How do you perceive the microphone? Is it your best friend or are you slightly wary of it? In this article we’re thinking about how you can get the most out of the mic. How can you make it work for you and not against you? How can you ensure that it’s an aid to singing and not a distraction? Read on if you want to find out more.
It’s important for us to realize at the outset that, as singers, we’re not really in control of what comes out of the speakers. That is, in large part, down to the person operating the sound desk. What we do can have some effect but it can’t rescue a bad mix with bad EQ. Our job is to give the sound person the best possible raw material with which to work. We should also note here that sound engineers will have varying preferences in terms of how they would like you to handle the microphone – some of their views can be quite strident and you will need to take these into account. Relationships are important within a worship team and the sound team are an important part of all we do. It’s simply not worth digging your heals in on these issues if that’s going to sour the atmosphere around a rehearsal, sound check or service. Once this is established we can think a little about microphone technique.
Sing into the mic
First and foremost you MUST sing directly into the microphone. Don’t be afraid of it – you can’t avoid it anyway. Most mics which are used for singing are directional which means they only pick up sound from a certain radius and they’re definitely going to pick up more coming from straight in front of them than they do from the sides. It may look cool to sing across the microphone but its not going to help the sound – it will also allow other sounds into the front of the mic which could cause balance problems or feedback as your level needs to be pushed higher.
Understand the proximity effect
Most of the microphones we use for live vocals are subject to what’s called the proximity effect. Put simply, if you sing or speak from very close to the microphone some of the lower frequencies will be enhanced. This is a sound that we’re used to and a lot of us like the sound of our voices when we have the microphone almost touching our lips. The proximity effect is often quite pleasing for singing but if the sound you’re getting is slightly too boomy you might consider moving a couple of inches away from the mic which should make a big difference.
If you’re a singer who speaks between songs it’s also a good idea to move a couple of inches back when you do this as it will make speech more intelligible.
Use the microphone to enhance dynamics and change colour
You can achieve some very different sounds by moving relatively small distances forward and backwards from a microphone. This is the point where some sound engineers may quibble so be prepared to compromise!
Singing with your lips almost touching the microphone is a very good technique for the slower, more sensitive vocal. It enables you to sing a little more softly whilst not losing much volume at the mixing desk whilst taking full advantage of the proximity effect. In order to make the most of this you must ensure that ‘normal’ singing takes place about an inch or two away from the microphone so that there is a contrast.
The opposite of the above is also true. If you’re singing loud, fast songs it can help to back off by an inch or two. Again, as long as you are projecting your voice into the microphone this should keep the basic level similar and having less proximity effect can also make the words a little clearer when they’re faster moving.
You can also use distance from the mic to your advantage when you’re forced to push in order to reach a note. Moving your mouth back by another four inches can help the sound not to ‘explode’ into the microphone. Having said that, I wouldn’t advise pushing for notes too often as it can damage the vocal chords.
These ideas are worth trying out in rehearsal if you can. You need to be aware that only small movements are required and try to make sure you don’t go over the top. Just because you can do something doesn’t mean that you have to.
Project your voice
This is not about singing loudly! When using a microphone it can be easy to aim your voice at the front of the microphone. Whilst this may feel like using the microphone it often means that you don’t use your voice to it’s full potential. In order to sing most naturally and with expression you should still aim your voice at the back of the room. It’s all about imaging where the sound is going in your head but it really does make a huge difference.
Modern music uses the microphone as a feature. We may think that technology is simply there to amplify the sound we’re making but the microphones we use really do colour the sound which is produced. Given that fact it makes sense to make the most of the properties of the mics we use and to enjoy the effects – as long as we do it tastefully.