As you practice your vocal technique, you will become a better vocalist. You’ll learn to sing with better intonation, learn to emote well and save your voice from harm. If you’re a singer (or a rapper for that matter) you should be working on your technique!
Once you get on stage, however, there is more to think about. Stage presence, navigating a band, talking in-between songs – it’s a lot to think about. That’s why you’re practicing technique at home, so that when you get on stage, the singing comes easily.
What may not come easily is singing into a microphone.
Microphones are ubiquitous on stage. They are the tool that connects your music to the audience’s ears. The microphone should be thought of as part of your instrument.
Having poor mic technique can ruin your set. Poor mic technique makes it very hard for the sound tech to achieve a nice balance or even a nice vocal sound. It will make it hard for the audience to hear you and probably make it hard for you to hear yourself as well.
Learning to sing into a microphone properly is easy. Mastering mic technique takes years of experience, but as long as you've mastered the basics, you won’t feel like an amateur.
Here are some do’s and don’ts you should be aware of as you improve your technique:
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Do: Get In Close To The Microphone
The key to mic technique is distance and direction.
You want the mic to be either straight in front of your mouth, or angling slightly up towards your mouth.
Generally, if the mic is pointing straight at your mouth, you’ll get a full, bass-y sound. If the mic is pointing up a little bit (so that you are singing over top of the mic ever so slightly) you’ll achieve a slightly airier, thinner sound.
Beyond the direction, you want the mic to be between half and inch and an inch away from your mouth at all times. If the microphone was a flashlight, you would want it to light up your smile.
If you sing louder for a part of a song, move the mic away slightly or move your head to the right or left slightly. As you get back into your normal dynamic, return to your position.
Do not make these moves very drastic until you know how it feels. If you move the mic too far, you voice will drop out of the mix or lose all of its quality.
Some singers like to work with the “proximity effect”. This has to do with how the mic responds to the nearness of your mouth to the mic head. If you get in really close to the mic, you’ll increase bass frequencies. Farther away, you’ll lose a lot of those frequencies.
Experienced singers can use this to great effect. Again, start small until you know what you’re doing.
Don’t: Blow The Sound Check
As someone who does sound at a small venue, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had a band sounding great in sound check, but sound completely different once they’re playing on stage.
This is often because the singer is singing twice as loud with people in the room. All the sudden I’m fighting feedback and painful frequencies that I thought I had conquered already.
Now, I’m not the best engineer in the world, but this can happen to anyone. I’ll set the preamp, leave it, and all of the sudden the singer is overloading it.
Belt during the sound check the same way you do during the show. This helps the sound tech EQ your voice, compress it properly, and get the whole band feeling good out front.
Do: Consider Buying Your Own Mic
Sound techs get annoyed when musicians mess with their stuff. They don’t like us moving mics around or giving them advice. This is fair.
Bringing your own mic to the gig, however, isn’t going to upset anyone, so long as it’s a good vocal mic.
In my band, we've started bringing our own mics to gig – we bought Sennheiser 421’s, practiced with them, decided we liked them, and now we all use them.
Be sure to practice with the mic to determine whether you like it and get used to its sound.
Consider looking up some information on where that mic sounds best, and if there are any common problems with it, so that you can help a tech troubleshoot, if they are running into problems.
Don’t: Cup The Microphone
When singers take the mic off the stand, they’ll sometimes end up holding the mic way too close to the mic head.
Don’t do this. Seriously.
Cupping the mic blocks the phase ports at the back of the capsule with your skin.
If cupping the mic doesn’t result in ear-splitting feedback, then you’ll get an extra dose of mud in your vocal sound.
Most techs plan for this and try to eke out some of the frequencies that are likely to blow up when a mic is cupped, but still, you should avoid cupping the mic at all costs.
Do: Stay Behind The PA System
Feedback happens when the mic picks up what’s coming out of a speaker and sends it back through the PA where it once again, comes out of the same speaker.
As soon as you step in front of a speaker with a microphone, you are opening yourself up to feedback.
Note where the main speakers are, and draw a mental line. Try not to pass that line.
If you do need to go in front of the speakers, just be aware. It’s always safer to have the mic head pointing away from the speaker (as you do with monitors). Most dynamic mics reject fairly well from the sides as well, so you can take advantage of that as well.
Don’t: Drift Away
So many singers have the bad habit of drifting away from the mic at the ends of their phrases.
This is a disaster for a sound tech, because to the audience, it sounds like the vocals aren’t loud or clear, but there is literally nothing they can do when a singer just isn’t singing into the mic.
Don’t let your lyrics get lost. Keep the mic in front of your mouth until you are done singing into it.
How To Hold A Microphone For Musicians Conclusion
Take control of your mic technique the same way you take control of your vocal technique. Practice with a mic at home. Ask for advice. Observe other singers. And always use a good mic.
When you go to a show, note how different singers handle singing loud, high notes vs. quiet soft parts. What works? What doesn’t?
Mic technique is often overlooked, but if you want to step up your vocal game, it’s a great place to start.