Talkin’ Church Mic Basics with Gino Sigismondi: Mic Selection and Placement
In the second half of our two-part series, Shure Associate Gino Sigismondi, who many of you know from articles in Shure Notes as well as training sessions at seminars and conferences, explains the different types of mics used in church applications along with tips on where to place them.
Form Factors – Narrowing the Field
The sound reinforcement requirements of a church are different than those of more typical live performances, so once you've decided what type (dynamic or condenser) and polar pattern (omni or uni) you're going to need for each application – pastor, soloist, choir, worship leader, praise band – there's the form factor to consider. This is actually pretty simple because the solutions are fairly straightforward.
We'll look at them one by one.
One of the most common microphones used in houses of worship are lectern or podium microphones. Gooseneck microphones are recommended since they position the mic up high and close to the speaker's mouth. These are usually cardioid condenser microphones since they are very small and unobtrusive and also since their greater sensitivity allows the microphone to be positioned 10"-14" and a little off-center from a speaker's mouth.
One of the reasons that the mic is positioned off-center is the undesirable popping sound of plosives (p's and t's). When the mic is off to the side, the air blast that causes those plosives will go past the microphone rather than right into the microphone. Using a windscreen also helps.
- Make sure you only have one microphone on at the lectern, to minimize comb filtering
- Use a pop filter and a shock mount to minimize unwanted sounds.
- Turn off unused microphones
The altar is another area that you may need to mic. In that case a gooseneck microphone may not be aesthetically pleasing, so boundary microphones – usually condenser types – are the typical solution.
- Try not to place them too close to the edge of the altar since they're limited to a 60o vertical pick-up angle. If the microphone isn't placed deep enough into the altar, you run the risk of the speaker talking over the microphone instead of into it.
- Turn off unused microphones.
- Position speakers within 24"-36" of the mic.
The low profile of boundary mics also subjects them to the risk of having speakers place objects over them and since they're typically sensitive condenser-type mics, they're susceptible to noises like page turning. Still, they're usually the best choice for altar applications.
One way to make sure that the pastor or worship leader is heard clearly is to use a lavalier microphone where the speaker or singer can move around freely without concerns about being picked up by the mic. Here's where you want to think about polar patterns
- My choice is the omnidirectional lavalier microphone because you don't need to be as concerned with placement – you can aim it in any direction and there's no proximity effect. There's minimal pickup of wind or cable noise – and they are less susceptible to plosives. Omni lavaliers sound natural and they're the easiest to place.
- On the other hand, if you're experiencing gain before feedback problems, you may need to go with a unidirectional lav microphone, sometimes with a cardioid or even a supercardioid pattern It will also help to reduce background noise in a nosy environment. Remember that they're more susceptible to cable noise, plosives, wind noise, proximity effect and other things that will color the sound quality and add more artifacts than you desire.
If you can make the omni work, that's the way to go. Placement is usually about 8" below the mouth in the center, because the pickup will be affected if the speaker moves his head from side to side. That's a common problem with any lav mic. If possible, it's also beneficial to use a windscreen.
- Secure the cable to the wearer's clothing to eliminate cable noise.
- If multiple mics are used when the speaker approaches the lectern or alter, remember to turn unused mics off, otherwise comb filtering may result.
The headworn mic is by far preferred over lavaliers in most church applications these days, though some people don't like to wear anything on their heads. There are some very tiny headworn microphones that hook over one ear and are barely noticeable.
They take care of just about all the problems experienced with lavalier microphones and offer some significant advantages:
- Gain before feedback is much better – the mic is right next to the speaker's mouth. Since the mic moves with the speaker's head, the sound level and quality don't change.
- They are omni condenser mics with multiple color options so skin tone can be matched – with single ear and dual ear options.
- Placement is easy – left or right side doesn't matter.
- Overall, you'll experience more consistent sound quality, fewer feedback problems and better gain before feedback.
The Choir and the Praise Band
Here are a few quick tips for miking the choir and members of your praise band. Volumes can be – and have been – written on various techniques for achieving a specific sound, but this overview will get your started.
Stand-mounted or hanging mics can be used to pick up the choir. In almost all cases, these are condenser mics. They have a flatter, natural frequency response and are sensitive enough to work well at a distance.
Try to mic the choir as if it's an acoustic instrument. It's the same way you'd mic an orchestra. You're trying to capture the ensemble without coloring it too much. Most often, these are unidirectional condenser mic.
