This blog tip is adapted from Jeannie Deva’s eBook: Singer’s Guide to Powerful Performances, Chapter 22: Finding the Right Microphone.
The microphone is the gateway to your amplified sound; how it reproduces your voice can have a great deal of influence over your singing. How electronic equipment such as a mic reproduce your voice may affect your vocal technique for better or worse. Depending on the sounds we hear when we sing, we make muscular vocal adjustments accordingly. If you don’t like what you hear because, in this case, the mic is not reproducing your vocal sound well and not because you are singing poorly, you may make inappropriate muscular adjustments and end up straining your voice.
Mics Have Personalities Too
Just as we all have individual personalities, each type and brand of microphone converts your acoustic voice in its own distinctive way. The mic’s personality has to be matched to your voice.
Choosing the Right Mic: The Audition Process
Whether you’re an electronics genius or a novice, you’ll have to audition microphones in order to find the one best suited for your voice. The most reliable way to do this is to go to a music equipment store and try out different makes and models of microphones.
Get help …
Set up an appointment with the audio specialist in the mic department of your local music store. Go over your needs. For adequate sound comparisons, start off with a cross section of different stage mics at different price levels. It’s well worth trying something that’s outside of your price range just to study the difference.
Be prepared …
The audio specialist will start speaking in what seems like a foreign tongue about microphone specifications; be prepared to possibly get confused. Or better yet, read the rest of this chapter, view the suggested videos and develop a solid understanding so that you can dazzle the salesperson with your knowledge.
Use the same PA …
Mics can sound different with different PA systems. During your selection process, use one PA. Once you narrow down your choices, you can try the finalists with a different sound system as an extra test.
Don’t use effects …
Avoid reverb or any other effects so that you don’t color the mic’s personality. Maintain the same volume on the PA.
Authentic is best …
Does it sound like you? You’re looking for a microphone that makes it easy for you to sing and lets you sound like you at your best.
on October 22, 2014 at 4:10 AM said:Totally agree that a mic can make or break a voice/vocal recording. For live the good ole Shure SM 58 beta is your best bet I'd say. And studio wise, do try a few different mics as they can colour the voice in a their own way. I use an AT4040 which I find and have been told a few times colours my voice nicely. Don't be scared to ask to try a few out in the studio and then listen back (making sure there is no effects or compression nor EQ on the voice ie. it is dry and raw recording). A patient studio engineer/producer who cares is also pretty valuable in getting the best sound in the studio. Once u have found the right mic it is like a friend for life so it is worth taking some time and consideration over - in my sometimes humble opinion!
on October 22, 2014 at 8:58 AM said:Such useful and intelligent articles, Jeannie! Thank you for your clear thinking and for sharing your vast experience.
on October 22, 2014 at 12:15 PM said:Thanks so much for the input! Regarding live mics - personally I find the SM58 Beta to be too bright and "brittle" for my voice, so it's worth auditioning some live mics before selecting. And, if you sing in different styles and can afford it, I like switching mics during my show - just like a guitarist will often use different guitars on different songs to get the sound he/she is looking for.
on October 28, 2014 at 11:21 PM said:Ironically, the more accomplished a vocalist (and the more “developed” one’s voice) becomes, the more I find that faithful reproduction trumps just about every other quality desired in a mic. When I was first starting out, I craved the bass boost (proximity effect) of first the SM58 and then the Beta 58A: I perceived they compensated for what my voice lacked. Now that I am more satisfied with my voice (or perhaps made peace with it), I find that the more clarity and transparency a mic delivers, the better. I use two different ones: when I know phantom power is available, I prefer a Beta 87A condenser; when conditions require me to use a dynamic mic, I turn to my Audix OM 7. The Shure dynamics may be more roadworthy (i.e., durable), but a little TLC goes a long way.