5 things you should never do with a mic

1. Drop the mic

It may be funny, but I don’t think I need to explain why this is bad. It can break the microphone (even the classic SM58, which according to legend can take a bullet, and generally does well on drop tests), and if the sound operator isn’t ready for it, will DEFINITELY make a loud “thunk” in the speakers. People will hate you. Similarly, never put it somewhere that it can roll off and hit the ground.

2. Cup the mic

If you’ve seen a rapper or hardcore singer, you’ve seen this. The singer puts their hand around the ball of the microphone, creating a sort of “tunnel” that they then sing into. Not only does this change the sound of the mic (usually making it HARDER to understand the words), but it actually ruins a really important part of the microphone design: directionality. A vocal mic is usually directional: it only picks up sound from the front of it, blocking out sound from the audience, other instruments, and monitors. This means less unwanted sound, less feedback, and the ability to make the mic louder without problems. But when you cup the mic, you block the ports in the microphone that make directionality work, eliminating that effect.

3. Blow or tap on the mic to see if it’s on

Stepping up to a mic can be awkward – you don’t know if it’s on or not, and wouldn’t it be so awkward if you started talking and it wasn’t? Most people, instead of trying some words like “hello?” or “testing,” will choose to blow or tap on the mic instead. This is terrible because 1) depending on the mic, that might damage it, and then it DEFINITELY won’t work, 2) if there’s a sound operator, they don’t want the tapping sound to go through the speakers, so they’ll mute it, and 3) it looks incredibly unprofessional to the audience. Most of the time, the mic will work. Seriously. Just trust that. More importantly, if you start talking and don’t hear anything, that doesn’t necessarily mean it doesn’t work – it might just be that you’re talking quietly, and the sound operator needs to turn it up…which won’t happen unless you talk.

4. If the mic isn’t working, act like you can fix it

There is precisely one thing that the typical user is capable of doing to fix a microphone that isn’t working: IF it has a switch (most mics don’t!), flip the switch to the ON position. Otherwise, it’s going to be up to someone else to make it work. And yet, whenever something goes wrong, the speaker always looks around at the mic and wires as if they’re suddenly going to fix it. If it’s broken, look at the sound operator. They’ll already know, and will probably be working on getting you another one. All you can do is either go on without the mic or wait until it’s fixed.

5. Speak quietly

A lot more about this on a previous post, but in short – microphones can make things louder, but only to a point before you get feedback. Don’t yell, but if you’re too quiet or standing far from the mic, you’ll probably still be quiet to the audience. Speak a little louder than conversational volume, and if you know how to project properly, do it.

10 Great Ways to Piss Off Your Audio Engineer

These are all things that I LOVE when people do them.

  1. Stand far away from the mic, and definitely don’t point your mouth at it.
  2. If the mic is wireless, definitely hold it like a “cool rapper” and cup the top – not only does it look great and sound great, you’ll be able to smell the breath of the last person before you. And who wouldn’t want that?
  3. Speak or sing as quietly as possible. If I don’t have the gain knob all the way up, you’re too loud.
  4. If you’re using a guitar, make sure the amp is louder than anything else on stage – who else can compete with the drums?
  5. If you’re a drummer, be sure to play much louder during the show than you did in sound check.
  6. Tell the engineer that something doesn’t sound right, but be sure to do it within the first 3 seconds of hearing it – the less of a chance they had to fix it beforehand, the better.
  7. Touch the gear. Isn’t it pretty?
  8. “Oh, that’s the old stage plot. The input list is different too.”
  9. Tell the engineer that it needs to be louder. Much louder. Despite the fact that the speakers might already be catching on fire.
  10. Give the engineer your phone to play a track. Especially if it’s playing something from YouTube, the obvious pinnacle of audio quality.

Audio Myths

To pare down a long (but great) post into something that you might actually read, here are some points about why the Hi-Fi industry is full of crap.

  1. Exotic/expensive cables, interconnects, or power cords don’t make your system sound better.
  2. Expensive CD players do not improve sound quality.
  3. Virtually all audio amplifiers/receivers sound the same (sans EQ). They do not have their own sonic signature that must be carefully paired with speakers.
  4. “Burn in” factor—the idea that speakers or electronics sound better after X hours of use—is likely a delusion.
  5. Expensive vacuum tube electronics may add character to your system, but if clarity (less distortion) and reliability is what you’re after, stick with transistors.
  6. The look and feel of CDs or computers can’t compete with vinyl, which can sound amazing for what it is. But there is no music lost “between the bits.” High quality digital formats are sonically superior to vinyl in every measurable way.
  7. Audiophile higher bit audio formats are not likely to offer audible improvements over compact disc 16 bit/44.1 kHz quality (though there are valid reasons for using these formats in recording).

And I’ll be happy to debate any of those points.