- The 3-to-1 rule applies. Typically you're going to position the mic 2-3 feet in front of the choir with the most sensitive point of the mic aimed toward the back row of the choir, and adjacent mics about 4 – 6 feet apart from each other. That helps provide even coverage because the most sensitive point of the mic is aimed at the singers who are furthest and the singers who are closest are positioned at a less sensitive point, so you'll get nice, even coverage.
- If you're using hanging mics, you need to be careful not to hang the mics over the heads of the singers, rather than 2'-3' in front of their mouths, aimed at the back row. Failing to do that will results in a dull, dark sound with very little sound level reaching the microphone. You need to be able to mic their mouths (the sound source) and not the top of their heads.
- It is best to use as few mics as possible and avoid as much overlap as possible. If you need to use more than one and the first one is 2' away from the choir at an 130o angle, the way to position it is to follow the 3-to-1 rule and position the next mic 6' away. And if that's not enough, place another microphone 6' feet away.
Miking the congregation isn't a musical application but it is something that comes up since adding ambient sound creates a more natural mix for broadcast feeds or recording. It's similar to choir miking since you can think of the congregation as a large ensemble.
- You will probably want to use some type of unobtrusive unidirectional microphone and only for recording or broadcast purposes where you need to add some ambience.
- Don't mic the congregation for sound reinforcement purposes. If you need to hear an individual in the congregation, the best way to do that is with a wireless handheld.
The Praise Band
Here are some basic member-by-member suggestions:
- Handheld or headworn mic.
- Unidirectional – dynamic or condenser - depending on the sound quality you're trying to achieve.
Look for a good shock mount that eliminates some of the handling noise. The SM58, for example, has a very good shock mount. You can tap on the microphone and you won't hear very much. A cheap mic can sound like a freight train when you do the same thing.
Electric guitar amp
- Dynamic or condenser
- Make sure the sensitivity of the condenser mic is designed for the application.
Beta 181 is a good choice. You can hang it over the top of the guitar amp in front of the speaker without needing a mic stand.
- Dynamic mics for snare and tom-toms, which handle the high SPLs in these applications.
- Condenser mics are useful for overheads and cymbals.
- Percussion mics might be condensers as well for general area miking applications.
- Kick drum: Beta 52A is the Shure mic designed specifically for use as a bass drum mic, but a Beta 91A boundary microphone can also be a good choice for its low-profile design and set-up ease.
- Snare drum: Good choices include SM57 or Beta 57A mics. Place the boom-mounted mic in front of the kit, a few inches from the snare drum edge, next to and just above the high tom head for a natural sound.
- Toms: Beta 56A or Beta 98AMP mics can be used. For the best isolation, consider placing a microphone inside each tom-tom.
- Overheads: A Beta 181/C or PG81 mic can be positioned about a foot above the drummer's head or a matched pair of either model can be used for stereo miking.
Grand or upright piano
- Condenser mics for flatter, more natural frequency response.
- Stand-mounted or boundary mics are also good choices. Boundary mics can actually be taped inside the lid of the piano.
- KSM137 is a good choice for a stand-mounted mic. It can withstand high sound pressure levels and it's also available in a stereo kit, making it ideal for X/Y configuration miking preferred by many live sound engineers.
- For mounting inside the piano, you can use a Beta 91A cardioid condenser microphone. This microphone will work for both a grand and upright piano.
It all comes down to this
What's really important is knowing how the mic sounds, using your ears to chose the right one and then knowing where to place it. Moving the microphone just a few inches in one direction or another can improve the sound quality dramatically. Time for experimentation is time well spent.
Choose the right mic, put it in the right place, keep it as close to the sound source, use as few mics as possible, turn off unused mics and trust your ears.
View the first article in the Talkin' Church Mic Basics series (Choosing the Right Mic).
ABOUT GINO SIGISMONDI: Gino Sigismondi has been active in the music and audio industry for nearly twenty years. Currently managing the Systems Support department, Gino brings his years of practical experience in professional audio to the product training seminars he conducts for Shure customers, dealers, distribution centers, and internal staff. He is the author of the Shure educational publications "Selection and Operation of Personal Monitors," "Audio Systems Guide for Music Educators," and "Selection and Operation of Audio Signal Processors."
Gino spent several post-college years as a live sound engineer for Chicago-area sound companies, nightclubs, and local acts. He continues to remain active as a musician and sound engineer, expanding his horizons beyond live music to include sound design for modern dance and church sound.