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Using Microphones for the first time

I received lots of useful suggestions to this query.

Original post:
> I have a small vocal jazz group which is using mikes for the first
> time. They're all experienced classical singers. What advice would
> you give them for using the mikes? So far I've advised them to sing
> as if the mike weren't there, in terms of projection and so on,
> because I've heard groups which use the mike as a substitute for
> proper breath support. I've shown them how to hold the mikes and
> encouraged them to listen to the monitors. What else?



It all depends on the mike -- for many of them, you have to get RIGHT ON the
mike for it to work at all -- so you'll just have to test it before you give
final advice!

Ruth McKendree Treen
Chatham, Massachusetts


I, too, took my group to 1-1 mikes a few years ago. In trying to
learn/teach myself, I have had a couple of interesting inputs from different
VJ sources I respect. The first was to hold the mike two fingers away from
the chin, the mike pointed at the chin, just "under the chin". My "knew it
all" singers never took well to that one. They thought they should "eat" it.
And I have heard that from workshops, also. One person even made sure each
had his "own" mike so there would be no germs spread. I really didn't like
that, though. The latest I heard was from Gene Aitken, head of jazz at UNC.
In a short festival workshop with my group, helped them find their natural
mezzo level by saying their name at about the energy you would use when
introducing yourself. He encouraged then to sing at that comfortable level
and use pulling the mike closer and further for dynamics. I find this a
really good idea. It lets the singer sing at the energy needed to produce
the tone well ( or however they can when they're sick!) and then use the
closeness of the mike to determine volume. I have an almost all new group
this year, so I will try to get this group indoctrinated early!

By the way, you mentioned holding the mike. The way all my mentors have
suggested is fingertips, not in the fist. Hope that's what you had in mind.

I've been learning as I go, so I'm not the authority, but all this comes
from those who do this, and have done it, for a lot longer than I! Good
luck. And let us jazzers know what you get.

(Mrs.) Pat Lacey
Missouri Baptist University
St. Louis, MO
See our website at


Going to microphones is akin to opening Pandora's Box! Who will be doing
the mix? From where? At this point you are putting the success of your
program in the hands of the sound tech. You are counting on his ears to be
as good as yours.

Then, as director, your ears must hear not only the live sound, but the
"re-enforced" sound as well. You will have to respond differently in your
conducting to achieve not only the blend you desire from the pure vocals,
but the blend as heard in the speakers as well. Finally, you have to
conduct to obtain the right blend of live and re-enforced that the audience

This is after you tackle the problems of mic technique. What mics are you
using? Different mics respond differently to different voices, and vocal
ranges. Some mics have a strong bias in the high range. Some mics have a
more pronounced bass proximity effect. You will find that matching the mic
to the voice is an art in itself.

Using a mic is not just a case of "singing as if it wasn't there"! My wife
has a voice that doesn't' need a mic. A major problem with coming to grips
with current trends for her evolved from not paying any attention to the
mic, and just singing as if it wasn't there.

A vocalist must learn to "work" the mic. Exploit the mic vocally. Learn to
strengths and weaknesses of the equipment, and vocally exploit them.

You are entering a whole new world - and as a classically oriented musician,
you may find the results not worth the trouble.

I personally use both - depending on the ensemble and the intent. For my a
cappella ensemble, I use one or two high quality mics - cardioid or
condenser - depending on venue, and place them so that they are equidistant
from the voices. Then I work with the sound tech to eq the system to get
the sound through the speakers that most closely reflects the natural sound
of the group.


Practice, practice, and then practice some more with those mikes. Record the
practice sessions, if possible, so your singers can hear how the mix and
reverb (if any) will sound. Also, will any of the speakers be pointed back
at the singers?

Just some things to consider.

Good luck and happy sounds!
Liz Glissman
Music Director, Saint Patrick's Church
Rolla, MO


You need to be sure your sound tech doesn't enable your singers to forget
about projection. It's a common habit of sound techs to boost the gain on a
mic in order to make a singer heard, and over time, singers stop projecting,
no matter how much a director might beg and plead with them otherwise. The
sound tech is the one who has the power to create a lot of problems.
Another common trick among vocalists who are one-on-a-mic is to speak softly
into a mic during a sound check in order to get the level set high, and then
the singer will take advantage of that boosted volume to not have to

As an adjudicator, this is the biggest flaw I see in individual micing. You
can tell them to project all you want, but you need to make sure you have a
sound tech who is reinforcing that point. And listen during sound checks to
make sure each person is giving an accurate vocal level at the time of


1. Don't be afraid of it! The mic is your friend.

2. Make sure the mics have very good windscreens, either built in or added
on. The ever popular Sure SM-58 is very good. The companion SM-57 is NOT,
and is often used as an "all-purpose" mic. (Translation: not very good
for any purpose!)

