Paying Your Microphone Dues with Doníts
By: Gene Houck
The audio needs of today's contemporary church are more involved and challenging than ever before. With digital consoles, steerable line arrays and outboard gear moving into laptops, microphones can often be the overlooked stepchild. Make no mistake, microphones are the first link in your sound chain and, when properly used, will greatly enhance your service. On the other hand, errant purchases, improper use, and lack of microphone maintenance can cost you time, money and, sometimes, congregants.
There are some obvious areas that demand attention and some not-so-obvious areas that should not be overlooked. Let's tackle some of them.
Wireless Microphones: Are You Legal Yet?
DON'T: Continue to operate wireless equipment that is in the 700 MHz range. It is not worth it. According to the FCC, "Operation of wireless microphones in violation of these rules may subject the user to substantial monetary forfeitures, in rem (sic) arrest action against the offending radio equipment and criminal sanctions, including imprisonment." If that isn't enough for you, police, fire departments, and other public safety groups are operation in the 700 MHz band as well, and, as a steward for your church, you certainly do not want to be interfering with their services. Some systems have a frequency range that straddles legal frequencies and illegal frequencies. Don't convince yourself that it is legal if you just avoid 698 MHz Ė 804 MHz. The mere operation of that equipment is prohibited, according to the FCC.
DO: Replace with FCC compliant wireless. You can minimize your costs by just replacing mandatory applications, such as the pastor. Evaluate whether a worship leader or praise team vocalists who never budge really require a wireless microphone system. Microphone performance is always optimum with a wired mic vs. creating mini radio stations that also eat up batteries.
DON'T: Think that your vocalist(s) will know proper mic technique. While many churches are deeply blessed to have very experienced singers, in truth, much of the time, a vocalist's first (and sometimes only) microphone experience is at a church. So, whether you are a singer or on the sound team, learn proper microphone technique. The biggest mistakes in vocal microphone technique is singing too far away from a mic or being so inconsistent that an engineer cannot maintain proper gain. Don't have the microphone pressed against or pointing to your chin. This will cause you to sing "over" the microphone. For your soloists, if they are holding the microphone, make sure they don't cover the head of the mic with their hand(s). It really does not look "cool' and it dramatically distorts and changes the shape of your voice. And, whatever you do, don't point your microphone into a monitor, unless you want to experience the painful screech of feedback.
DO: Learn proper vocal microphone technique. To maximize your sound, you want to sing directly into the head of the microphone. This is singing "on axis" into the microphones diaphragm and it will produce the fullest sound. As you veer away and sing "off axis" you lose gain and desired frequencies.
Today's microphones are built to withstand high sound pressure levels without distorting, so you almost cannot sing too close to a microphone when singing live. When performing a sound check with your monitors, sing as loud as you would normally during the actual service. This will allow for proper gain set up in both the front of house, as well as the monitors.
DON'T: Think that any microphone can be used for any application. While it is true that there are many models of microphones that can be utilized in a variety of ways, many microphones are designed to excel in specific applications. For example, when miking a large area such as a choir, you want to choose a microphone that has greater sensitivity to capture large areas from a distance. A condenser microphone is your best choice. Don't use a dynamic microphone to mic a choir. The signal is just too weak. You will need to turn up the mic too much and you will invite feedback.
DO: Learn the difference between condenser microphones and dynamic microphones and the types of applications that they are best suited for. If you are not sure if a microphone is a condenser or a dynamic microphone, a simple test is to mute the channel, plug in the mystery mic, turn off any phantom power that the mixing board provides, and then un-mute. If the microphone will not work without the phantom power turned on, it is a condenser mic. Make sure to turn the faders all the way down before you turn the phantom power back on!
DON'T: View microphones as merely a tool to make something louder. True, microphones can make an inaudible instrument the loudest thing in the mix, but more and more in today's contemporary worship, microphones are used to accurately represent a desired sound. One of the best examples of this is drums in your worship service. Many churches feel the last thing they want to do is mic the drums. If your worship team is playing contemporary worship songs, the drums should be miked in order to have better control of the drum sound and to bring out frequencies needed to capture the drums in the best possible light. An acoustic drum kit properly miked and enclosed in a clear sound barrier will produce the best results.
DO: Take proper care of you microphones. Store microphones, when not in use, in their supplied pouches and boxes or purchase cases that can store multiple mics. Also, make sure the mics are stored in a dry area. Condenser microphones, in particular, are susceptible to damage from moisture. Vocal microphones take a lot of abuse from saliva and lipstick. Every couple of months, take off the grille balls of the vocal microphones and clean them. Most grille balls screw off easily, exposing the capsule below it. Once the grille ball is off the microphone, you can clean it thoroughly without fear of damaging the mic. Simple hot water and soap or a mild detergent, such as dishwashing liquid, works the best. There is no need to remove the foam to cleanse your grille. Just let the grille dry out completely. Air drying is best, but if you are in a hurry to return the grille to your microphone, you can use a hair dryer; however, make sure you do not touch the foam material, as excessive heat can melt some windscreen material. To remove lipstick and other material stuck in the grille, use a toothbrush with soft bristles. Your team will thank you for removing odors, and your microphones can perform at their peak.
With the proper care and maintenance of your microphones, your church's investment will be protected for many years. Remember, when worshipping, SING LOUD!
Gene Houck is the national sales manager for Audix Microphones, www.audixusa.com, and has been a worship leader for many years.