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Country Vocals Lessons: Singing Live - Part 1 - Vocal Mics

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Back in the studio here.
Wanted to spend a few lessons
talking about microphones for
live vocal applications.
So this is if you've got a gig somewhere.
If you're playing with a band, or
even a solo job or a solo to tracks.
Any time you're performing live
with a microphone on stage.
And the features of
a microphone that you would be
interested in as a vocalist, in case
you want to get your own microphone,
what kind of features would you be
looking for for your own microphone?
You can buy really good vocal
performance Microphones.
Microphones that are very good for
live singing applications for
not a lot of money.
For $99 to $149, you can get
kinda the work horse microphones.
That tried and
true microphones that are used on stages
all over the world every single day.
They have, over the years,
gotten more and more robust, heartier,
so that you can really drag them
around and travel with them.
But there are certain features that you
wanna look for and a vocal microphone and
know what you're looking for when you look
at the materials and know what you're
listening for if you get an opportunity
to listen to different microphones.
We're gonna talk about
some of the features and
things that you would be looking for
and thinking about and later on,
we're gonna do a very special microphone,
shoot out,
where we're actually putting up an array
of microphones, different kinds of
microphones, and listening to
the sound of each one, side by side.
We'll do that as a special bonus lesson
that we add to the course later on.
Right now, we're gonna talk about what
features you're gonna be looking for
when you look at a live vocal microphone.
So the first critical question about what
microphone you're gonna be using is,
what is the pickup pattern?
And the pickup pattern refers to
where in space around the microphone,
is it picking up sound.
An Omni Directional or all directional
microphone that's one pick up pattern
Omni directional call it an Omni Mic or
an Omni pattern.
An Omni pattern will pick up sound
360 degrees around the microphones.
So no matter where you are around
the microphone, up, down, behind it,
it is going to pick up the sound
360 degrees around the microphone.
From an omnidirectional pattern,
patterns narrow down or
eliminate spaces where the microphone
does not pick up sound as well.
And for most singers, and
especially in live applications,
you're going to want what is
called a cardioid pattern.
A cardioid pattern is that heart
shaped pattern that goes like this so
that sound is not picked up from
the back of the microphone.
Someone standing over here talking or
singing would not be picked up by this
microphone because the diaphragm is
inside this capsule and it's facing me.
So anything behind the microphone
would not be picked up but
the cardioid pattern looks like this comes
out a little bit to the side and back.
And then,
picks up everything in the front.
Cardiod patterns can also narrow down
to hyper cardiod, so that they come out
very little on the sides, and they pick
up only directionally right in the front.
Those are called directional microphones,
where they only pick up sound
in a particular direction.
Shotgun microphones like they use
in film shoots and video shoots
are super directional where they
are literally shotgunning to pick up sound
in a very very narrow field
straight off of the microphone.
For most singing applications you're
gonna want a cardioid pattern.
So you're gonna want a microphone
that has a good pickup
at the front of the diaphragm, but
doesn't pick up sound elsewhere.
So you're not picking up what's coming
from the guitar player's amp, or
people talking in the audience.
So this is what these various patterns
look like when you're looking at
the materials.
This is what an omnidirectional pattern,
how it's described on a diagram.
Here's what a cardioid pattern looks like,
these various narrowing of cardioid down
to hypercardioid and uni-directional.
Okay, we're talking
about live microphones.
Microphones to use for
live singing applications.
The first big question
is whether you are using
a dynamic microphone or
a condenser microphone.
These are two different kinds of
microphones, they're designed differently.
A dynamic microphone,
this is an example of a dynamic.
This is a Shure SM-58.
It is like the workhorse
of live vocal applications.
It's a very inexpensive microphone.
It's very hardy and robust.
And it's a dynamic microphone,
which means that it's designed
to work without a power supply.
It does not need a power supply or
a battery in order to work.
So a dynamic microphone, like this,
is very robust, it travels well.
It can take a beating out on the road and
do what you need it to do.
A condenser microphone is
just a different design.
It's designed so that the diaphragm moves.
And the diaphragm itself is charged,
and so it requires a power supply.
It requires an external source of
power and you call that phantom power.
When a microphone is a condenser mic and
it needs external power,
it needs phantom power.
Most consoles and live professional
applications will provide phantom power.
So if you're using a microphone on
your channel that is a condenser and
it needs an external power supply,
the engineer can just push a button and
send you phantom power, and
your microphone is powered.
Some condenser microphones have batteries
that can supply them with power.
Some need an external power source.
Condenser microphones used to be more
fragile and didn't travel as well.
But the design of condenser microphones
has now gotten pretty hardy and
robust as well.
And there are microphones
that are condenser mics that
travel just as well as
workhorse dynamic microphones.
But those are the questions about
whether you're using a dynamic or
a condenser microphone.
Does it need a power supply or not?
Most singers traveling on the road will go
with a dynamic microphone, just because
it's one less thing to worry about.
One less thing to deal with if they need a
battery or if they need a power supply for
their microphone.
This SM-58 is a great example of
just a workhorse dynamic microphone.
It's used in live vocal applications.
It's also used in the studio,
in studio applications.
Not so much on vocals that you're
trying to get a lot of real detail, but
it's just a great workhorse microphone.
