Traditionally, folk singing was undertaken without the aid of microphones, and the instruments were played unplugged.
Even today, this arrangement is well suited to the more intimate “sing-around” style sessions held in relatively small, squarish rooms. Larger venues on the other hand, always require amplification, and even small to moderate-sized venues call for a degree of sound reinforcement when the acoustics are bad or – as was the case at our previous venue – the room is long and narrow.
Our own PA system is always set up to reinforce the sound so that everybody, even those right at the back, can hear the performance clearly and at a comfortable volume.
I hear some singers say they “don’t like using the microphone”. If this is you, then I’m afraid you’ll have to accept it is a necessary evil.
But that’s not to say the microphone is necessarily evil. It’s simply a case of getting used to it. After all, you’ve taken the trouble of learning your songs, and you want to perform them, so what’s the point if only half the audience can hear you?
In some performance venues, the PA set-up features a foldback monitor, the purpose of which is to enable singers to hear their own voice directly, rather than rely on the second-hand sound reverberating off the far wall of the room. In our venue, the speakers are set up in such a way that you can hear your own voice help you keep time, and keep in tune. It can vastly improve one’s singing technique and add feeling and subtle inflexions that can make a good performance great.
“But I don’t like the sound of my own voice“.
What…!! My initial thoughts when someone says that, are that if you truly don’t like the sound of your own voice, why on earth would you want to inflict it upon an audience!
In reality of course, what most people mean when they say that, is that they feel acute embarrassment at hearing their own voice amplified. This only strengthens the case I made in the previous paragraphs. Practice makes perfect. You will soon get used to it, and it will help you train your voice and improve your singing technique.
Correct use of the microphone
The closer you are to the microphone, the clearer and less “echoey” it will sound. If your voice sounds too loud for your liking, don’t be afraid to ask the sound engineer to turn the stage monitor down. If you back off too far from the mic, he or she will have to push up the sliders for the front-of-house speakers, with the increased danger of feedback occurring.
For the very best results, maintain a distance of between one and six inches from the microphone. Make sure you can hear yourself clearly through the stage monitor and get used to keeping your voice at a consistent volume level throughout (dynamics of the song accepted, of course). And remember, if you move your head from side to side as you sing, every other line is likely to get lost.
Work with the sound engineers to balancing the levels for your voice and the instruments for you on the stage, and trust them to ensure the front of house speakers sound good from the audience’s perspective. That’s why the mixing desk is (or should be) situated near the back of the auditorium.
Holding the Mic
If you are holding the mic, as opposed to it being on a stand, keep your hand well clear of the basket (see illustration) as this would seriously interfere with the dynamics and increase the chance of feedback.
For the very same reasons, if you move around on the stage, try to keep the back of the microphone pointing at the stage monitor wherever possible.
And finally, remember that your speaking voice is quieter than your singing voice. It’s just as important to get close to the mic when introducing your songs.
If you’ve ever delivered a well-rehearsed joke and only got a laugh from the front row, well now you know the reason! And always introduce your first song. Not only does it help engage with the audience, but it also gives the sound engineer an opportunity to get the levels right before the song starts. For the same reason, guitarists should strum a chord or two, or pick a couple of notes, during this preamble.
You’ve seen seasoned performers noodling on their guitars as they speak. it’s not just to check the strings are in tune, it also acts as an on-the-fly sound check to ensure the instrument and vocals are balanced correctly.
So for great sound, here are your bullet points to remember:
- Get close to the mic (between six and nine inches)
- Keep the same distance throughout the song
- Talk right into the mic when introducing songs
- Get used to hearing your voice through the stage monitor
- Never back off the mic if you think it’s too loud
- Instead, ask the sound engineer for less (or more) volume
- Trust the sound man – he’s there to make you sound good.