Gear Talk: Micing a Speaker (the Budget Option)

Here we are in week 2 of our Gear Talk series talking about headset microphones. Last week we quickly discussed the types of microphones I prefer to use with speakers and my choice of lapels and podiums along with the pros and cons for each options. This week I wanted to talk about two budget options for headsets to use if money is a bit tight. Both of these options are omnidirectional and both have the option to be dual ear headsets which I would highly recommend for stability and reliability in general.

This first option is a headset my supervisor ended up ordering in a hurry because one of our regional campuses didn’t know they needed so many headsets until basically the last minute. We simply didn’t have time to rent in our normal stock so we had to look for something with great reviews that we could purchase 5 or 6 of. That was the Pyle-Pro PMHMS20. Yes these are $20 headsets (sometimes cheaper) but we were pleasantly surprised at how well they work given the price point. I should note that I actually have my speakers wear them upside down simply because I feel like it fits people better and stays in place much easier. Here is the thing, they could sound a lot better for sure, but they are dual ear and omnidirectional and incredibly cheap so you are getting what you are paying for (it’s not a DPA folks). If you have a drama coming up and using lapels doesn’t seem like an appealing option or you just need a “pyle” of headsets to have around for folks, these aren’t a bad option at all. We actually ended up keeping them in a bin when they were done and we pass them out for use in large group Bible studies and for use in our other tech spaces around the church. They work great and guess what, they are $20 bucks so you don’t mind if one doesn’t come back or is broken. We can comfortably send this out to a camp or on a trip and not worry about a $400 headset getting broken. In my mind, this is just another tool that can find a home and find its’ purpose within a larger arsenal of tools to be used in different scenarios.

This next headset is the one I grew up and basically learned on. When I was younger this seemed to be the industry goto for a long time: the Countryman E6. Now I linked up the dual ear model which rings in just under $500 (perhaps less on other sites) but the single ear version is usually under $350. Earning it a place in the budget category. If you spend time customizing and bending the single ear model to each person, it can and will stick to them reliably but in my experience, very few techs spend enough time doing that. Alternatively, a few pieces of medical tape will help dramatically if time is short (which we all know it can be). Or you can just get the dual ear model. Acoustically, this headset is very middle of the line, which can be a very good thing. It sounds like a tiny condenser so the lows are a bit thin but better placement can help this dramatically. But, it is easy to make sound pretty good and the headset as a whole is great foundation to build on in any arsenal. It also comes with several accessories like windscreens that can help with those unwieldy pops and such. We do keep a stock of these to give out for internal events because they still work great but as they age, we’ve had a few get very brittle because metal can only be flexed so many times before it snaps. This wouldn’t be my very first choice but if I wanted a good place to start, the Countryman is great for that.

So what headset do you guys say is a great budget headset? I’m always looking for new headsets to learn about and keep in the hopper for unique situations. Please use the comments below or on Facebook as a way to let me know what you guys use or have seen so we can get some conversations started. If you have any more questions about either of these headsets or some use case scenarios email me at daniel@studiostagelive.com or drop me a message on Facebook. Next week I’m going to spend the week talking about my utility headset. The one I’ve been turning to a lot. It has a great balance of sonic quality, reliability, and build quality that have made it my go to headset in most situations. If you don’t want to miss it be sure to subscribe to the blog here by following this link. See you all next week!

Gear Talk: Micing a Speaker (Lapels and Podiums)

This week I’m starting a new Gear Talk series on micing up speakers for different events. I spent a lot of my early years without much choice in any given scenario and while what I was doing worked, sometimes pretty effectively, I’ve learned that things could have been better. I see just about everyday in a lot of the groups I’m in people asking about a certain headset or lapel or this or that. What I’d like to reinforce with this series is to accumulate for yourself options. With options you can fit each mic into a given scenario instead of forcing one option on all scenarios. This week I’m going to hit on what I use for podium mics and lapels, next week is my pick for a budget microphones with best utility and best sound the following weeks. I’m going to do my best as well to present you with options of other things I’ve tried or heard of over the last few years as I’ve started to build up my “options.” Probably one of the best things you can do if you are hesitant to buy other microphones is to rent/demo a headset for an event. Don’t take any unnecessary risks but spend the money to try new things, you just never know what you might discover.  

But before I get into the specifics, I wanted to talk about the types of mics we buy. There is a big trend, especially in the church world, to buy cardioid or unidirectional microphones. The idea being that you have a much higher threshold before feedback. However, if you don’t get that mic placed perfectly on someone’s face you’re going to have issues. Ever wonder why you see those crazy EQ curves posted, well they were probably using a cardioid mic that wasn’t placed well so to make it sound clear they had to fake it. That’s why I’ve always preferred omnidirectional microphones. You need to be a bit more careful as far as feedback is concerned but it is incredibly forgiving in terms of placement and can move a bit and not lose it’s clear tone. At that point you are EQing for mostly feedback prevention and slight corrections for tone. I always try to argue for omnidirectional as far as headsets go because it was always my theory that cardioid microphones were developed for situations like intercom and sportscasting in loud stadiums not for speech in an auditorium. If you have any more questions regarding this topic, just hit me up in the comments section and we can touch base.

