Question: Do you have any tips for festival miking? (Part 4, Vocals)
Answer: There are a few different ways to mic a vocalist or vocal group at a live event. Audio-Technica offers a wide variety of wired and wireless microphones to fit your specific needs. Perhaps the two most often used and effective ways to mike a vocalist or vocal group is to use either a handheld or headworn vocal microphone. Either enables quick setup with minimum fuss and can help provide a problem-free live experience.
Tip #1: Handheld microphone types
Used close up as intended, the best handheld microphones provide the depth and clarity of studio-quality response, with low sensitivity to handling noise. For wireless applications, our handheld transmitters deliver total freedom of movement. The exceptional audio performance and the mobility offered by their advanced RF circuitry make them ideal for both music and speech. Many of our wireless mic systems may be used in combination with their hard-wired counterpart with little to no change in sound quality, offering you a complete wired and wireless miking solution.
Tip #2: Handheld microphone pickup patterns
Handheld vocal microphones are typically directional in pickup, with cardioid (a 120° acceptance angle) and hypercardioid (a 100° acceptance angle) polar patterns being quite common. Which of these patterns to choose for your vocalist depends greatly on two things: stage monitor placement and his or her proximity to adjacent sources of other sounds such as another vocalist, instrument, or instrument amplifier.
The cardioid pattern is the more forgiving of the two from a user perspective due to its wider area of pickup at the front of the microphone. The mic does not have to be positioned directly in front of the mouth for adequate pickup. Provided the user is within 60 degrees to the left or right of the microphones axis (center), they are within the “sweet spot” of the pattern. The volume level of their voice and the quality of their tone will be maintained within this spot. Ideal stage monitor placement when using a cardioid pattern microphone is directly behind the microphone, 180 degrees off axis. This puts the monitor directly in front of the user, facing both the user and the rear of the microphone. This placement is possible due to the mic’s excellent rejection of sound arriving at its rear.
A hypercardioid microphone is a better choice when there is another sound source located in close proximity to the user’s microphone. The hypercardioid pattern is tighter at the front, requiring more precise positioning near the mouth, but there will be less bleed from adjacent sound sources in the user’s microphone. This makes the hypercardioid-type microphone the obvious choice for the vocal group that performs in close proximity to one another. Ideal stage monitor placement is 160 and/or 200 degrees off axis (or at about the 11 and 1 o’clock positions). This is due to a small area where sound can be picked up at the very rear of the microphone.
Tip #3: 3-to-1 ratio rule
Regardless of your particular microphones pattern, observe the 3:1 (3-to-1) ratio rule to minimize acoustic phase interference when using multiple microphones in the same space. Acoustic phase interference occurs when the same sound arrives at two or more adjacent microphones at different times. This happens, for example, when two microphones are placed on a lectern, but at some distance apart. Because they are spaced apart, sound from the subject will almost certainly arrive at the two microphones at different times. The result is a destructive wave of interference when the microphone outputs are mixed together. This interference can result in not only poor audio quality, but often feedback problems as well. The 3:1 rule is a good guide for placement. If Microphone 1 is one foot from the sound source, the next closest microphone, Microphone 2, should be located three feet or more from Microphone 1. If the distance between the sound source and Microphone 1 changes to two feet, then the minimum distance between the two microphones should be at least six feet, maintaining the 3:1 ratio.
Tip #4: Handheld microphone position
Have the user sing or speak across, rather than directly into, any handheld microphone to reduce, if not eliminate, popping caused by sudden breath blasts. While the microphone should be positioned in front and slightly to one side of the mouth, stay within the acceptance angle of the microphone to avoid unwanted changes in volume or tone. Note that some of the best microphones may be the most susceptible to breath popping because of their flatter, more extended low-frequency response. Use of proper technique, and perhaps an accessory windscreen, will solve most popping problems.
Tip #5: Using headworn microphones
For a drummer, keyboard player or anyone requiring hands-free operation, a headworn-type microphone should be considered. This type of microphone not only allows the user the freedom of movement that a stationary microphone cannot, it also allows for a consistent vocal performance due to the constant relationship of the microphone element to the user’s mouth. A directional cardioid or hypercardioid microphone may be used. A hypercardioid type can help minimize the bleed of the user’s instrument into his or her vocal microphone, while the close proximity of the microphone element to the user’s mouth provides an excellent signal-to-noise ratio with minimal gain, which can help reduce or eliminate any potential feedback problems.
Vocal intelligibility at any event is paramount, and at a live event where there is minimal turnaround time between acts and little or no time to “ring out” your sound system, proper microphone selection can go a long way to ensuring a trouble-free and enjoyable performance.
If you have additional questions about miking vocalists, feel free to contact the Audio Solutions Department for assistance. Also, check out our previous festival miking tips on bands, drums, and guitar & bass amps.