3. Don't use pop and rock singers as a model for mic placement or use!
Hold it firmly (but no white knuckles!) at a comfortable 45-degree angle,
with the thumb supporting the bottom. (For men, a good right-hand golf
club grip is a good starting point. For women it is more feminine to hold
closer to the fingertips rather than having a death grip on it!) Don't
hold it way up at the top, or your fist will cover your facial expression.
In fact, it's better to hold it close to the bottom so you can keep a grip
on the cable connector as well.

4. Hold it just below your mouth, not in front of your mouth, and do not
attempt to sing down the barrel of the mic but over the top to avoid
popping on "Bs" and "Ps." This is especially important if it is a
condenser mic rather than the more forgiving dynamic mic. And when you
turn your head, move the mic with it. When you sing louder, move the mic a
bit farther away, but never more than an inch! And when you sing softly,
move the mic a bit closer, but never more than a half inch. If you
remember Doc Severinsen playing trumpet solos on the Tonight Show, he
danced around and had a good old time, but the relationship between the
bell of his trumpet and the mic never changed a centimeter.

5. Some mics have a definite "proximity effect" which increases the bass
response the closer you are to it. The resulting sound is warm and quite
good for pop singing, but might be less desireable for classical singing.
This is typical of the SM-58, while the AKG-535 condenser mic that my
ensemble used for a number of years has a switchable proximity effect for
none, some, or more. One good reason not to move the mic away from your
mouth is that it changes the proximity effect and can detract from your

6. If you have cabled mics, DON'T play with the cables! It's distracting.
I trained my singers to take the cable loosely in a circle between the
thumb and 1st finger of the other hand only when moving, to avoid tripping
over it, but to release it when you get where you're going. If you move
during your performance, try to keep the area in which you will move free
from cables.

7. The mic is your friend and it's how you communicate with your audience,
but it doesn't exist. Do nothing to call attention to it and don't lose
your eye contact or facial expression.

8. Inexperienced mic users need very little monitor, and if possible it
should reflect the balance and blend that the audience hears. Anything
else is overkill. In fact if the voice is too prominent in the monitor the
singer's instinct will be to soften down and lose breath support.

9. BEWARE FEEDBACK! It happens when the mic is in front of speakers and
the sound from the speakers is recycled and reamplified through the mic.
Not only is it insulting to the audience--and obviously to your
performance--but there are a few individuals for whom it is quite
dangerous. I had one young man who, we discovered the hard way, passed out
when hit with feedback and remained groggy for some time. A good audio
tech with good equipment will ring out the system in advance and minimize
feedback, but the performer has responsibilities as well. Never point a
mic at a speaker. Use directional mics and always keep the dead side
toward any speaker, including monitors. Bowing is especially dangerous,
because if you're holding the mic in a perfectly safe position in front of
you and bend over, you're pointing it right at a monitor speaker. Don't do
anything that would make the audio tech have to turn up your mic, like
letting it drift away from your mouth, because that invites feedback.

10. I'm not sure I'd agree with your instructions to use the same vocal
production as if the mic weren't there. That will guarantee that you don't
get a good vocal jazz sound, and of course if they can't control their
vibratos it will be the same thing. A good jazz singer learns to use the
mic as if it were part of their vocal production. What you interpret as a
lack of breath support is, very often, a singer who has learned to use the
mic to access very quiet production that would never carry without a mic.
For musicianship and musical reasons, in other words.

11. Consonants must be modified for really first class mic technique.
Generally they have to be made gentler, since the mic is very close and
will overemphasize them. It's a balancing act that takes some practice.

12. A mic passes on what it hears. The better the mic, the more
faithfully it does so. A fine quality mic makes a good voice sound better
and a poor voice sound worse.

There's probably more, but that's all I can think of at the moment. I
directed my college ensemble for 14 years, and every Rookie managed to
learn the basics immediately and to become very skilled in mic management
in less than a year.

All the best to you and your ensemble!


John & Susie Howell
Virginia Tech Department of Music
Blacksburg, Virginia, U.S.A. 24061-0240
Vox (540) 231-8411 Fax (540) 231-5034


So far, so good. Seems to me your are telling them the
right stuff. How is it going? Do you like what you are
hearing from the sound system? Are you using matched
unidirectional mikes?

