Signal Path Podcast: The SM58
Listen to a special edition of the SIGNAL PATH podcast about THE SM58, quite possibly the most popular microphone in the world, as part of the Shure ICONIC MIC CELEBRATION this month.
Hear the stories behind the sounds: Signal Path by Shure meets sonic innovators to explore how they're shaping the world of audio.
Episode 064: The SM58
Close your eyes and picture a microphone.
It’s got a sleek, black handle.
A silver metal grille.
You’ve seen musicians, comedians, karaoke fans and even the president of the United States use it.
Chances are, what you’re imagining right now is a Shure SM58. Quite possibly the most popular microphone in history.
We have a very special episode for you today, looking at the incomparable SM58 microphone as part of Shure’s Iconic Mics celebration this month.
We’re going to dig down into the history of the SM58 and find out why it’s become the go-to mic for so many people for the past half a century.
Why it’s been used by countless trailblazing artists over the years, from Roger Daltrey to Run-DMC.
Roger Daltrey: I found this microphone to be absolutely remarkable.
How it’s become so iconic that the emoji microphone symbol is based on it.
And why it’s still at the top of its game, almost 60 years after it was released.
This is a mic that’s become more than a mic. It’s a symbol of music making, like a Fender Stratocaster or a Steinberg Piano.
It really does set the standard for vocal microphones.
To uncover the full story of the SM58, we need to go all the way back to the early 1960s.
Michael Patterson: You have to realize that in the late 50s and early 60s Shure’s primary business was phonograph cartridges.
That’s Michael Patterson, Shure’s official company historian.
Phonograph cartridges were huge, everyone wanted one, you could build hundreds of thousands of them a year.
Michael Patterson: So microphones were kind of given short shrift, they weren’t ignored but they weren’t paid much attention to.
But by the mid 60s popular music was becoming a huge business, with more and more studios opening across the US. That meant lots of people were looking to buy studio microphones – something that Shure didn’t really make at the time.
The managers at Shure decided that had to change and put their top man on the job: Bob Carr.
Michael Patterson: Bob Carr, being the product manager for professional mics, was given the task of getting Shure into studios…
But he wasn’t given the budget to develop anything. So what he decided to do was take existing Shure models and turn them into studio mics by removing on-off switches, by making them balanced low-impedance with XLR outputs, and by painting them a non-reflective gray, so when they were under lights they wouldn’t reflect like chrome would.
The mic Carr helped create was the SM58. But it was actually based on one of Shure’s existing mics, the Shure Model 565.
Michael Patterson: A quick story about Woodstock: all the microphones on stage, and there were about 20 of them, were 565s. And that’s because the guys who were setting up the bands were all volunteers, and Bill Hanley the main sound engineer didn’t have time to train them about what mics would go where, so he just put all the same mics on there.
Put a mic on the guitar amp, put a mic over the drums. It didn’t make any difference as to which one they grabbed because they were all the same.
In 1966 Shure launched the SM58. At first it sold pretty well. But then someone had the idea of selling the mic to live music venues as well as studios.
Michael Patterson: A guy named Roger Ponto, who was the sales manager for the US, said: “You know…I wonder if these microphones might have some use for live sound.”
He had contacts in Las Vegas, and Vegas at the time was really trying to grow as far as concerts. They’d always had gambling, but now they started to have a lot of live sound. So Roger said let’s take some of these microphones out to Las Vegas and see how well they do for live sound.
The SM58 was a huge success in Vegas because of its great sound quality and reliability. From there, its reputation just grew and grew.
Listen to the full history of the SM58 and subscribe to Signal Path with the podcast provider of your choice below.
Licensed music credits:
'Question Mark' by Dream Cave
'Golden Era' by Mary Riddle
'Smoking Lounge' by Trio Leo
'Overwhelmed' by Mother Madness
'Bounced Back' by Blue Topaz
'My Moon and Your Sun' by Hampus Naeselius