Audio Techniques Even Three-Year-Olds Can Perfect: Part One

A few years back, I found myself out in the garage packing up gear for a weekend gig. My daughter, who was about three years old at the time, asked if she could sing on one of the microphones she had her eye on. She treated me to a punk-ish version of “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star,” complete with singing and screaming in the appropriate places (use your imagination). As I watched my daughter parade around the driveway that had instantly become her stage, I took note of one thing: Her mic technique was damn near flawless!

She held the mic at the handle, brought the capsule close to her mouth for quiet points of her performance, and held it away when she decided to belt out any lyrics that she felt demanded attention. This was a wireless mic, heavy and wide for three-year-old hands. Still, she had no urge to grab the mic around the grille, and she intuited that if she holds the mic close to the place on her face where words come from, then she’ll be heard loud and clear. This got me thinking about all of the questionable mic techniques I’ve witnessed over the years, whether it be at a live concert, televised musical performance (awards shows, talk shows, etc.), political town hall or debate, or even a game show.

Holding a Mic: The Wrong Way

Starting backwards on this list, the game show mic technique has been something I think we’ve all seen. Anyone remember The Price Is Right when Bob Barker hosted the show? The stick-like microphone he used never quite made it past his mid-section. This worked for Bob, but was undoubtedly a nightmare for the engineers on the show. Chances are, the mic gain had to be set quite high to pick up Bob’s commentary. Thankfully there were also boom mics on the stage to compensate for what the mic and this questionable technique failed to pick up. If I were to venture a guess, someone suggested that holding the mic too high in the shot would take the attention away from Bob’s face. This is where what you see and what you hear struggle. The lights and camera always win.

The participants at a town hall type of political debate, or any type of audience-driven Q & A, also tend to suffer from this “game show” mic technique, but it’s for a different reason altogether. Politicians and keynote speakers have pretty much gotten mic technique down. These people talk a lot and work at being heard loud and clear. Hand a microphone to an audience member, however, and they suddenly become Bob Barker. They hold the mic at their mid-section, and they speak in a normal, conversational tone. The microphone in your hand is most  likely set at a respectable amount of gain to accommodate both female and male commentary; however, it is incapable of attracting the audio from your face if you do not speak to the microphone itself. Holding a mic in the middle of your chest and speaking outward, barely touching the mic diaphragm, will produce lackluster results. Sure, we might be able hear you saying something, but the clarity and impact will be diminished.

Holding a Mic: The Right Way

Think about it this way… When someone is speaking to you and they turn around or bend down mid-sentence, you suddenly can’t hear the other half of the point they’re trying to make. You ask them to repeat it, and they act frustrated and suspect you weren’t paying attention. Back to the person with the mic in their hand, holding it close to their chest… Ask this same person to bring the mic closer to their mouth, and they suddenly begin to speak very quietly into the microphone. While it’s true that there is amplification involved here, you do need to put a little bit of work into it. The way to go: speak directly into the mic in a normal tone. Do like my daughter: bring it close to your mouth if you’re speaking quietly, and pull it a bit farther away if you’re going to holler. And remember to keep your hands on the handle rather than on the grille.

Stay tuned for the next installation of audio techniques that even three-year-olds can perfect: the musical version. It’s not to be missed! And if they can do it, you can too.

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Cory Lorentz

Cory Lorentz

Cory Lorentz is the Artist Relations Manager at Shure. He enjoys weekends, tacos and has a soft spot for the kind of lite rock music you’d hear in a dentist’s office.

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7 Comments

  • Pete H. says:

    Excellent advice! I sing in a band and attend several open mics and I see some folks who are very good singers who don’t “step up to the plate” and get close to the microphone. I suggest they keep about an inch away for normal singing and all of a sudden, you can hear them.

  • Darrell Fransen says:

    Great little article. Just last night after church I talked to the young man that had just finished speaking about his technique. I told him that he needed to listen to either the cd or the uploaded audio of his preaching. He ask why and I said that I could hear his voice going from distortion (eating the mike and high volume) to almost perfect clarity based on how he was holding the mic. He understood and thanked me.

  • Rob says:

    At least your daughter knew the lyrics! I see a some singers these days using tablets and reading lyrics. They inevitably move away from the mic to read the tablet and not only lose volume on the mic but they also disengage from the audience.

  • Marty Prater says:

    I do narratives on trains for the Colorado Railroad Museum (and was a radio and live show dj for some time). I find that working my live cardioid mics an extended-thumb-and-hand-width (6″) down and away from my mouth and off axis to the side, I get good response and a good signal-to-noise ratio despite the high ambient noise. Holding off-axis 30⁰ eliminates “pops,” and my audience can still see my face. I tell our office staff, when making PA announcements, “suck your thumb and hold the mic no closer than your little finger.” It works with our Shure 545SD and is easy to remember.

  • Mike D. says:

    Super explanation!

  • Dean Giavaras says:

    YES!! Preach thank you. 😀
    I often recommend thinking of it like a flashlight – shine it into your mouth!!

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