Sometimes you don’t always have wireless channels available for speakers or it’s a no-fail scenario like a memorial service or wedding, or there is just the need for a mic that a bunch of people can walk up and use than you are going to want to use a podium mic. In my early years I would just make a really tight ORTF pair with some beta58 microphones or just any condenser I had sitting around to create a wide pickup pattern. But, since then, I have seen the light in regards to podium microphones and finally stepped up my game. We have a few options for flexible neck microphones here but the main one we always have on a stand is the Shure MX418. I love it for a number of reasons, the principle of which is just its’ size and design. At 18” long it’s a length suitable for any podium height or depth and allows for the stand to be out of the limelight. It also has a very small and lightweight microphone which helps it basically disappear. When properly gained it’s pickup range is quite large which when coupled with a properly placed and tuned sound system has a huge amount of headroom before feedback (yes it’s a cardioid mic but that works to our advantage here because of how podium mics are setup). Adjustable and flexible necks like this are great for this because you can encourage each speaker to gently adjust the mic to fit each time. It is incredibly priced and I’d encourage you to check it out if you don’t already have a solid podium mic in your arsenal.

At least one lapel is something that everyone should probably have in their drawers just for those unexpected requests or strange situations. There are some speakers that insist on not wearing a headset or simply just ask for a lapel (even though it’s not my form factor of choice) so I believe that you need to have at least one, if not a couple. For me, it’s a pretty simple choice, the Shure WL185 (used to be the WL184 but they’ve updated it and thus changed the model number). It ships with a lot of wireless packages and if you don’t have one, you can pick it up for about $100. For me, this is the sm58 of lapel microphones. I’ve used it at corporate events, memorial services, weddings, and just about anything you can think of. However, because of it’s pattern, be sure to place it very carefully. Face the mic towards the mouth of the subject and place it about six inches away to start with. When it gets too far off axis from the speaker, it’s going to start really struggling. So, if you want something that is a bit more flexible (read omnidirectional), we have a few DPA 4060 lapels that our video teams use for their videos that I’d recommend as well. On a side note, these can also be great string instrument mics with the right clips in a pinch. This could be the only place where I might prefer a cardioid lapel for live speech vs. omnidirectional but I’d probably end up waffling back and forth. Either way, it is worth having at least one lapel and I’d highly recommend one of the two that I just listed.

That’s it for this week. But for my own growth, let me know what podium mics or lapels you use that aren’t listed or perhaps there is a great podium setup you use regularly, jot it down and send me the note. I’d love to learn what works for you guys. Next week, as I mentioned above are my picks for budget headsets that still sound pretty good. As always if you have any questions or thoughts, leave a comment below or drop me an email at daniel@studiostagelive.com. If you haven’t already but would like to, follow this link and subscribe to the blog to get an email when new content has been posted. Until next week, happy mixing!

Gear Talk: Microphones – Drums

The drumset….probably the most dynamic of the things that I mic up on a regular basis.  So many possibilities and so many ways to make mistakes. Do you use a drum shield? Overhead mics or undermic’ing? Do I need to mic everything up? What are the best mics? I’ve done everything right in terms of mic’ing and placement, why does my kit still sound sterile? Before I get into any of these questions, I’d like to say this…there is no one right answer to anything of them.  Context is everything.  What is your room size? What style of music are you playing? How talented is the player? What is your budget? How much overall mix volume do you have to play with? These and many more are all questions that need answered before you even think about what mic to use with that all important kick drum.

So lets start with that.  I’d like to go over how each of the questions I listed above should play into your decisions moving forward. There are two that go hand in hand up there, they are…What is your room size?…How much overall mix volume do you have to play with? If you are playing in a small cramped night club where your drumset is mere feet away from the audience, your mic needs will be different than if you were mixing in a grand hall where the drumset is centered up in the back of the stage 60 feet from the nearest audience member.  On top of that, if you are playing the club you have the acoustic volume to contend with as well along with the fact that 100 db in a small room is deafening to anyone. In the studio, are you looking for an acoustic drum mix where you basically want to let the drum set sound the way it sounds and just mic the kick and snare for some punch or do you want to setup in a larger room and mic the whole kit and put up a few boundary mics to record some natural verb. The style of music you are going for will also dictate what and how you mic certain drums. For instance if you are playing a jazz kit you will need a much higher dynamic range for the snare than if you were playing a rock kit. Lastly your budget often plays the largest role in how you mic your drum kit. In my humble opinion it is better to get the whole drumset mic’d up to match your style and room with cheaper mics (sm57s, clip-on sennheiser mics, etc) than to decide to start cutting corners and only end up with enough money to mic the kick and snare.