The next big issues that you're talking
about when you're looking at vocal
microphone have to do with pattern,
the pickup pattern of the microphone.
This microphone is a cardioid pattern,
which cardioid means heart.
So the heart shape looks like this.
It's picking up audio from the front of
the microphone, but not from the back.
So that means I am talking
into the microphone here.
This means I'm talking
into this microphone here.
It's picking me up because
I am in the front and
the pickup pattern is catching me, but
it is not catching what is in the back.
So if I move back here,
and I talk back here,
you cannot hear because it's not
picking up audio in the back.
It's only picking audio up from the front.
That's called a cardioid pattern.
Most singers in live applications
want a cardioid pattern because they
don't want it picking up anything except
what's right in front of the microphone.
Just your vocal,
what's right here in front of the mic.
Doesn't want to pick up the guitar
amp that's over here, or
the audience that's out there.
You want to just pick up
the vocal from the front and
eliminate as much of the sound as
possible that's happening around.
So for live applications,
a cardioid pattern is what you want.
An omnidirectional mic,
that's a different pattern.
An omnidirectional microphone will pick
up sound from omni, every direction.
So 360 degrees around an omnidirectional
microphone, it will pick up sound.
But for singing applications,
you want it to be unidirectional.
You only want it to pick up from
your direction, the singer's.
And this is an example of
what a cardioid pattern looks
like when you're looking at materials for
the various patterns of a microphone.
This is a cardioid pattern,
an omnidirectional pattern.
And cardioid patterns can narrow
down into an even more specific,
narrow field of pickup,
like a shotgun mic,
as they would use in a film camera or
a video shoot microphone.
Another feature of
the microphones that you're gonna be
looking at are frequency response.
So we already spent some time listening
to a spectrum of frequencies from low
frequencies, which are the low pitches,
all the way up to high frequency sounds.
And microphones have their own
characteristic frequency response,
pr certain frequencies that
might stand out a little bit.
Like a particular
microphone might amplify or
might accentuate the frequencies
around 10k hertz.
And it would give that microphone
a specific kind of sound or color.
So when you're looking at
microphone frequency responses,
you'll look at a graph like this,
that'll show you the range
of frequencies that that
microphone produces, reproduces.
And if there are any little peaks, or
anomalies, or places where the frequencies
jump out, or a little more accentuated,
the volume of a certain frequency range.
Some might have darker,
more low end frequencies.
Some might have bright sounds and
have more high end frequencies.
So according to your voice and the sound
that you want out of your microphone,
how it complements your
specific instrument,
the frequency response of the microphone
that you're looking at would relate to
the kind of sound that you want
to have when you're singing live.
Another feature of most
cardioid microphones is
something called proximity effect.
Proximity effect is an effect that happens
when you get very close to the microphone.
You can hear that the low
frequencies become
exponentially more amplified
than the higher frequencies.
So, of course, as you get closer to
the microphone, the volume of your voice
gets louder, but you'll hear that the low
end frequencies get especially louder.
They get more loud than
the high frequencies, and
that's called proximity effect.
Some microphones have a greater
proximity effect than others, and
you might like that.
That might be part of a particular
sound that you're trying to get, but
it is something to be aware of.
It's one of the reasons that when you
get really up close on a microphone,
like this, if it's a cardioid pattern,
you'll hear that dark,
warm tone really get accentuated.
And That's something that
you'll wanna listen for
when you're testing out
different microphones.
Okay, a few more
features that you're gonna wanna think
about if you're for a live vocal mic.
The first is an on/off switch.
This seems like maybe not a big deal, but
it actually can be a really huge deal.
If you're using a microphone
with an on/off switch and
you accidentally turn it off, the engineer
or the mixer has no control over that.
And so you're talking and
nothing is happening and
it's because you've accidentally
switched your microphone off.
Most engineers prefer microphones
that don't have an on/off switch, so
that the singer can't
accidentally turn it off.
However if you are, like running the show,
and you need control.
There are microphones that have
right on the side of the mic itself,
a switch that will turn it on or off.
So it's something to look out for.
The next thing you wanna
look at is impedance.
There are very inexpensive
microphones that you can find $19,
$29 microphones, but they're
typically high impedance microphones,
if you look at the impedance rating
you'll see that it's 10,000 or above.
That would be a high impedance microphone.
Those microphones can be
built very inexpensively, but
they don't have a very long run.
Like you can't run a cable from
a high impedance mike for very far.
They don't interface with the live sound
systems at a professional level very well.
So, you wanna be looking for
a low-impedance microphone.
It'll be a little bit more expensive, but
it will give you much better sound and
interface with higher quality sound
systems at a professional level.
And finally you gonna be looking at price.
The good news is that you can get
really good solid hardy robust
work horse live vocal microphones for $89,
$99 up to $149, $199.
I will have a few recommendations for
several different kinds of microphones,
dynamic and condenser microphones
in a kind of a range of
price ranges that you can
find on the source materials,
or additional materials for the lesson.
But do your own research and
price check for yourself.
You can find them online, and
I also encourage you to find your
local music store, and support your
local music store and shop with them.
But these are the things you're gonna
wanna look at when you're looking at
getting your own live vocal microphone.