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Your Microphones and You (P.A. Systems Part 2)
By Ralph Shaw – Professional Full-time Ukulele Entertainer
Last time, I gave you some basic tips when getting and using your first P.A. Today we’re looking at important choices to be made when purchasing microphones to plug into your P.A.
Before we discuss microphones I feel it is important to first say a few words about:
The Microphone Stand
Tall, thin, silent and elegant; the presence of a microphone on a stand adds focus and gravitas to a performance. Think of the singer who walks out and stands at the microphone. The seemingly inanimate mic. stand, as it is usually called, is a pedestal for an object that makes humans sound like gods. Somehow it draws the audience focus as much as a bright spotlight. For sheer charismatic appeal, a friend of mine, singer/guitarist Josh Minsky, equates the presence of a microphone stand to having a second performer onstage with you. The microphone and its accompanying stand are seldom pondered but they’re as vital to the performers’ stage presence as the costume and the smile. I urge you to consider this phenomenon if you are considering getting a headset microphone. Such a microphone may be suitable for dancers, clowns, evangelists and anyone else who needs to jump around and wave their arms about. But unless you absolutely need to be fully mobile I’d suggest staying with the traditional setup.
The stand can have a weighted base or tripod style with folding legs. I prefer the latter as it’s lighter and easier to store. In order to make room for your ukulele plus strumming arm you’ll want to stand back a little from the stand, so you’ll need a microphone boom (pictured above). This is a rod that attaches to the top of your stand and holds your microphone exactly where you need it. If you’re also using an instrument microphone then you don’t need to buy another stand. You can get a clamp which attaches to your existing stand. The clamp supports a second boom which holds your instrument microphone.
The Vocal Microphone
The industry standard for vocal microphones is the Shure SM58 microphone. It’s the cardioid, dynamic (ice cream cone shaped) microphone you always see performers using. There are better sounding mics in the world but this is a reliable and robust microphone that rarely lets you down. For optimal sound quality you need to sing close to the microphone; say about three or four inches. In other words your mouth needs to maintain a distance from the microphone equivalent to the breadth of a hand. Your body can gyrate all it wants but your head needs to stay still if you don’t want the sound to get louder and quieter.
When buying sound equipment: Remember that being louder does not equate to sounding better. Seek equipment that retains as much of your natural acoustic sound as possible.