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RE: [ba-acappella] How hold microphone with singing?

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  • Stephen Saxon
    Kevin, Simple question. Long (yet incomplete) answer. The main thing you need to do is to practice with the mic you’re going to be using in performance,
    Message 1 of 3 , Aug 15, 2009
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      Simple question. Long (yet incomplete) answer.

      The main thing you need to do is to practice with the mic you’re going to be
      using in performance, preferably with the sound system you’ll be using in
      performance. There’s no substitute for personal familiarity. With that
      already stated as a basic foundation point, here’s some advice on handling a

      Most of us use a Shure SM-58 in performance most of the time. The SM-58 is
      the workhorse of live audio. The SM-58 “beta” has a blue band around the
      middle of the windscreen and tends to have more of a mid and high response,
      but it’s basically the same microphone.

      As with many microphones, SM-58’s have a very pronounced proximity effect.
      That means that if you sing quiet and within about ½”, you’ll get a very
      bass-dominated sound. Loud and far (2” – 5”) you’ll get much less of the
      low frequencies, so it’ll tend to be a brighter sound. I often sing bass,
      so I usually have the microphone touching my face to maximize that bass
      response (though I don’t actually use an SM-58 for singing bass very often).
      Any farther than about 6” and you’re really not using the effective range of
      the microphone very much. Sharing an SM-58 between two or more singers is
      pretty pointless. It looks good, but it sounds like crap because you’re
      just not able to get close enough to use the mic effectively.

      For an example of this, watch most stand-up comics from Bill Cosby and
      later. When Cosby used the “voice of God” speaking to Noah, he was holding
      the microphone almost inside his mouth to take full advantage of the
      proximity effect. I’m dating myself with that reference, but most good
      stand-ups are going to use that effect at some point or another.

      SM-58’s also have a bit of insulation in them to minimize the noise of your
      hand on the microphone. This can give you a false sense of technique which
      may be revealed if you’re given a different microphone to perform with. Be
      mindful handling a microphone. It is an amplification device, so tapping it
      or handling it roughly in your hand WILL produce amplified sound and that’s
      not usually going to add to the music (though that rule is bendable, in the
      right hands).

      Oh, and never blow, tap or spit into a microphone. The owner will hate you
      instantly. If you’re doing vocal percussion, invest in a microphone that
      you can abuse without spreading your DNA amongst the nations.

      As for placement, most of us use an off-axis position, where the microphone
      is not front and center, but down and to the right or left of your mouth
      just a bit, and pointing directly at your mouth. Getting off-center like
      this reduces the plosives and other sounds that can be a bother (P’s, B’s,
      K’s, and S’s in particular).

      Adapt the mic position and orientation to what you’re singing and where it
      should be in the mix. If you’re singing bass, for example (why do you think
      I would start with that? <g>), place the mic very close and sing very
      quietly (and promise the sound person that you won’t ever get louder than
      that). I usually park it at the right corner of my mouth, pointing to the
      opening of the mouth for bass lines. I also often park it at the same
      corner and a little higher, but pointing to my right nostril if I’m either
      humming or doing walking bass lines (dmm, dmm, dmm, dmm) because the sound
      is actually coming out of my nose and that’s what I want to amplify – and
      basically touching the microphone. It feels funny at first, but the sound
      is what it’s all about, so adapt.

      If you’re singing backgrounds, you may want to park the mic a little farther
      away from you (3” - 5”) than if you’re singing lead (~1”) and sing at a
      dynamic that balances everyone else appropriately.

      One of the most problematic things for a performing group is when the mics
      are not part of the normal rehearsal experience. I have seen instances
      where the singers place their mics based on their personalities, rather than
      their part in the music. That is, the more dominant or secure personalities
      hold the mic close and end up louder than the folks who are more nervous or
      uncomfortable. It becomes impossible for a sound board technician to do
      anything to make that group sound good, because even if s/he adjusts the
      levels appropriately, the various proximity effects that the singers are
      producing will make the music sound off, anyway.

      And what sound person really knows who should be boosted or toned down?
      Unless s/he has rehearsed with you many times, the channels should be set at
      sound check and left pretty much alone, and the group will be responsible
      for dynamic and prominence adjustments based on their mic technique. The
      ONLY way for that to sound good is for the group to rehearse regularly with
      microphones. Once you learn your notes, get on the mics. Adapting your
      notes to the realities of amplified sound is almost as much work as learning
      the notes themselves. Get used to it. It’s part of your responsibility to
      be able to do that. No excuses. Do the work and don’t complain about “bad
      sound” unless you KNOW that you were adapting appropriately and not
      contributing to the problem by having bad mic technique.

