RE: [ba-acappella] How hold microphone with singing?
Simple question. Long (yet incomplete) answer.
The main thing you need to do is to practice with the mic youre going to be
using in performance, preferably with the sound system youll be using in
performance. Theres no substitute for personal familiarity. With that
already stated as a basic foundation point, heres 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 its basically the same microphone.
As with many microphones, SM-58s have a very pronounced proximity effect.
That means that if you sing quiet and within about ½, youll get a very
bass-dominated sound. Loud and far (2 5) youll get much less of the
low frequencies, so itll 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 dont actually use an SM-58 for singing bass very often).
Any farther than about 6 and youre 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 youre
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. Im dating myself with that reference, but most good
stand-ups are going to use that effect at some point or another.
SM-58s 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 youre 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 thats
not usually going to add to the music (though that rule is bendable, in the
Oh, and never blow, tap or spit into a microphone. The owner will hate you
instantly. If youre 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 (Ps, Bs,
Ks, and Ss in particular).
Adapt the mic position and orientation to what youre singing and where it
should be in the mix. If youre 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 wont 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 Im either
humming or doing walking bass lines (dmm, dmm, dmm, dmm) because the sound
is actually coming out of my nose and thats what I want to amplify and
basically touching the microphone. It feels funny at first, but the sound
is what its all about, so adapt.
If youre singing backgrounds, you may want to park the mic a little farther
away from you (3 - 5) than if youre 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. Its part of your responsibility to
be able to do that. No excuses. Do the work and dont 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 youre doing, what sounds youre 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 thats your situation, though, just do your
best and learn as quickly as you can while as youre doing it. Dont 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,
From: email@example.com [mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org] On
Behalf Of Kevin Lee
Sent: Saturday, August 15, 2009 3:20 AM
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]
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
Dont 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 Gods 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, its 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
> From: email@example.com [mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org] On
> Behalf Of Stephen Saxon
> Sent: Saturday, August 15, 2009 1:45 PM
> To: 'Kevin Lee'; email@example.com
> Subject: RE: [ba-acappella] How hold microphone with singing?
> Simple question. Long (yet incomplete) answer.