The microphone – as the performance savvy come to realize – is not simply a device used to amplify the voice; it is, rather, an instrument used as an extension of their vocal skills. Understanding and respecting microphone positioning capabilities enhances the opportunity to maximize vocal potential.
Is it a lollipop? Is it a necklace?
Sometimes, we have a tendency to either “eat” the microphone, or hold it down by our chest. Let’s work from the assumption that we have some eager “eaters”. One drawback to eating the microphone (constantly having the screen touch your lips) is that you’re not operating in the optimal range. The other obvious reason is sanitary. The optimal range for most microphones is between 2 and 4 inches from your mouth – and for most vocals, pointed directly into the mouth (not aiming up your nose like some do).
It’s not your mouth… it’s the monitor.
Raise your hand if you’ve done this: You hear sudden feedback, so you instinctively distance yourself from your mic – thinking that the feedback will go away. (I raised my hand – we’ve all done it.) The problem is that if we’re holding the mic when the feedback occurs and we pull it away from our mouth, we’re most likely closing the distance to the reason for the feedback; the monitor. Rule of thumb is that the grille of the mic should always point away from the face of the monitor. So if you encounter feedback in the future, pull the mic away from the monitor.
“Cutting” the mic
One technique to decrease the lower harmonics and/or “popping” is to position the microphone grille off-center from the mouth and aimed across the projection axis. Visually, this would look like you are singing across the top of the screen with the mic held sideways. This enables those volume spikes to have a more ambient presence instead of an “in your face” quality. It also aids in eliminating sudden popping. This technique is called “cutting the mic”.
A very effective technique that adds an ambient vocal without definable presence is simply backing away or withdrawing the mic – while still singing on axis to the mic. Have you noticed that when your worship leader backs away from the mic but still sings, that there is an ambient quality that makes him/her sound like 2 or more singers in unison? As backup singers, we can use this technique to our advantage. In particularly powerful harmonic phrases, we can back away from the mic between 1 and 1.5 feet to really add an awesome presence to the harmonies – especially if you have the congregation singing too!
Work it to own it
Our voice is dynamic. We can go from a whisper tone straight to a full-tilt belt in less than a heartbeat. To not freak out your soundman (or the congregation), one of the widest used techniques is “working the mic”. It’s a simple concept, but may take some practice. The concept is that the more you project and the higher the range, the further the mic should be from your mouth – while remaining “on axis”. Think of it visually like a miniature trombone. The distance can be adjusted from 2 inches to even a foot for some really powerful segments.