How to Mix a Shared Mic

It's a scary moment when someone walks up on stage with a hand-held vocal microphone and suddenly you're feeling a lot like Forrest Gump.


Because life is not like a box of chocolates, and you don't know what you're about to get.

In this article, we'll discuss some of the problems that can occur in handheld microphones, and practical solutions for clarity and quality. Since people's voices are so different and their mic techniques are so different, this can be a mixed bag.

You've got to be ready for anything.

Handheld Vocal Microphones - the moving target.

This article is tailored to handheld vocal microphones because headset microphones are usually set up for one person.

They're not being passed around from person to person or sounding very different. After you get a headset mic dialed in, it often remains very consistent and you typically don't need to make any changes.

But with a handheld vocal microphone, you've got a moving target. Most of the time people do not have good mic techniques. Even if your speaker does have good mic technique, they're usually an anomaly.

Keeping the microphone on axis is key.

There's this weird thing that happens tonally when we move a microphone to the side, or even above or below, somebody's mouth. When you move the mic off-axis from somebody's mouth, it usually tends to boost around 700 Hz.

Here's a graphic from DPA microphones that talks about this.

You can see it is pretty consistent across a bunch of different mic placements. 

Most people giving announcements do not hold the microphone close to their mouth. They usually hold it near their chest, and sometimes even their stomach.

That's never a good position to be in.

For the best quality sound, we want a speaker to be speaking into the microphone on axis. On axis, or if we're looking straight down the microphone, is where it's going to sound the best when pointing at a sound source. In this case, our sound source is the speaker's voice.

So if I point the mic here at my mouth,


it's going to sound a lot better.

We don't want to hold the microphone,


like this.

Some microphones can be amazing and NOT have off-axis coloration. A few of these are the DPA 2028 or the D:Facto.

This blog is not sponsored. These mics are just the bomb.


Distance is a big variable.

Something else that can cause your mic to sound different, aside from that little bump at 700 Hz, is the distance the mic is from a speaker's mouth.

The best option would be for them to keep it very close to their mouth and point the microphone towards their mouth as much as possible.

However, as you probably have noticed, most people don't have the discipline for this. Most people might start up kind of close to their chin, or some might hold it down closer to their chest. Some even hold it close to their belly button.

That's not a good thing at all.

Hopefully, you can give them some coaching and they can be aware of where they're holding the mic. Always try to get it right at the source!

Don't forget that people can get nervous when speaking in front of others. This can affect mic placement.

Sometimes people get nervous when they're up on stage and they're speaking to a room full of people. They're not thinking about mic placement with the same tenacity that you are at that moment.

The volume level you're getting sometimes shifts unexpectedly because somebody is holding the mic off-axis. Maybe they need to look at their slides, or maybe they're not used to holding a microphone. Suddenly the level gets lower because their mouth isn't pointing toward the microphone anymore.

Then some people put it very close to their mouth, which is a good thing for our signal-to-noise ratio, but this results in a bass boost due to the Proximity Effect.

Signal-to-noise ratio? Proximity Effect? What are they?

Signal-to-noise ratio simply means how much we have to turn our volume up to get the sounds we want, versus the sounds that we don't want. 

The Proximity Effect is when we have a directional microphone that gets closer to the sound source, creating a "boom" or "muffled" sound. Plosives become very pronounced and can decrease a speaker's clarity. This problem doesn't occur much, or even at all, with omnidirectional microphones. You don't see it as much with headset microphones because these are omnidirectional mics.

If someone is holding the mic too close, you need to remove of some of its lower frequencies to handle the Proximity Effect. You can do this by using a low shelf, or by using a High Pass Filter to get rid of that unwanted low end.

Doing this will remove those pesky low frequencies that aren't often apparent in most speakers.

Still having Plosive problems?

If you're getting a bunch of "pops and booms" into your microphone, I want you to do a quick test for me to understand what's going on there.

Place your hand in front of your mouth and say "Pop tart." When you feel those puffs of air, those puffs of air are getting to your microphone and going through the little mesh capsule that has some foam on the backside, affecting the diaphragm of the microphone.

One way to fix this is to either get a better microphone that has a better built-in windscreen, or you can get a puff that goes on top of the microphone.

The image above is a puff, or a foam windscreen, and it goes over the top of the microphone capsule. Yes, it makes the microphone look kind of ridiculous.

But people are going to ignore how ridiculous the microphone looks more than they're going to ignore the pops that are coming through the sound system, finally giving you a sound tech solo - where they turn around and look at you wondering what it is you're doing. And why you're not fixing it.

Sometimes people's pops are particularly problematic. So the windscreen, while it's not very pleasing to the eye, is better than having pops and Plosives jumping out at you. And you know, they're much cheaper as well. If you have a speaker that spits a lot, the puffs are easy to clean and replace.

When in doubt, you can use a puff. It's not as ugly as you think it is.

Yeah, it is, but you need to use it anyway.

Compressors

Compression is not 100% necessary, but you'll need to add some compression if somebody is very dynamic. If they have a certain emphasis that they're going to hit all of a sudden, you want to catch that without having to jump at your finger to do so. I don't use compression as much on speakers, as I do with singers.

How I like my compression settings.

Singing has to be very dynamic, whereas most speakers have a general tone they keep. The spoken word is not typically as dynamic, so I'm usually aiming for 1 to 3 DB of compression most of the time.

Now there will be the occurrence when someone is very, very dynamic and they go from whisper quiet to shouting at the top of their lungs - and you've got to be able to handle that.

I found that faster attack times can make it sound more crunchy when somebody is getting loud and intense. That's not the tone you want to add with the compressor when their voice is already a little bit more harsh. I usually use a slower attack time, between 10-15ms, in these situations to avoid adding an extra layer of harshness to a voice.

When it comes to release times on a compressor for spoken word, you're going to want to shift those a little bit faster into the 50 to 100-millisecond range. It's a lot faster than when you're compressing a singer because the syllables coming out in spoken word are happening at a quicker pace than when they are for singing.

We want the release time to match that so certain syllables don't get lost by their compressor not recovering in time. If you compress too much, you can get into feedback territory - and we don't want to make stuff feedback. We don't want the sound tech solo, so please don't compress too much.

If you need to - just use your digital compressor on the end of your finger to ride the fader up and down.

Want to see these tips in action? Check out my video where I go over everything talked about in this article. I also dive into some of my favorite Waves plug-ins near the end!

Conclusion

Hopefully, what we've talked about makes you less stressed the next time somebody walks on stage with a handheld vocal mic, and you're not exactly sure what it'll sound like.

If you like this post and you want to take your sound training up a notch, I'd encourage you to check out the Attaway Audio Academy.

I've got five courses that are tailored specifically for church sound techs, worship leaders, and tech directors to be able to take all the mystery and frustration out of sound at church. There's also some extra help from me through our weekly live Q&As, where we talk about different problems or answer any questions you may have about sound. It's a really fun time!

Attaway Audio Academy is now available for just $19 a month!

As always, remember; it's all about the low end, avoid the sound tech solo, and nobody leaves church humming the kick drum.

I'll see you next time here at Attaway Audio. Stay safe out there, Sound Ninjas!

God bless,
James Attaway

 

 

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