10 MODERN Mic Mistakes
by Floyd Paulsen
MICROPHONES ARE A STAPLE of a sound system. You know that.
But do you also know how to avoid making the most common mic mistakes?
10. TOO MANY MICS!
Here at the Indiana Convention Center (ICC), where I work fulltime, we recently hosted an event for which the rental company brought in 14 wireless mics. Six lavalieres were for speakers on the stage, and the remaining eight handheld mics were to be used during Q&A from the audience of 800.
The eight roaming mics were patched into our sound system, for which I was the operator. Keeping track of eight roaming mics is hard, but not impossible; however, you can only ask one question at a time. So, two mics would have worked fine in this case. (In the end, the keynote speaker talked too long, and there was no time for Q&A anyway!)
This event also needed 15 more wireless mics for breakout sessions in the meeting rooms, which brought the total up to 29 wireless mics for one event. It got complicated, considering our building usually has simultaneous events happening. On this day, one of them was using the same brand of wireless mics we had in our ballroom. As a result, they were picking up sound from our mics in their own rooms. Not good.
Also, the more mics you have turned on, the less gain-before-feedback. Each mic reduces the overall volume in the room, so use as few as you can to cover a service.
9. OUT-OF-ORDER MICS
From time to time, its a good idea to compare the sound quality of two mics of the same model to determine if theyre working correctly. This is called an A/B test. To begin, set your console flat and identical for two input channels. Plug in the mics, and have someone talk into the two. Using the mute switch, quickly switch between the two console inputs. The two mics should sound very similar.
Another sore spot is unused equipment. When I first started working here, we had a shelf of 20 old lavaliere microphones. This was back when lavs were large, bulky items that were only hands-free if you tied a rope around your neck to hold them.
When we switched to small lavalieres with tie-tack clips, I asked if we could send the old lavs to auction, but was denied.
They were, I was told, very good-sounding mics. It was only two years ago that we finally got rid of those good sounding albeit perpetually shelved mics.
You probably have a few mic skeletons of your own in your sound closets. Throw them out, or repair them.
8. INADEQUATE USER TRAINING
At the aforementioned ICC event with too many mics, a lavaliere mic started taking RF hits. We switched it to one of the eight handheld mics I mentioned, and it worked fine but the moderator for this session didnt work out quite so well.
As he sat in a chair asking his panel about topics, he spoke mostly with his hands. The useable mic proximity went from his knees to his mouth, requiring the kind of mixing that wears out an operator.
Do yourself a favor and train people on the speaking end of the mics how to use them.
7. MIXING BOARD OPERATOR ERROR
Mics often get blamed for not working when its really the board operators fault. Any time a mic is used, you should go through a checklist in your head:
Is my finger placed on the right input channel?
Is the mic turned on?
Is the gain set correctly?
Is it assigned to the outputs it needs to go to?
Am I paying attention to whats going on? Do I even
know whats going on?
Whats my backup plan, just in case?
6. NOT HAVING A BACKUP PLAN
Always have a backup plan in the event of mic failure. Its for the operators benefit, as well as for use by the people on the platform.
Earlier in my career while touring with Sandi Patty, we had a plan like this in place. Sandi could tell from her monitor speakers on stage if her mic was having a problem, at which point shed switch to her backup mic. As a board operator, it was my job to pay close enough attention that when she made the switch it was as seamless as possible.
Equipment will have glitches and break. But if you have a plan in place for when it does, youll always look professional.
5. PRIORITIZING PRICE VS. QUALITY
If youre trying to avoid mic disasters, remember: you really do get what you pay for. An inexpensive microphone that doesnt work costs more than an expensive mic that does.
4. BAD CONNECTIONS
Its amazing how many times operators blame a mic for poor-quality sound when its not the equipments fault. On wireless microphones, you must make sure the antennae connections are tight.
Also make sure your mic cords are in good working order. Extensive use by a praise team can wear out a cord quickly, usually at a point 12 inches or less from the female connector which plugs into the mic.
Forklifts like the ones we use here at the ICC can also drastically reduce the useful life of a cable.
Additionally, limit the amount of adaptors inline. If you use too many, sound wont pass through. Ive seen up to six adaptors used before. Its a much better idea to use the right piece of cable or equipment for the job.
3. LAX MAINTENANCE
Its pretty simple advice: take care of your gear. Carefully handle the fragile mic cords on wireless lavaliere body packs. If you cant immediately fix things, mark them as bad so they dont get mixed up with your usable inventory.
Microphones are sensitive instruments and must be carefully handled. Remind the users especially singers to treat their mics as if their voices depended on them. They do!
2. WRONG MIC, RIGHT APPLICATION
Once, while miking a marching band, I arranged area mics to hang over a 20 x 20 area of the stage. Unfortunately, the band was nowhere near playing in sections. When a section leader came over to request that I turn up the euphonium, and I had to draw him a picture of how a mic works. Before that, he didnt understand why I couldnt turn up just one instrument out of 10 in this area.
Use mics to isolate and enhance the program as they were designed, given the physics of audio.
1. THE BIG F: FEEDBACK
Feedback is the most common mic problem. While faithfully doing their job, mics cant help but recapture sound coming from the speakers, or reflections off walls or objects. They add this recaptured sound to what the sound source is emanating, creating an oscillation.
Feedback is simply the sustained or amplified oscillation from this viscious cycle. The faster it occurs, the higher the audio frequency of the feedback.
If you turn down the mic volume at the input channel, you can reduce feedback by breaking the oscillation.
Also, by turning down the feedback frequency with an equalizer, you can reduce the effects of feedback.
Finally, make sure your gain is set correctly. This way, at least you have a chance to hear the feedback before it happens. Having the gain correctly set is the key to forecasting feedback. Just like Doppler Radar can notify you when conditions are ripe for a twister, the correct gain will give you warning signs.
Because microphones capture acoustic energy and convert it into electrical energy, theyll always play a key role for your sound technicians. Combating these 10 mic mistakes will lead them to the promise land.
Floyd Paulsen is a full-time sound technician at the Indiana Convention Center, has toured with numerous Christian artists, and produced three mixing console training resources. E-mail him at [email protected]
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