. Keep swapping arms, or you may find a mic stand helpful.
How far away from your mouth should you hold your microphone?
As a rough guide about 4-6 inches away from your mouth when singing normally, but we need to go back to how a microphone works to get the best from this.
Remember earlier I said about the sound wave hitting this diaphragm inside your microphone to create an electrical current. The louder you sing, the more forcefully the sound waves will hit this diaphragm, the quieter you sing, the less force it’s got. So bear this in mind when holding your microphone. If you’re singing a quiet note, bring your microphone towards your voice, and take your microphone away more if you are singing a loud note.
This also should be applied with frequencies too. If you sing a low note, the frequency is lower, so bring your mic a little closer. If you’re singing a high note, the frequency is higher, and is able to cut through easier than a lower note, so move your mic a little further away. Also if you hold your microphone too close to your lips, your lyrics are going to sound muffled.
Oh, some other things I need to mention…
Don’t point the microphone at the monitor or the speakers as this can cause feedback.
Don’t drop or bang your microphone as you can damage the delicate membrane/diaphragm, which converts your voice into an electric signal.
Don’t get your microphone wet, you could receive an electric shock.
Always carry a spare microphone lead as they seem to fail when you least expect it. If you are using a wireless mic, carry lots of spare batteries. Also, it’s a good idea to have a wired mic in your kit bag too, as a back up, just in case your wireless mic fails for any reason.
Wired or Wireless
There are advantages and disadvantages to both wireless and wired microphone systems. Its basically down to user choice. There is very little difference in audio quality now days between a wired or wireless microphone. Consider things such as do you need the freedom to move around without being tied to a cable. Is there a safety hazzard of tripping over the cable etc.
Wireless microphones are more expensive than a wired version. However, you also get the choice of a headset system or a clip on version (which free up your hands) as well as the traditional handheld version.
Wireless microphones tend to be slightly larger and sometimes heavier than a wired mic. You may also need to wear a transmitter box on your person. In the case of a hand-held microphone, the transmitter is fitted into the shaft of your microphone.
Wireless still need batteries to be able to transmit a radio signal from the microphone transmitter to the receiver box, which is plugged into your PA system. You will need to carry lots of spares.
Wireless microphones work on radio frequencies. Governments around the world, only allow wireless microphones to operate on certain frequencies. Bigger microphone brands such as Shure, Seinheisser, Beyer-Dynamic etc, will have their microphones operating on your particular country’s free legal frequencies, and each microphone usually doesn’t interfere on the exact same frequency. Some of the cheaper wireless microphones available may not be so finely tuned onto that frequency and have been known to pick up interference from passing taxi’s or DJ’s operating in different rooms at the same venue.
More elite wireless microphone systems will require you to buy a special radio licence to operate it on. Different country have different frequencies available, and can impose heavy fines if these microphones are found to be operating outside that country’s legal frequencies. These microphones are usually a problem in the realms of the bigger artist.
If you can put up with a cord, wired mics are more simple and reliable. Use the best quality cable and connectors and there rarely is a problem. If a problem does arise, it is usually fixed by replacing the cable.
Some guidelines about buying a microphone:
Try out several microphones before you commit to buy. More expensive microphones have bigger frequency pick-up ranges to suit different voices, so try to select the microphone that suits your voice. When you are trying out microphones, make sure the amplification system is set flat, (eg no extra treble, bass or reverb), so that you can hear the differences between the microphones.
Buy a mic most suited to the physical setting where you will be using the mic, eg don’t buy a recording mic, if you plan to sing live vocals.
Practice with your microphone to find out how to get the best sound from it. Don’t be afraid to experiment.
You do get what you pay for. I would suggest looking at what level you are performing at, then buy the best you can afford.
Whatever you decide, a microphone cannot be used to overcome poor singing/speaking technique, just as buying an expensive microphone is not going to make a bad voice sound good. A microphone will only amplify what sound it receives.
mic technique for vocals
© Successful Singing