Friday Exercise: Microphone Technique

Posted on 12 June 2009

Today’s exercise has to do with microphone technique. This is crucial. Your audience has to hear you, if they are going to respond to your comedy. Roaming around venues recently I’ve become acutely aware of the variety of microphones with which you might have to cope.

Rule Number One

The first rule of microphone technique is to take your time. Take your time setting up the microphone to exactly the correct height and location. Take your time ensuring the cable is placed correctly and out of tripping range. Take your time letting your technicians ensure they have the sound levels correct. When you are obviously focused and puposeful in making sure an audience will have the best chance of enjoying your show, they respect that and are willing to give you the space to prepare.

Microphones and Stands

Comedy venues are not the only place you may be doing your comedy routines. You could be performing at a musical venue or for a corporate event. Each venue will have their own unique sound system and their own unique microphones. The main consideration is to get that microphone as close to your mouth as possible. This drives me nuts because I feel that part of my performance is being obscured because part of my face is being obscured. It also feels intrusive having a microphone that near. This is something we all have to get over.

You may have seen comedians on TV holding their microphones close to their chest, but it’s an illusion that microphone is picking up their voices very well. Even a few inches away from your face and the drop off in sound reception is  immense. These guys are getting by because of a) canny sound technicians with whom they have previously rehearsed and b) boom mics that are out of shot.

Comedy venues are likely to have plain vertical microphone stands with a tough Shure microphone on a cable. You can either adjust the stand, so that the ball end of the microphone comes right under your lip—just remember that you will not be able to move around much, or take the microphone off the stand and place the stand somewhere near the back or side of the stage. Stage etiquette requires that you return the mic and the stand to where you found them when you finish your performance.

If you are holding the microphone, make sure the ball end is almost touching the middle of your chin. It is worth practicing walking around and holding it on your chin to get used to this placement.

At a musical venue, the microphone will probably be on a levered stand with the mic being held horizontal to the ground. If you wish to use the stand in this case, then place the microphone so that it is right in front of  your mouth and stand close enough to eat the thing.

Radio Microphones

Personally, I love a radio mic with a headset and a sound unit that clips to your waistband. They are just a bit tricky.

With a headset you need to adjust them to your head so they don’t fall off. This could mean that after awhile they dig into your scalp uncomfortably. Again, the microphone end ot the headset must be against your cheek and practically entering your mouth.  With a lapel mic…well, make sure you have a lapel and make sure it is clipped snugly to your clothes.

Your sound person will need to ensure that the batteries are always fresh in the radio unit. Even so you may get drop out. Be aware of whether your unit is on or off. Technically, you should always leave the radio unit on and your sound person will simply switch to your microphone at the right moment. However, more than one person has wandered into the bathroom only to have unfortunate sounds broadcast to the audience. Remember to turn the unit back on after you have relieved yourself of pre-show jitters.

It also pays to check whether nearby venues may be using radio mics as well. If perhaps they accidentally use the same radio frequency you are, your audience may be treated to someone else’s performance as well as your own, as the frequencies interfere with one another.

The Cable

For cable mics shake out the cable so that it has a straight line to wherever it is going. Feel free to shake it out on occasion, if you walk around quite a bit during your performance. You might be able to incorporate a trip into your comedy, but not if you break the cable and no one can hear you. Do NOT wrap the cable around your hand, arm, or the microphone. That’s another way to break the cable.

Extras

Microphones are notorious for not picking up “s” or “p” correctly. Instead you get a hiss or a pop. Some microphones may have a “pop filter” of some sort. These filters could be built into one of those cool deco looking microphones, or
be something like a fluffy sock placed over the mic, or any number of other arrangements. This may mean you will not be able to remove the microphone from the stand, but you will get great sound.

Practise

The main things are you need to get used to the microphone, get comfortable with the microphone, and learn how to keep it an even distance (close) from your mouth.

So, unsurprisingly, today’s exercise is to spend at least thirty minutes practising with a microphone. Perform some of your own stuff, or read a chapter from Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. Maybe find a way to incorporate
the microphone consciously into your act.

Peace and kindness,

Katherine


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