Crowd Mics for Live Streaming Audio

“Ugh, I feel like I'm singing in a tin can! My broadcast mix just isn't sounding like it matches the room!” Does this sound familiar? Yep? Then you need room mics.

Room mics, or crowd mics are critical if you're going to do in-ear monitors or broadcast mix. With everything closed mic to reduce noise, you can really lose some of that natural feeling. In this post, I'm going to show you what mics to use and where to place them to get the best results, no matter your budget.

Hey! If you're new here, my name is James and I help church sound techs save the day by eliminating distractions in church audio.

Getting Started with Crowd Mics

Now, you don't have to have expensive microphones to get started with crowd mics. If your budget is exactly zero, see if you can find some extra SM57s or SM58s lying around. If you do, you can put them on the front of the stage, facing out. Spacing them is going to help a lot, especially when you're running it to in-ear monitors. Mono is fine if you've got that, but stereo and spread out is way better. Be sure to roll up the high pass filter so that you get rid of any rumble or muddy feeling from the mics. Send that to your in-ear monitors or your broadcast mix and prepare to be amazed. Instantly, your singers are going to be happier, and it's more likely that they'll keep both in-ear monitors in. That's probably going to help them sing better, and in turn, your mix will sound even better. (If your vocalists need help learning to mix their in-ear monitors, you can send them this post over HERE.)

If you do happen to be planning on an upgrade or an install and you've got some budget for crowd mics, you'll want to invest in shotgun microphones. To get them set up, your best case scenario is to hang them up high, near the front of the stage, pointing out into the audience. Height is your friend when it comes to crowd mics because you want to be able to get the biggest, widest picture of the crowd that you can. Shotgun mics have a very narrow pickup pattern, so if you keep them down low and someone is close to it in the front, it could be just them getting picked up by the microphone, and that can be kind of awkward.

Working with Polar Pattern on Shotgun Mics

One thing to be aware of is that these microphones’ polar pattern, or the direction by which they pick up sound, is very narrow. But that narrow pickup pattern in the front comes at a price. We get a whole lot of rejection from the sides of the microphone, but the back of the microphone picks up as well. And this is the other reason why it's good to have it placed up high. If you've got the crowd mic right at the front of the stage and it's facing straight out, the back side of that microphone is going to pick up any noisy drums, guitar, amps, or monitor wedges on stage. So to avoid that and get more crowd and less drums, plus reject the sound from the speakers all at the same time, putting your microphones up high and angling them down into the crowd is a win-win. For example, here in Kansas City at Forerunner Church, they've got the Sennheiser shotgun mics on the lighting truss, and they work great.

Where to Point Your Crowd Mics

Now, the bummer of actually hanging these crowd mics is actually getting there and running the cable. Personally, I don't love getting out the scissor lift. If I can avoid it, I will. One of the challenges you’ll face is when they're way up high, you have to be really careful about how you point it. When you're up in the rafters, all your directional senses can feel thrown off and it's hard to get things angled just right. So here's a pro tip: get a laser pointer and put it right alongside the microphone. That way you can know exactly where the mic is pointing. When you have a slightly shorter room, your goal is to aim it about a third of the way into the crowd. You don't want to be picking up reflections off the back wall and you want to be getting the best signal-to-noise ratio. You're trying to get the crowd as loud as you can, and the people that are much further away, they're not going to be picked up by the microphone quite as well unless you're in a really big space and the people are really loud.

Listening Examples for Different Room Mic Placements

Anybody can blab on and on about this stuff, but you come here for the goods. So I'm going to give you some audio examples of two different sets of crowd mics from the same room and the same performance. One stereo pair are Sennheiser shotgun mics hung up in the rafters near the speakers. The other pair are Heil PR 22s on the stage. (It’s important to note, too, that this is a place where the background vocals aren't singing from on stage, so everyone you hear in addition to the lead vocal are people in the crowd singing.)

 Including Ambience in Your Broadcast Mix

If you're mixing broadcast from front-of-house or a dedicated console, you might want to include some of the ambiance or the sound of the P.A. in your mix to make it feel like you're in the same space. In this case, you can either put the mics at front-of-house or in the audience (although I don't recommend having a microphone right in the middle of the crowd, it's just kind of awkward). You can either put these up front-of-house, facing back toward the stage, or in the ceiling, hanging down.

Keep in mind that you have to be careful not to add too much of this into your mix. There will likely be timing differences between the direct sound coming out of your console and the ambient sound that has to travel through the air and get to the microphones, which is going to be later. We want to avoid timing issues and use these sparingly. Maybe even roll off some of the top-end so that you don't hear two different hits on the snare drum or the cymbals. The other solution to this is to add a time delay to your direct signal so that it matches the timing of the ambient mics. But usually, I'm just going to be using these mics sparingly and filtering them to add a little bit of that ambiance. I'm not relying on them for the main part of my mix. They're the sprinkles, not the cake.

Two Final Tips and a FREE Resource

I have two more quick warnings for you, but first, if you're mixing broadcasts and you want to take it up a notch, you can download my FREE guide: How to Lead Your Church Audio Stream Team. It'll help you identify what's holding you back and how you can start to improve things for the better.

Okay, my first warning is when hanging mics in the ceiling, make sure that they're not going to pick up HVAC noise. This is really hard to get out in post, and it can be very inconsistent. It might be nice and quiet one moment, and then it kicks on nice and loud the next. It’s not very fun to deal with, so keep that in the back of your mind.

The second warning is if you have mics at front-of-house, you have open mics at front-of-house, so your private conversation might not be so private anymore. You'll want to watch out for that and make sure your team has the head's up.

That's it for today's discussion. Remember: it's all about the low end, avoid the sound tech solo, and nobody leaves church humming the kick drum. We'll see you back here next time!

Other crowd mics I like:

Audio-Technica PRO 35 Cardioid Microphone 
Diety S-Mic 2 - a great mic that rivals the MKH 416 - I own one 

P.S. This blog contains affiliate links, which generate a small commission for me at no additional cost to you. It’s just a way you can support what we do here at Attaway Audio and get great hardware and software all at the same time!

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