At Musicademy we look a lot at getting the best out of different types of instrument and sometimes the vocalists can feel a bit left out so let’s talk about the how to get the best out of the singers instrument, the humble microphone. 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 of course is in large part, down to the sound engineer. Good mic technique can’t rescue a bad mix with bad EQ but we can give the engineer the best possible raw material with which to work. That said engineers will have varying preferences in terms of how they would like you to handle the microphone and some of their views can be quite strident. Relationally it’s probably not worth digging your heals in on these issues if it’s going to sour the atmosphere around a rehearsal, sound check or service. So with a little pragmatism let’s talk about microphone technique.
1. 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 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. Likewise singing from the sides allow other sounds into the front of the mic which could cause balance problems or even feedback as your level needs to be pushed higher.
2. 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 gets too boomy moving away a couple of inches makes a big difference. Also if you speak or pray between songs moving back will enhance the treble frequencies and make speech more intelligible especially in an echoey church building
3. Use the microphone to enhance dynamics and change colours
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.
4. 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 its 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.