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"Philosophical topic": effect of vocal microphones

Discussion in 'Vocals' started by moinho, May 5, 2005.

  1. moinho

    moinho Active Member

    Yesterday I did some simple recording duties for a live act (10 people with 3xvoc, 2xgit, tp/as/tb, b, dr, el-perc). The place they played had the usual setup of microphones available (meaning for vocals a choice of SM58, SM58 or SM58).

    When two of the singers sang some parts "unplugged" beforehand, it became clear to me (also an observation seconded by the bandleader) that vocalist #1 had a much better voice than vocalist #2.

    Later on, with the equipment setup, it quickly became clear to me (also an observation seconded by several audients at the concert) that vocalist #2 had a much better voice than vocalist #1.

    Now to my question: Do you too have the feeling that the characteristics of industry standard mics found in about every live venue (and even in a lot of setups used for demo recording) do actually have an effect on the darwinism of rock singer selection (i.e. which ones "make it" and which won't)? It seems that at the beginning of a singer's career, most singers (and especially those who do not see the need to invest in a live microphone of their own) are heard through and thus judged on their compatibility with SM58s (except if you're already an established artist the day you start singing - think Phil Collins).

    Meaning that the selection which singers are good and which aren't isn't a decision made by the buying public, it's a decision made by the engineers at Shure a long time ago.

    (Perhaps this is utter BS for reasons which I don't see. If you tell me so, please be sure to mention these very reasons).

  2. jonnyc

    jonnyc Member

    There is some validity to what you're saying, although its very small. If I'm understanding you correctly you think that since the sm58 has specific frequency characteristics that only certain people would truly sound right on it. The human voice is probably the easiest instrument to use yet the hardest to master. What you heard was probably just one vocalist stepping up while the other one did not. There are times I've blown away people with my voice, and other times I've totally blown, sometimes on back to back takes. I've heard the same vocalists sing on several different mics of mine, and the good ones always sound good the bads always sound bad. Like I said you've got a little something there but I think it was really more that one singer out sang the other at one point.
  3. David French

    David French Well-Known Member

    I like to think of a microphone as a revealer of truth. Several times I have heard singers unamplified that I thought sounded gppd, but then when recording them, they sound like crap. The mic is less forgiving than the ear.
  4. pmolsonmus

    pmolsonmus Well-Known Member

    Your idea isn't a bad one, but there are still lots of variables to be considered besides just the voice and its timbre.

    1. Mic technique - needed even for a 58
    2. Mic cables - lots of garbage makes its way on stage
    3. Preamp in the mixer - are the channels equal? cheap mixer=no
    4. Pre/PostGain - are the settings equal? the human ear perceives louder as better usually -
    5. EQ in the mixer
    6. Clean/dirty pots on the mixer
    7. Acoustics of the room w/ amplification
    8. Key of the song in that room
    9. Experience of the singer with good/bad monitoring system
    If a singer can't hear themselves in the mix properly they will usually back off and display a lack of confidence.


    I think you get my point, a 58 is a great, durable rock mic - and although it gets used for everything (including pounding in nails if needed) tends to be pretty forgiving without a lot of subtlety.

    I don't think anyone's career was made/ broken because they only used a 58.

    On second thought in our wonderfully litigious society....I didn't make it as a million dollar artist, I started with a 58. If there's gonna be a class action lawsuit against Shure 58's I'll be there to sign up.

  5. maintiger

    maintiger Well-Known Member

    Mic technique has become a part of modern performance- hence the singer with better mic technique will sound better amplified for he/she will know when to sing softer/louder and back away or come close to the mic as needed. the singer without mic technique will not know how to take advantage of this and his/her performance will suffer accordingly. you say in your example that vocalist #1 had a better voice unamplified but #2 was better when amplified- perhaps #1 will be better again ampllified when he/she develops a better mic technique-

    Another posibililty alltogether would be that singer #1 has little performance experience and got nervous in front of an audience while #2 has more performance chops, was comfortable and gave a better performance- that became evident in a show I did yesterday. One of the singers who did a solo spot had only sung before in kareoke and never in a band in front of a live audience. While she did just fine in rehearsal (by the way, with acoustic guitars and no mics) when she got in front of a mic and in front of an audience her performance suffered a lot. I suspect that if she continues performing she will get a), a better mic technique and b), more performance experience which will lead to her sounding just as good in performance as she did in rehearsal. I really think mics have little or even nothing to do with it.
  6. moinho

    moinho Active Member

    Thanks to all of you! As it sometimes happens in science, there are many possible explanations for an observed phenomenon if on doesn't look at all the ancilliary conditions - like me.