You are right, quite often the singing becomes
"disconnected" when microphones are introduced because
suddenly the singers are getting direct sound back in
their faces and which causes them to overcompensate
vocally. Sometimes the opposite happens and everybody
starts to "oversing" in an effort to hear themselves
and a shouting contest ensues.

The important thing, I think, is to rehearse
consistently with the microphones being mindful of
those tendencies and to constsntly remind the
performers to sing correctly and not change their
technique dramatically for the sake of the PA.

PROXIMITY is also an important issue. The frequency
response of a microphone will change depending on how
close your mouth is to the capsule. The closer you
get, the greater the low frequencies and the warmer
the sound. As you pull away, the sound thins out so
that by the time you are six or more inches away, the
sound gets "tinny". Some groups sing mostly with mic
stands to keep the mic position constant and the
singers are trained to stay within a certain

The most important thing about jazz is the rhythmic
feeling. Again, in my opinion, the most common problem
with classically trained singers doing jazz is that
they aren't "swinging". That is not vocally related at
all. Listening to a many examples of the style you are
trying to do is the best solution. Jazz is very much
an aural tradition. Also, having some jazz musicians
work with your group to give their perspective would
be very useful.

Where vocal technique and jazz style sometimes clash
is in the use of vibrato. A lot of vocal jazz style
stems from imitation of big bands in which vibrato is
a much more "controllable" peramater. As singers, most
of us are taught that vibrato is a natural result of
healthy technique, and trying to control it is
unhealthy. This is a much larger issue.

Wow this was a long message. Sorry. I think about this
stuff a lot in my job. I'm not sure if I am saying
anything that you don't already know, but if I can
ever be of any assistance, please let me know.

Mike Molloy
Assistant Professor of Vocal Jazz
Chicago College of Performing Arts
Roosevelt University


What age group? What kind of microphones? I'm a fan of SHURE SM58s for
high school students...decent frequency response and built like a tank
(almost indestructible)

Just a few suggestions from our vocal jazz experiences...

1) Teach the group about all the components of a PA system, and make them
accountable for connecting their own microphone and cord.

2) Practice with the microphones, ALWAYS. If you are performing with mics,
practice with them.

3) No, microphones are not a substitute for breath support, but they can be
used for dynamics (distance away from the mouth).

4) A good starting distance to "trim" your sound board to is roughly 4
inches from the mouth...singers with larger voices may need to start a small
mount away.

5) Of course, the "trim" is really where it's at...that's the starting
balance that your singers are then required to keep as they sing (and need
to listen to the monitor for, as you've mentioned).

6) Look at the directional graph of the microphone. Have the singers hold
the microphone in such a way that the most responsive part of the microphone
is pointed towards their mouth.

7) Never let the microphone see the "face" of a speaker.

Those are my thoughts for now.


Last year, I bought 16 mikes for my chamber singers with the
intention of branching out into vocal jazz. We've gone through the
cheezy "jazz" ballads from Uncle Hal and are now looking forward to
going more indepth into the genre. Regarding mikes: the
amps/monitors are there for your projection. Don't get me wrong, I
certainly don't promote anything but vocal health and technically
sound vocal production, but part of the beauty of jazz is using
techniques which differ from choral singing. The first thing that
struck me when using mikes was that the singers sounded "bad" when
they project their voices in the proper choral style. So we
minimized our vocal projection and have had greater success.

I've received excellent vocal jazz advice (all issues) from Gene
Aitken of Univ Northern Colorado and Vijay Singh, the
not-just-a-composer composer. Also, check out the charts catalogue
from UNC--their printing press is not customer-service friendly but
your efforts will be rewarded in the literature you find.

Dave D-K
Sioux Falls Roosevelt High School, South Dakota


My advice to you is have them sing a section of a tune in a
COMFORTABLE tone, that is, not strained, with no mike. 4 part close
harmony is ideal for this exercise. Then do the same thing with the
mike keeping in mind 2 things...

1. The singing with mikes should be in the same COMFORTABLE tone as
when they were singing without mikes.

2. The singers should sing as close to the mike as possible but they
should sing OVER the mikes, not directly into them. For stage
presence purposes, it is recommended that the audience can see the
singers' teeth, mouth and lips when they are singing.

Please e mail me back and let me know how it works!


