Microphones are an important piece of the success of a sound system, but selection and placement raise a number of questions. Wired or wireless? Speaking, singing, instruments, or all three? Handheld, headset, or lavalier? Chances are, you already have a collection of microphones consisting of many different ages and types. So how do you decide where and how to use each of these?
A good quality microphone has the ability to pick up tonal characteristics of your voice or intricacies of music. A poor quality microphone may have excessive handling noise, accentuate low-frequencies, eliminate high frequencies, overload or distort when loud noises occur, and even pick up radio stations.
Once you have a sound system that works well, a microphone can make the difference in good and excellent performance.
Pastors & Praise Leaders
Lavalier or tie tack microphones have been popular options for pastors for some time. They attach to the robe or lapel and usually sit a few inches below the sound source: the speaker’s mouth. They sit conveniently out of the way and most speakers are comfortable using them, but they can have serious drawbacks. Among the drawbacks, the level of sound that is received by these microphones will vary as the pastor looks up and down or side to side. In addition, the tonal characteristics of this style of microphone are not as good as other microphones that are out in front of the mouth instead of under the neck.
Often, a better option is a headset microphone. It is positioned right at the mouth or jaw line. As the speaker looks up, down, left, or right, the microphone stays in position and provides even sound levels. Because the microphone is positioned so closely to the sound source, it is much easier to increase the volume level without increasing the risk of feedback and noise. A headset microphone can sometimes make a poorly designed sound system work well.
Vocalists may also benefit from headset microphones for many of the same reasons listed above. However, with the increased number of sound sources during musical performance, vocalists must be careful when moving across stage or turning their heads in directions where the microphone may pick up sounds from monitors or other loud sources. Because of this, a traditional handheld microphone may be the best option.
Vocalists may hold the microphone if they prefer or they may mount it to a stand. No matter what is chosen, proper positioning is important. The microphone should be placed near the chin and no more than 4-inches from the chin. When there is more than one vocalist, it is best for each to have his or her own microphone. In this scenario, the 3-to-1 rule should be followed.
The 3-to-1 rule (see the graphic on the right) stipulates that microphones should never be placed closer together than three times the distance to the sound source. If a vocal quartet will be positioned with just six inches between microphones, the vocalists must ensure that their mouths are 2-inches or fewer from the microphone. A better option would be to put 18-inches or more between microphones so that vocalists can exceed the recommended distance of 4-inches or less without experiencing problems.
Sharing of microphones is not ideal for soloists or small groups of vocalists. Doing so will almost surely lead to singers’ voices being picked up unevenly. If you decide to use a microphone in this way, be certain that you understand the coverage pattern of the microphone you are using. Also, make sure that each vocalist understands how to position himself or herself so that his or her voice will be well heard.
For larger choral groups, use approximately one microphone for every 15-20 people. Position the microphones 1 to 3 feet above and 2 to 4 feet in front of the first row of singers and aim them towards the middle row. If more than one microphone is used, avoid overlapping pickup areas.
Selection and placement of microphones for instruments varies widely. They are based not only on the type of instrument, but also on the tone that is desired. The publication that is embedded below goes into great detail about optimizing microphones for live instruments.
If you would like to learn more about any of the topics we have discussed, the Shure Educational Publication below, Microphone Techniques for Live Sound Reinforcement covers many of these topics in detail. In addition, we would appreciate the opportunity to answer any questions you may have about optimal microphone selection and placement.Download PDF