Let Your Mic Do the Work

by Stu Chisholm – “The Complete Disc Jockey”

In my article in Mobile Beat called “Vocal Preservation” (March 2012), I passed along a bit of advice I got from professional vocalist Barry Carl, former bass man from the acapella group, Rockapella.

When I asked him how he could sing from night to night without taking a toll on his vocal chords, his simple advice to me was, “Let the mic do the work.” Since then, I’ve been asked by several DJs exactly how this can be done. Admittedly my article was a bit short on specifics, so just for readers of ProMobileDJ.com, I’ll fill in the blanks!

In order for a DJ or vocalist to get the most from their voice without having to resort to shouting and other throat-damaging habits, they must ride the gain up on the mic. This seemingly “duh” bit of advice is sometimes a bit hard to pull off, though, because having speakers in close proximity can mean feedback. That means we must start with the microphone itself.

Finding the “Right” Mic

Today’s DJ has an almost mind-boggling array of options when it comes to mics, and we often look at factors such as how much distance we can expect (from wireless systems) and price before other considerations.

Recent demonstrations of digital mic systems have also made DJs aware of noise, which can become all too apparent when riding-up the gain on a mic! Yet the primary factor a vocalist should look for is the pickup pattern of the “capsule,” which refers to the actual transducer (top) part of most microphones.

What you should look for is what is known as a nice “tight” front end, with good noise rejection from the back and sides. This type of mic is a bit more difficult to work with, since it must be held in one spot, close to the mouth; any movement will make it sound as if the volume is going up and down. (We’ve all heard this when we hand over our mic to the Best Man and, despite our best instructions, they insist on waving it around as they speak.)

When it comes to pickup patterns, look for descriptions such as “cardioid,” with a diagram that looks a bit like an upside-down apple or acorn, and ones labeled “unidirectional.” The end result is that only your voice will be picked up, and sound further away will be rejected.

While I tend to prefer my pricey Sennheiser wired mics and Sure SM-58 capsules on my wireless rigs, such tight mics need not be expensive! I was stunned by how well the VocoPro multiple wireless packages perform. They were made with karaoke in mind, so they built-in a nice, tight pickup pattern, and they’re surprisingly good performers despite what their low price tag might imply.

The Importance of Levels and Placement

Even the best of mics will feed back if the volume is loud and speakers are close, so the next thing to look at is a feedback eliminator. There are units that will attenuate your entire system as well as smaller ones that you can use on a single mic.

I tend to prefer the latter, which does the job while avoiding some sonic artifacts that the bigger units can introduce. They’re also less expensive. It may take a bit of experimentation and tweaking to your system to maximize your microphone’s utility, but the end result will be that you’ll be able to better connect with your audience while, at the same time, keeping your vocal chords from being overworked and possibly damaged – a classic win-win!

What’s you mic of choice and why?

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