Brian Nutson


Microphone technique depends upon what kind of sound equipment you
use: if you have a
"compressor" on every mike, no real technique is needed after
balancing the microphones.

However, compressors are quite expensive, so most systems do NOT have
them. I will
assume yours doesn't either.

Use of microphones ("mikes") expands the available volume. It also
allows you to use the
mike to control the volume artificially. Good mike technique takes
practice (surprise!).

Singing too loud into a mike held close to the mouth may get
distorted sound from the
system. You can get consistent volume by holding the mike at varying
distances from the
mouth depending upon the volume of the voice. (quiet = closer, loud farther). Let
each singer experiment using the mike, until the volume stays within
the limits of the
music, or you create the effects you want. Mike tech is particularly
good for fade-ins
and fade-outs ("crescendos and decrescendos") without the associated
normal vocal
changes; this sounds particularly "jazzy."

Because the use of a sound system is artificial, care needs to be
taken to make the
sound as natural as possible. Most modern systems can approximate
this when correctly
adjusted. Use your ears! (Note that the frequencies that enable
intelligibility in
vocal performance are between 800 - 1500 cycles per second; don't
neglect them!)


Duane Toole
Computer Tooles Co.

Thanks to everyone who responded!

Allen H Simon
Soli Deo Gloria

on February 11, 2004 10:00pm
The best person to talk to about this is a recording engineer, as he/she must no mics inside out for the job. A good engineer will tell you that the most important thing in miking is to get as much signal from the intended source (ie the singer) as possible WITHOUT overdriving the mic, and as little as possible of the other singers. This means in groups it is often useful to spread the group out a little more than would be normal without mics. Also, this means that the mic cannot be used as a crutch for volume. If a singer is too quiet relative to those around them, the sound tech will be forced to turn up the gain on the individual mic, resulting in leakage (ie other singers being picked up in your mic). Ideally, a mike would be about three inches away from the mouth, and slightly below to avoid pops on plossive consonants. However, this doesn't mean that the mic cannot be used to controll dynamics TO A POINT. Dynamics should be controlled by a combination of projection and mic placement. When a singer needs to sing slightly louder, they could move slightly closer to the mic. However, this should be no more than about an inch, because of the proximity effect. The closer to a mic a singer is, the more bass response the mic has. While bass response can be a good thing in jazz, consistancy is the most important thing. Also, if the mic is too close, the bass frequence begin to overpower the treble frequencies, resulting in a very muddy sound. Where the mic really comes in handy for dynamics is in controlling the dynamics at very high ranges. If a singer at one point has to sing a few exceptionally high notes, the singer has the option of belting them out and backing away from the microphone so that the dynamics are consistant.
I will not talk about phase here, because that is another adventure in itself, but there is one other technical issue that must be dealt with: Feedback. Feedback is perhaps the most recognisable abuse of the ears in modern society, being an incredible high pitched scream that just seems to get worse and worse. Most people recognise it, but surprisingly few understand where it comes from. The first cause is a microphone picking up sound from the speakers of the PA it is lined into and reamplifying and playing those sounds, creating a verse fast echo effect where the same sound is played many times over almost instantly. The solution is to never point a microphone at the speakers that are playing the sound back. This is the most well recognised cause of feedback. There are two others that occur occaisionally that are not so well known. The high pitched scream also occurs when two mics from the same PA are pointed at each other within a close proximity. This should be avoided. Therefore, a semicircular alignment of the group works better than a straight line. The third cause occurs during instrumental breaks when singers tend to lower their mics. Some singers have an automatic tendency to cover the capsule of the microphone. This also cause a high pitched shriek similar to that of feedback. For this reason, and for others already mentioned, the best solution if it is fincially reasonable, is to use mic stands. If this is not possible, encourage the group to pretend their arms are mic stands. The less they move, the fewer problems will occur. They should also avoid the tendency to play with the cable, or constantly readjust their grip on the mic. The grip should be firm, but not tight, either in the palm or in the finger tips.
The final consideration is mic care. Some mics, like the legendary Shure SM-58, are virtually indestructable (this, more than anything else, is responsible for the preference for these mics). Others, however, all slightly less durable, and should be treated with care. Obviously, this means not tossing them around, storing them in cases, etc. Somewhat less obviously, discourage checking mics by tapping the end of the capsule. While some mics are not affected by this, many more sensitive mics can be damaged by this kind of soundcheck.

This is a good start. Good luck.
on October 19, 2007 10:00pm
Practice, Practice, Practice.

And have a sound engineer that can work it during rehearsal and concerts