Almeria StringsFolk, Bluegrass, Celtic and Traditional Music

Folk, Bluegrass, Celtic and Traditional Music

Performing With a Microphone

These are just a few general hints to help you if you are unused to singling or playing though a microphone. It can seem strange at first, but like everything, the more more you do it the easier it gets. There a few common mistakes people new to it make. By knowing what these are (and avoiding them) you can make your performance go much easier, and sound much better.

1. Get close to the microphone. This is by far the most common mistake - you need to be REALLY CLOSE. If you are too far away, more gain will be needed on the desk, and this raises the risk of feedback. Also, if you are too far away, much more extraneous noise will be picked up and amplified. STAY RIGHT ON TOP OF THE MICROPHONE. Most vocal microphones are designed to sound best when you are REALLY CLOSE and if you are too far away, your voice will not sound as good it could. How far is about right for vocals? Somewhere in the 5cm or 2” range. 15cm or 6” is too far away. STAY CLOSE.

2. Stay ON AXIS to the microphone. That means not “off to the side”. Vocal microphones reject sounds from the sides. They are designed to pick up your voice (or instrument) from DIRECTLY in front. Even a small amount off to the side will have a negative effect on the sound. Some microphones are far more directional than others… so if you are using these, this is doubly important. Highly directional (hypercardiod) microphones are very good at isolating your voice from sounds in the background, and for reducing pickup from loudspeakers - hence, they are very good in “difficult” rooms, but at the same time, they will also reject your voice if you are even slightly off-axis. So, in addition to STAYING CLOSE, you need to ensure you are DIRECTLY IN LINE with the end of the microphone.

3. When doing a sound check, sing or play at EXACTLY the same level you will perform at. This can be difficult, because there is no audience there - but it is essential for getting the settings on the mixer right. If you perform only half as loud during your sound-check as you do when performing, those settings will be wrong.

4. The same thing applies to your instrument (whether miked or plugged in). Try to play it at full performance level during the sound-check.

5. If using a microphone on a guitar, it is usually best not to have it directed straight into the sound-hole. They usually sound best when aimed slightly away, towards the 12th or 14th fret.  You can vary dynamics by moving closer or further away, but remember - microphones are very sensitive and even a small difference in distance makes a difference in sound. The same thing applies to instruments as it does to vocals. You always need to be close enough… too far, and not only will your level fall dramatically, but this makes feed back (“howling”) from the PA system much more likely and harder to control.

6. You will also notice that lower frequency content (“bass”) tends to increase as you close in, and decrease as you move away. Some singers use this creatively. The first people to do so were the “crooners” of the 1940’s and 1950’s. Today, it is still something every singer needs to be aware of. You can use it to “thicken up” your voice.

The main theme of the above is very clear. You really do need to keep your distance from the microphone in mind at all times during your performance. It is a very important “performance skill” that makes a huge difference to how you sound to your audience. Learn how to “work the mike”, and you will find it just as useful and important as playing or singing in tune!