All microphones are not created equal. Cardioid, supercardioid, hypercardioid, condenser, ribbon – literally dozens of choices. (It’s enough to give you a cardioid cardiac!)
In many situations, our budgets just won’t allow the top-of-the-line models in our mic cases.
Meanwhile, the same questions present themselves for every show, large or small. What kind of mic(s) on the backline? What to do about the softly singing angel at lead vocal? What about the singer that can never ever stay on mic but needs the highest monitor level in the history of the world?
I come from a generation that used a handful of (Electro-Voice) 635A and RE 16 mics, along with a (Shure) SM57 or SM58 here and there. We actually made it all work with 16 channels, and sometimes less. These mics still float around the industry, and for good reason: they were (and still are) true workhorses.
So let’s talk about the basics.
Topping the list: don’t buy into “more is better” when it comes to mic’ing smaller stages. Rare is the situation when you really need 32 mic channels for a 4-piece band in a club setting. It might look cool (and I know band brought all of theirs to try), but it can leave you well before the end of the gig. Things like feedback, crosstalk and total loss of dynamic range can make your evening one to remember – and not in the good sense.
Your audience doesn’t care about how many mic lines you run, they care about the distinct sound between the recording they’ve already heard versus what they’re hearing live at the venue. Are the instruments distinct? How about the vocals?
Take drum mic’ing, for instance. Most drummers can “get over the top” of most everyone else in the mix. So try mic’ing drums sparingly to begin with – another mic or two can always be added at sound check. Don’t have a “kick drum mic” in the case? Use a decent vocal model. Its response will surprise you.
Stand-mount a couple of decent unidirectional dynamic mics overhead to capture cymbals. If the drummer is also a vocalist, chances are that the vocal mic will also capture the snare just fine. In fact, many times in smaller venues, I’ve little or nothing on drums. It really depends on the drummer’s intensity and/or the overall stage volume.
One thing’s for sure: overkill on drum mics is a guaranteed way to push the first five rows of your audience to the back of the house.
Speaking of which, stage volume should always be kept at a reasonable level. Guitar amps can be a driving headache in a small venue – not only for you but your nearfield patrons.
A little communication goes a long way.
Keeping the band informed about stage volume has always been a challenge for sound engineers but is absolutely necessary for a good mix out front. It might sound great in the garage or rehearsal hall, but a big lead/rhythm guitar amp feud is a real pain out front.
I’ve put an ATA case in front of an amp to soften things a bit, and have also angled the amp upward so that it points at the back of the artist’s head rather than the front row. The artist still “feels his/her tone” while the paying customers are spared a dose of tinnitus.
And try to resist hanging mics by their cords in front of amps, which means that the mic elements are facing the floor. We’ve all done it, but we want to capture the amp, not the reflections from the floor, right? Invest in some mic stands and/or cab grabbers – it’s well worth it.
One other note: study the mics that you own. Learn about polar patterns, transient response, sensitivity and gain before feedback – these characteristics are very important. Also study monitor placement versus mic placement for maximum rejection.
Check it out, and have a great next show!