Gear Talk: Vocal Capsules Part 1

In today’s world, we have quite the choice of capsules. Watch a lot of old concert recordings and everyone was using one of a just a few options. But today, there are multiple manufacturers making many different varieties of microphones. Whether your twisting the capsule onto a wireless transmitter or swapping out a wired mic, it certainly isn’t much easier to start tailoring your selection to your use case and hopefully to the person using it. That is the topic of this series. Over the next few weeks I’ll be taking a week and talking about how I use each capsule that I have. One of the downsides here is that I only own a subset of Shure capsules (with a few outliers). I’m not sponsored by Shure (though I’d like to be) and this isn’t meant to be a sales pitch but rather me sharing how I match capsules to singers on a weekly basis. If you are heavy Sennheisser, EV, DPA users, reach out to me via email (daniel@studiostagelive.com) and we can work together to write a few posts about a wider variety of choices (reach out quickly and we can get those integrated into this series). 

This week I’m going to talk about the standard: the SM58. I usually buy this head for every wireless mic I buy because it is the most multi-purpose mic that I know of. If you can’t at least make something or someone decent with a 58, you’re doing it wrong. For over 50 years this microphone has been used for so many popular artists like Martina McBride, Cheryl Crow, Rascal Flatts, Iggy Pop, Luke Bryan, and so many more. But what sets it apart? Most people cite it’s classic performance with a flat response except a brightened upper mid which gives it a warm but present feeling for most. But it’s also known to be so durable in fact that people seem ok letting it be run over by a truck. Shure claims each part, when received from their contractors, is put through military grade endurance testing and I believe them. I have held a broken or damaged SM58 microphones in my hand before but have never actually witnessed any just cease to even work a little bit. On top of that, you can get it for $99. So not only is it super durable and sound great with most people, it’s probably one of the most reasonably priced microphones on the market. 

So how do I use it? Let me tell you. For me, every mic is situational. Quite often new people walk across the stage I work with. Most of them are speakers so it’s a headset battle but with vocalists it becomes a full out capsule war. Now while I don’t usually start with an SM58, but if I’m just having a hard time matching the vocalist with a capsule, it will never be long before they’ll be singing into a 58 just to get back to a baseline. This is the biggest thing I use the mic for: getting a baseline. So many times I’m just not sure which direction to go with the rest of my arsenal so I’ll just pick up a 58 and use what I hear with this mic as guidance. How their voice sounds with little correction with an SM58 will guide the next step. On top of that, in at least most cases, the SM58 is not a bad choice for a microphone. But there are a few instances when I use it first. The biggest first use for me is for really quiet singers (or soft spoken speakers). The rejection for this mic is pretty great and it’s a cardioid microphone giving it a forgiving pickup pattern. As they gain confidence and in turn volume, I might switch off of it for a different capsule but maybe not. There is just something to be said about being consistent about using the same microphone with the same person so you can start building up memory about what you’ll need to do each time they sing. But, that boost in the upper mids can be detrimental, in my opinion, for female vocalists. Everything must be weighed when considering which capsule to use. 

Well, that’s about it for this week. But I want to hear back from you. In the comments below or on facebook, tell me the weirdest thing you’ve ever mic’d with an SM58. I want to know if my weird stories are the norm or an exception. Don’t forget to come back next week when I’ll talk about the capsule I use first on any male vocal and compare it back to our series baseline, the SM58. If you want to be emailed when any new content goes live, follow this link, and subscribe to my blog. You won’t regret it! See you next week!

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