Mic. Because it’s short for MICROPHONE.
There are several gazillion types of microphones in the live music world; all essential to bringing sound to audiences in a way that can honor the talents of the musicians.
It’s sad to say that most performers don’t actually know anything about microphones, or how they work, leading them to miss out on a ton of performance capital. Knowing just a few things about mics can make the difference between a savvy and comfortable performance, and an awkward, unprofessional one.
I thought I’d give you vocalists a pitifully short primer on hand held mics, how they work, and how you can use them.
Wired or Wireless
All this means is if you have a cable coming out the bottom of the mic, or not. If you are wired, the cable plugged in the bottom has an XLR3 connector, and is commonly called an XLR. That cables’ connectors look like this:
The side with the holes goes into the bottom of the mic, the side with the pins can/will plug either directly into a speaker, or into a sound board channel.
If the mic is wireless, then it will look something like this:
Notice you’ve got the big box? That’s the receiver. While a wired mic sends the audio signal through the wire, the wireless sends the audio signal over radio waves. There’s still an XLR cable involved, only it connects the receiver to the speaker or sound board, rather than the actual mic.
How it works: Transducer-ing
Okay, tranducer-ing is not a word, but a mic is a type of transducer. A transducer is something that changes one form of energy into another.
Microphones convert acoustical energy into electrical energy: A Sound Wave into an Audio Signal.
A mic has a nifty membrane inside of that top dome part called a diaphragm. Here’s a pic of the inside of my Sennheiser e935 (that’s a brand name and model):
When that diaphragm vibrates, it makes these other parts vibrate:
It’s those vibrations that are converted into electrical energy and sent to the loudspeaker (which is also a transducer!)
NERDY INFO ALERT: The longer explanation is that this works because when a magnet is moved near a coil of wire, an electrical current is generated in the wire. The diaphragm in the first pic is attached to these wires in the second pic. When the diaphragm vibrates because of your incoming sound waves, the coil moves back and forth past the magnet. This is what creates the current that is the audio signal! This electromagnet principle is what is being employed with the dynamic microphone. It uses a wire coil and magnet to create the audio signal!
The type of mic you will almost always be using is a dynamic microphone, not a condenser, ribbon, or crystal.
Why you should care…
When you realize that ultimately you are responsible for the vibrations, you can make wise decisions about how close or far away you choose to be from the diaphragm, and therefore create some really powerful and intrusive moments (scream metal, anyone?), or some beautifully intimate moments (breathy pain, oh fairie!)
You can also also begin to be more picky about the types of mics you want to work with, knowing that the quality and the set up of diaphragm and coils can influence things like your tone, possibility of feedback, or amount of signal that can be sent over the wire/wave.
Words of Wisdom ~ Mic 101
- A handheld mic is designed for you to be CLOSE to it. You won’t be able to properly vibrate that diaphragm if you are too far, so one or two fingers is good.
- Don’t stand in front of the speaker, or point the diaphragm of the mic into the speaker. This is what causes the holy-hell sound we call feedback.
- A monitor is a type of speaker, so don’t point the mic toward that either.
- It looks awkward if you hold the mic with a tight fist. It also looks awkward if you hold the mic with a loose hand. Hold it with the same grip you would a friends hand.
- It looks awkward if you try to move the wire by flicking the mic. Just use your hand.
- Practice with a mic that is sent to speaker as often as you can. Learning the timing and grace of moving a mic to and from your face is an art. You look silly if you move too fast.
- If you can’t figure out the above, use a mic stand.
- When you use a mic stand, it’s okay to touch it.
- Your sound tech is awesome, but they aren’t a miracle worker. What you put in is what we are going to get out. No amount of reverb can save crappy tone.
- If you have nice tone to begin with, reverb is your bestest friend, though. FOR SURE.
- Small venues still need mics for commercial music or Music Theater singing.
- Mic Drop will not be appreciated unless you plan on reimbursing for any mics you break.
Questions? Let me know below!