On stages and arenas all over the world, from the humble open mic night, to open air concert stadiums, singers use microphones! This article will go into all the ins/outs that you need to know, a general overview of microphones and how they pertain to the modern singer..

Microphone Technique On Stage

You generally want to be singing nice and close to the microphone, to give the sound engineer the strongest possible source (and rejection of stage noise and other instruments). When singing louder passages, it’s usually good practice to tilt the head back away from the microphone slightly- to even out the sound in the house PA speakers. Don’t worry the audience will still perceive the increase in energy at that moment in your vocal performance. Your sound engineer will thank you too, as he/she won’t need to be sitting riding the fader on the sound desk just to make you sound professional!

Take care to avoid “plosives”- large bursts of air from the lips whenever you say a “P”, or a “B” sound. If these are directed too squarely into the microphone, then the capsule can pop- which results in an awful explosive sound in the PA speakers- it really jolts the audience, and it’s a sure way to tell a pro-singer from an amateur. Aim your plosives across the microhone’s grill, so the explosion of air from your lips escapes the mic capsule itself.

A final piece of advice is to really “sing the speaker”. Normally, without amplification, you can hear your voice bouncing off the walls of the room you are in, and you can adjust your volume dynamics naturally this way. But mic’d up, perhaps with a band also, you’ll be getting your feedback cues about your voice from what you “hear” in the speaker. So tune into the speaker, become one with it! Play the speaker like an instrument. What you hear, is what everybody else hears.

On stage, a singer might prefer to use a stand, or go handheld. Each have different advantages/ disadvantages of course. Using a stand is obviously vital for singing instrument players, but a singer might also use one for a vocal that is particularly intimate- giving a strong focus for the audience at the front of the stage. Going free with handhold gives you access to the whole stage, you can dance and move around to your hearts content, interacting with the band and the audience with your body as much as your voice! Go with what you prefer to do. Being natural is always best..

Microphones In The Studio

In the studio, there will usually be a range of microphones that you can try out. Whilst a lot can be achieved post-production to get the right sound that fits the tone of your record, a good producer will always want to get the best possible sound at source. Each and every microphone has its own particular character & vibe, and its a case of trying them on and seeing what fits. Usually there will be one mic in particular that just really makes you shine. Note that it isn’t always the most expensive microphone either! My personal favourite (for my voice), is still an SM58. It just works for me, even though its really a dynamic microphone typically used on stage (see below). I like the warmth that it imparts on my voice. As well, after countless recordings, I feel really at home with this microphone. I like singing into it, and sometimes that is the main thing. (Bono also used this mic on “Achtung Baby”, and if its good enough for him.. ) As a singer, you’ll likely find your way to the microphone that suits you and your voice best, and end up using it on most of your recordings. A lot of attention is given to microphones (and other equipment, preamps etc), but more than any of these things, it’s your performance that matters the most!! The audience won’t give two hoots about your equipment, they’re listening to your voice and your vibe. A great singer will sound great using a cheap microphone (or even singing down the telephone!), and a bad singer won’t sound any better just because they’re using a U87. So pick what feels good, and sounds the best to you, then forget about it!

Microphone Types

Finally a quick word, about types of microphones you are likely to encounter. There are three main types of vocal microphone, each with individual characteristics and merits to suit the particular application.

Dynamic Microphones

These microphones convert sound into an electrical signal by means of electromagnetism. They are usually built very robustly, to withstand the rigors of stage use and touring, and have the additional benefit of being able to handle loud sound sources. Their reduced sensitivity also makes them less prone to feedback, and these are the mics that you are almost 100% likely to use on stage. The classic design is the Shure SM58, an industry standard- though there are of course many competing brands (some which are really much better than the 58!)

Ribbon Microphones

Another type of dynamic microphone is a ribbon microphone. Instead of a moving coil attached to a diaphragm, ribbon mics use a thin strip of metal, which is suspended in a strong magnetic field. These can be heard on countless vintage recordings from Muddy Waters to the Beatles & Nina Simone. They are very delicately constructed, and hence there use is generally confined to the studio. If you or or your producer is looking for a nice vintage, warm, characterful sound, he/ she’ll most likely reach for a ribbon.

Condensor Microphones

These are the classic studio microphones used when a really posh vocal is needed for a record. They have a great transient response (they capture the initial attack of the sound well), they’re highly detailed, capture a wide frequency range, and are much more sensitive than dynamic microphones. Good quality models can be bought for sub £100 (Rode NT1a is a budget favourite), and range up to and over £2000, such as the iconic Neuman U87, used on countless hit records in all the top studios. The majority of singers will use these in the studio due to their clarirty and detail, especially at the top end, where they give plenty of sparkle, presence and air to the modern vocal sound.

Singing Wizard

Our studio is fully equipped with a range of microphones for you to try out, as well as full PA facilities, so if you’d like to come and give your live vocals a practice, and get some help finding your best sound with an experienced Vocal Coach, please do get in touch!