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A Primer On Microphone Etiquette
By: Joseph De Buglio

How often do you hear of concerts that are cancelled because the featured performer had the flu, a cold, or a throat problem? Did you ever wonder how they might have gotten sick? Do you ever wonder why ministers traveling from church to church get sick so often?

In today's electronics age, common personal audio devices, such as headphones and earphones, are widely used — but seldom shared. So, why is it that performers tolerate sharing microphones from venue to venue — with no knowledge of who's used the microphone before them?

Beyond the health concerns of sharing microphones, there are true advantages to customizing a microphone to the performer. Microphones are vocal performers' instrument of choice and an extension of their singing or oratory talent, making it even more critical for them to own their own microphone. Seldom would you find a professional musician "sharing" an instrument from venue to venue. Professional musicians who take their craft seriously own their own instrument, whether it's a violin, guitar, or flute. Professional speakers and vocalists need to elevate their trade and invest in their own microphone — if not for their craft, then certainly for their health.

Microphones can be a breeding ground for bacteria. Microphones are used in front of our mouths. They are spit on, sneezed on, and handled from the top down. The germs and viruses left on a microphone can remain infectious for as long as 48 hours or more, depending on how much moisture is present on the windscreen and the age of the windscreen.

There is no way to clean a microphone for germs except to replace the windscreen. And, even at that, there is no guarantee that the germs present on the rest of the microphone will not be transmitted when handled. The current health advisories regarding the multitude of flu viruses are not just cautionary but, in many cases, newsworthy, due to their fatal effects.

Cleaning microphones after every use is good etiquette and a courtesy to others, but, better yet, don't share microphones. If you do, it is like sharing your toothbrush. If you are a minister or performer and want to protect your voice and your health, you should be making the same investment as musicians do and personalize your microphone.

The typical microphone is connected to a sound system — either by a wire or through a wireless sound system. But, the similarities end there. Every microphone has a personality just like its performer. Some microphones are ideal for bass singers. Some microphones are great for people who scream out their music. Every professional quality microphone model has unique characteristics, and within each model there are subtle differences — just as instruments that look alike will play differently for each performer. This is true for guitars, violins, pianos…and microphones. Visit a recording session at a high-end recording studio, and you'll see every type and model of microphone that has ever been made to meet the artist's needs.

Sadly, there are only a few performers who travel around with personalized microphones. These performers may have personal microphones that are even custom finished with colored sleeves and windscreens to match the clothing they wear. Many people who see these custom microphones often think of the performer as having a big ego. But, microphones are musical instruments, too. They are an extension of the performer or speaker. Musicians frequently customize their guitars and drum sets. So what is wrong with performers doing the same with microphones? In fact, singers should have personalized microphones that they can bring from show to show. Personal microphones are especially important for lapel mics and headset or ear-worn microphones. There is a greater need to personalize them, as the microphone is very close to the mouth and the capsule can remain moist for days.

Owning your own microphone need not be a major expense. You should evaluate the cost of a personal microphone as an investment in your profession and your health. Handheld microphones range from $100 to $600, in general, while many new types of quality ear-worn microphones can be purchased for less than $100, depending on whether it's for speech only or for vocal performance.

A professional microphone used by one person can last for many years. Whether you're a singer in a praise team, singing to tracks from church to church, or performing at church concerts, you should be bringing your own microphone. You should have a case for the microphone, replacement windscreens, and mini wipes to clean your microphone after each performance. Allow it to air dry before putting it back into its case. And, as good general practice, use a hand sanitizer before and after handling the microphone.

Don't forget to have fun, too. Performing on stage is a great experience — it is uplifting and spiritual. Being on stage makes us all performers and this is as true for ministers as it is for vocalists. So, why not take it to a higher level and truly make the microphone your own with a little stylization. For handheld microphones, you can have your name etched into the barrel or even have the barrel custom finished. You could also use colored tape. The possibilities are endless.

Remember, your microphone is in fact an instrument…and if you perform in public and use your voice as an instrument, you should be doing whatever you can to nurture and care for it.

Joseph De Buglio is principal consultant of JDB Sound Acoustics, www.jdbsound.com. The article was also written in conjunction with Point Source Audio, www.point-sourceaudio.com.

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