    While I do still like the sound of my voice better through a Beyer M88 than through a SM58 (no wonder, if you look at the price difference), I'm totally with your explanations for my observation.

  7. John Stafford

    John Stafford Well-Known Member

    This topic raises interesting issues concerning the approaches in recording classical and rock music.

    Many Classical singers won't have any sort of mic technique, and the recordists job is to capture the 'unplugged' sound, but of course you will need to record in an exceptionally good environment. It's a bit like trying to create an audio documentary.

    Of course learning to work the mic can bring phenomenal results, but more and more I find myself using the classical approach to all types of vocal recording.

    I've found myself having to learn a lot about mic technique when testing out my own mics. I thought my voice was appalling through a U87 (but everything else sounded wonderful), but it was simply a case of the mic needing to be quite far back, thus showing up room deficiencies. The AT4060 on the other hand, sounded great when I was much closer, so the room didn't cause such difficulties. A pair of Rode NT5s in a church, about fifteen feet back, has always produced great results for me, regardless of the type of music being recorded, and while this approach means the singer cannot work the mic, there is no disadvantage for those singers who can't do it in the studio.

    I've probably strayed a little from the topic here, but I think the vocalist that needs the least compression generally sounds better. Of course that really means the singer has to sing with confidence.

    John Stafford
  8. maintiger

    maintiger Well-Known Member

    the are a lot of nuances you can give your vocal performance by using a microphone. Without a mic, some of those nuances are impractical as they are almost inaudible. Mics have changed the way we perform with our voices- be it spoken or sung.

    in classical type performance where the singer doesn't use a personal mic you still have to take into account the venues acoustics as a part of the vocal sound. a hall with real bad acoustics wont generally yield a satisfying performace no matter what thw singer does or how good he is.
  9. John Stafford

    John Stafford Well-Known Member

    All of that is entirely true, but if you have two singers, and the one who sounds better live is not as good when recorded I think it is useful to try the alternative approach. As you say, a hall with bad acoustics will not give a satisfying performance, and you could find yourself in a situation where both of them sound awful, whereas one of them could be great in the studio.

    Of course microphone technique, as well as all the other aspects of modern production, have had a huge impact on modern performance. I often think it's funny that most members of the listening public are blissfully unaware of what it takes to do something as 'simple' as making a record!

  10. maintiger

    maintiger Well-Known Member


    Good topic of discussion. Making a record is usually a totally different thing than a live performance- I say usually because there are exceptions, like in i acoustic music, especially classical, when the aim is to faithfully reproduce a (hopefully) great performance.
    In most other forms, the recording is an end in itself, creating an end product that may or may not be duplicated in future performances.
    Most pop arrangers will aim to create an unique sound for the artist that did not exist before the record was made. as a matter of fact, most future records do not even exist until they are created in the studio. that also applies to some jazz and acoustic artist, taking the time to create a new album, with new materials and uniqly arranged that they will then go out on the road to promote (so that the public buys it, of course).

    to get back to the vocalist issue, though. In most modern recordings the vocals are usually comped so that the best possible vocal performance can be on the album. I think this is great in most cases, as you are aiming for a permanent record of something that will be set in plastic forever and people can listen to it long after the artist is dead. no artist worth his/her salt would want a subpar vocal performance in a CD. Not when you can get very closed to perfect by comping.
    As I said, that may be different with classical but I don't think a performance with serious flaws would get released even in classical, so this still I think applies. bottom line is that everyone needs to do their best with a recording because it is a permanent record and a measure of the artist. In a live performance you have the magic of the moment that passes into the air and remains only in the audience's memory. Believe me, memory is far more forgiven that a CD. the listener won't even remember an ocassioanl bad note or bad phrase from a live performance, but if its set down on CD it will be there forever for all to hear, thus the need for a performance as close to perfect as possible. 8)
  11. roguescout

    roguescout Guest

    As is life is recording...

    Everything affects everthing else.

    Everthing is subjective based on perspective.

    You must follow the rules.

    You must break the rules.

    You have all the answers within you.

    There are no real answers.

    Try to die with a smile on your face.

    God I hate this business! Alchemists had it easier than us! GRRRRRRR! WHERE'S MY CHAINSAW?!?!?

    Ugh... I'm okay. No really.

    I'm gonna go yell at my gear and pull my hair out now... again.
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