      Think about what you’re doing, what sounds you’re getting, and feel free to
      experiment – in rehearsal, at least. As with anything, you have to put in
      the time and the work. You cannot expect to sound good on a mic if you have
      never practiced with a mic. If that’s your situation, though, just do your
      best and learn as quickly as you can while as you’re doing it. Don’t give
      up on it, either. All of us have been in that spot at some point – adapting
      to something completely unexpected or new in real-time.

      Best of luck,

      Stephen Saxon



      From: ba-acappella@yahoogroups.com [mailto:ba-acappella@yahoogroups.com] On
      Behalf Of Kevin Lee
      Sent: Saturday, August 15, 2009 3:20 AM
      To: ba-acappella@yahoogroups.com
      Subject: [ba-acappella] How hold microphone with singing?

      How should the mic be positioned when you're singing into it? Should I sing
      directly into the top of the mic (when singing a solo, that is)

      [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
    • Kevin Ryan
      Kev The answer given below, for my nickel is one of the best , simple and yet pretty darn complete ones I have read.. I interact with a lot of folks making the
      Message 2 of 3 , Aug 15, 2009
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        The answer given below, for my nickel is one of the best , simple and
        yet pretty darn complete ones I have read.. I interact with a lot of
        folks making the transition from pop and rock to mainline jazz,
        standards and older world R and B ( before a lot of effects) - there
        are often a lot of problems and Stephen just about hit them all on the

        I guess I night street that he knows what he is talking about as
        regards the timbre, the favoring of frequencies, the bass Vs mid range
        and treble issue and how they directly relate to proximity- that is

        Another is that folks often do not understand what a great instrument
        the mic is but the most important instrument is your voice and they
        are to do different things. Keep the mic close ( in general) your
        volume down nuanced, and yourself very focused on your dynamics and
        blending- let he mic amplify and if need bass , put that puppy just as
        Stephen said. Also as he said for the higher notes, or really thinner
        sound, the mic head should be a little higher up towards the nose area
        and a bit farther away requiring more volume.

        Do not sing stylishly across the top of the mic or around it or under
        it, stick with Stephen on this and take the bass tips to heart, I do
        exactly what he says , especially the positioning of bass

        Don’t point the mic at a loudspeaker and always have your monitors as
        directly aimed at the non business end of that mic as much as
        possible. This is because these proximity effect cardioid dynamic
        mics have just that, a hot zone of proximity like a heart in front of
        the head of the mic and they are very linear and unidirectional

        Do not sing without monitors or good luck in a bigger venue

        Hazzah on the sharing of mics comment as well; the sheer physics of
        how the sound is amplified tell you that is never is optimal for
        vocally based or vocally predominant music

        Again Hazzah that you do not hear him saying you need outrageously
        priced equipment. Some types of mic that are for live audience
        generally need to stay in that world and out of the studio and vice
        versa ( for vocally predominant music, especially acapella)

        As Stephen said, there is more, such as trying to understand some of
        the effects that your sound guy can work with starting with simple
        ( a preferential passing on or through of certain aspects of the harmonic
        frequencies within a tone . There is much more and yes it makes on heck of a
        difference and depending on the timbre of your voice the differences are
        personal. Namely, one tenors settings, are theirs, not for every tenor
        although tenor settings are more like a tenor than a baritone,
        straightforward but it is wise to get to know that sort of stuff as all
        benefit the more they understand how sound can be shaped, colored and
        delivered to the audience.( e.g. chorus, delay flanging and reverb and so on

        Best of all and thanks Mr. Saxon on this one too, rehearse with the
        exact mic and the other folks using the exact mic and the exact same
        sound folks and as much a possible in the same location as
        possible. You need that to get the magic gestalt of your voice
        blending with the rest. Of course, the gig venue is not where you
        rehearse, if you bring your own gear, great, but then you the room
        issues. If you do not, then for God’s sake, always sound check and not
        just alone but with the whole groups and be sure you hit high and low
        volume sections, heavy vocalizations ( syllabic sections) and some
        bass and tenor passages as no one setting of equipment catches it all.
        Stephen gave you gold on the vowels as well, the off to the side of
        the technique is great, some thought it was just Frank or Vic or Tony
        B being cool, no…they are avoiding hard consonants- you will see
        smart rappers do that as well

        Yeh, I ran on too much sorry, it’s just that it is so darn helpful
        when you do it right and Stephen did such a great job I just had to
        pipe in as I so frequently find folks who really struggle on this

        Another Kev,

        Keep singing

        > From: ba-acappella@yahoogroups.com [mailto:ba-acappella@yahoogroups.com] On
        > Behalf Of Stephen Saxon
        > Sent: Saturday, August 15, 2009 1:45 PM
        > To: 'Kevin Lee'; ba-acappella@yahoogroups.com
        > Subject: RE: [ba-acappella] How hold microphone with singing?
        > Kevin,
        > Simple question. Long (yet incomplete) answer.
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