Well now that the administrative stuff is out of the way we can get down to the brass tax, how am I mic’ing up my drum kits. To be honest, this is a living breathing mix that I’m working with so my mic’ing decisions have changed and grown based on the context.  At the most basic level, for small gigs or small rooms, I’ll use a single kick mic, top snare mic, a clip-on mic for each tom, and a single overhead mic.  This gives me a 5 input drum set that sounds pretty good in a set of in-ears and gives me a lot of flexibility at FOH. At CCC, because we are set up for a bigger kit and have plenty of inputs, it looks quite a bit different. I utilize a kick in mic (just behind the beater head) and a kick out mic (in the kick drum hole), a top and bottom snare mic setup, a hi-hat mic, 3 tom mics, an under mic for the ride, two under mics for cymbals, and an overhead mic (used mostly in monitors and at FOH when I need some more space in the drum kit). All in, that was 12 inputs. It is my firm belief that it doesn’t take 12 inputs for a drum kit to sound good, but that if you are setup for it, have the budget/style/space for a bigger sound, that 12 mics will be better than 5. It is however much harder to take care of, especially in the monitor mixes.  Lot’s has to be done for the IEM system to keep this kit sounding good but we will save all of that for another post. In the past, I’ve found a great middle ground if you’d to step up to that 12 input mix but not micing the cymbals and ride individually and instead just using 2 overhead mics, going down to one kick mic (kick in) and one snare mic (snare top), that brings the total down to a very reasonable 8 inputs (7 if you only have two toms). Over the years, I have spent most of my time at this middle ground. Especially for setup/tear down events.  But not being afraid to pull it down or add if the need arises can be substantially helpful so don’t be afraid experiment to see what works best for your event, style, and room.

So we’ve talked about what we are going to mic up but I bet you are still looking for suggestions on what mics to try or use yourself…well the time has come my friend.  Here is the rundown of what Christ Community Church uses.  Over my 5 years here, this list has changed and will likely change again in near future (DPA tom mics here we come!). But this is what it is now and we continue to be very happy with this setup. The first mic is the one we are currently using and everything listed after that are options that we keep in our back pocket ready to go if we think they would be a better fit. I’ve put hyperlinks to everything in the list that point towards Amazon for reference.

Kick Out – AKG D12 (Beta91a, we occasionally decide to just double patch if we can’t get the timing of the mics to sound right), RE320, Audix D6 (great for djembes as well)Shure Beta 52a

Kick In – Beta91a (we’ve also used the Beta91, the only difference is the connector)

Snare Top – Beta57, sm57

Snare Bottom – Sennheiser e914, sm57

HiHat – KSM44, ksm109

Rack Tom – Sennheiser e604, Sennheiser e904

Floor Tom 1 – Sennheiser e904, Sennheiser e902

Floor Tom 2 – Sennheiser e904Sennheiser e902

Ride (under mic) – DPA 4098 (new model is the DPA 4099), sm57

Cymbals – Audix D2, sm57 (undermic), RodeNT4 (overhead)

OVH – KSM44 (not used if cymbals aren’t undermic’d), any old condensor microphone

That list covers just about every mic I’ve used on a drum set in the last 5 years or so.  I’ve left off things I’ve tried and didn’t like but I would really encourage everyone to experiment with different setups and mic arrangements for your space.  This is just what works for us and may not work for you. CCC has a very high production value service with worship between 89 and 95 db (usually hanging out around 92).  That style has led us to our current setup. Over the years we have gone from budget friendly options to more niche choices which is what I’d recommend for anyone because while it may take longer for you to get there, you’ll have a great selection of mics that often times will come in handy when your senior pastor asks about doing that one extra thing, you’ll already have some great mics to play around with!

The last thing I wanted to cover was what happens when you have refined your drum mic’ing technique but your drums still sound bad.  Putting aside your EQ and dynamics on the console (we will cover that later), make sure your drum set is properly taken care of.  I’d 95% of our problems with the drums when they arise have a direct link to tuning and drum head life span. If you don’t change your drum heads regularly (at CCC the batter heads get changed about twice a year, the resonant heads and such get changed as needed) than doing that will drastically improve how things sound.  It seems like such a simple thing doesn’t it but it makes so much sense.  Having trouble getting your tom sound to sustain properly, is your snare cover in little gel pads or pieces of tape, perhaps it’s time to change those heads. Here is a great pdf on how to tune drums from Pearl and here is a great video about it as well. This isn’t an advertisement for a specific drum head, the drums heads you choose should be tailored specifically to your situation. However, if you aren’t as capable to hear pitches or are going for a specific tone, check out this tune bot to help with your drum tuning.

Well that is the last post of this round of Gear Talk.  Hopefully you’ve enjoyed this new series and look forward to future segments. Over time Gear Talk will cover more than just microphones, we will go through Waves, wireless mics, soundboards, etc.  Let me know in the comments below how you mic your drum set or if you have any questions! As always, if you haven’t already subscribed just click the link down below or up at the top of the page!