An Introduction to Radio Mic Hire and Technique, Part 2
by Graham Caplin – 24th May, 2021
In the first part of this series we looked at the basic differences between wired and radio mics, and the various options available when choosing your radio mics. In this second part I have a few tips and techniques to bear in mind for getting the best out of your equipment.
Part 2: Tips and Considerations for the Proper Use of Radio Mics
These are the most important points to know about using microphones:
Positioning is key. The microphone capsule (the bit at the end of a mic which picks up the sound) should always be pointing towards the performer’s mouth. If you can’t hear the performer clearly, this is a good starting point!
However don’t place the capsule right in front of the mouth, but instead it should sit approximately 2cm to the side.
When you talk or sing, you create ‘plosives’, which are small percussive bursts of air when you make certain sounds. Put your hand in front of your mouth and say “p”, and you’ll feel a small blast. When this blast hits the microphone capsule you get either a ‘pop’ or a mic ‘crack’, which can be either annoying or in the worst cases quite painful to listen to!
If the microphone is too close, you can also get distortion – the sound becomes fuzzy and unclear – if the performer makes a sudden loud noise. On the other hand, if the mic is too far away then the performer will struggle to be heard. In that instance, you would have to turn the mic up and risk feedback.
Remember to speak up! It’s important to note that even if they’re using a mic, performers still need to project – microphones can only amplify the sound that’s present! It’s natural for students to be nervous – we all get stage fright to some degree – and when we’re nervous we tend to open our mouths less. An open mouth creates a bigger oral cavity from which the sound can resonate before projecting outwards. A closed mouth makes for a smaller oral cavity, and blocks the exit for much of the sound.
Here’s a useful lesson you can do before you start using mics to teach performers to open their mouths – I do this when I’m working with nervous students. Have them stand at the back of the stage and you talk to them from the back of the auditorium. I have a loud voice so I can easily project across the whole distance, and I’ve yet to meet a teacher who can’t fill the void if required!
The goal is to be able to hear each other without having to shout. Talk to them with your mouth closed, and then with a much wider, more open mouth, to demonstrate the difference it makes. Then have the student talk or sing to you while opening their mouth. Then get them to use their diaphragm to expel more air out or their mouth, and they may well be surprised at how loud they can be.
Don’t fiddle with the mic! Wearing a headset or face mic is unnatural, and it can take a bit of getting used to. In the meantime the tendency is to fiddle with it, which can cause rustling or fumbling sounds to be heard, and could potentially damage the microphone.
Another thing to watch out for is if the performer can’t hear themselves over the main PA system they might try and bring the mic closer, thinking it isn’t picking them up properly. You need to warn them against this, as it will ruin all the hard work when you first positioned the mic.
If you’re using hand mics, watch for performers copying the singers you see on talent shows, who repeatedly grip and ungrip the mic when performing. This has become a bit of a trend on the b-list singing circuits, and it’s used as an additional form of expression while singing. However it can also create noise over the mic! Hand mics usually have some sound deadening gel injected into the body of the microphone to absorb a lot of this noise, but it’s a good idea to stop performers from doing this in the first place.
Remember to mute or turn off radio mics when they’re not being used. You may not know this, but some students do swear when they’re off-stage! I know, shocking! Muting a mic means that these choice moments aren’t broadcast in the middle of your performance should your sound engineer forget to fade the channel down. One of our customers told us that a student went to the loo during a performance and the mic was live! And who can forget the Gordon Brown “bigoted woman” comment that was picked up on his radio mic during the UK 2010 election campaign. Mute the mic or turn it off when it’s not in use, but just don’t forget to turn it on again when it’s needed.
In the final part of the series I’ll discuss how you can maximise your use of radio mics to hire the fewest mics but still maintain high quality and great performances.
We know that microphone types can be bewildering, as many of our customers have never used them for their stage performances before. For more information please call us on 020 3355 8188, or take a look at our radio mic page: radiofacilities.com/radio-mic-hire.