In my last two articles I looked at the type of sound equipment needed for choirs and the different choices available. In this article and the next I will be focusing on the different types of microphones you can use to work with your sound system.
The first question you might ask yourself is “do I need a microphone to rehearse or to perform? Let’s look at rehearsals firstly. Our choir leader uses a microphone during rehearsals, not only to get the attention of an excited choir (and our choir is always excited), but also so she can help any part that is struggling with their tune. Two hours of trying to sing and be louder than the rest of the choir is exhausting on your voice so in this respect a microphone can be useful.
As for performances, at a minimum, we use a microphone for the introductions and announcements between songs. I think that this looks more professional, is easier for the audience to hear and is essential in larger auditoriums. We also use microphones to pick up the choir on stage and for any soloists. Some venues may already have these microphones in situ, but we like to have our own with us so that we are prepared. I would suggest, even if you think you do not need microphones at this stage, buy a system that can take them anyway. It is much cheaper in the long run to slightly over specify the kit when you are starting out, than try and add extra channels to your existing setup.
Wired or Wireless Microphones?
Wired microphones have a cable running from the back of the microphone to the mixer. They are reliable, relatively cheap and rarely go wrong. On the other hand, you do have cables running around the room, from wherever the microphones are to the sound desk. This can be a problem, particularly at rehearsals, where people walk over all your cables, possibly damaging them or themselves! Careful routing of the cables and rubber safety mats over where people walk on them are a must here but more about these types of risk in another article. At gigs, the cables are less of a problem as you can tape them down and generally have more control over who is wandering near the kit. At well set up venues there are often stage boxes that allow you to plug cables from your microphones close to the stage and pick them up again at the back of the hall to go to your mixer. This means you do not need long cables, at other venues you might have to provide all the cables to run from the stage to your mixing desk – we have a set of long cables just for this purpose.
Wireless microphones have a small transmitter built into the microphone, that sends a signal to a base station, usually at the side of the stage or by the mixing desk. The base station has a cable running to the desk. The main advantage of this setup is that there are no wires around you, minimising trip hazard and giving the singer more freedom. For a step further you can get wireless headset microphones giving the solo singer even more freedom. The down sides are that they are more expensive, can run out of batteries at inconvenient times (we always change the battery before big performances) and can have interference issues. Finally, with freedom comes responsibility – there are always tales of people wearing radio mics who did not turn them off when they finished singing – leading to the audience hearing more than they wanted. That said, of the two types I still prefer wireless microphones for most of our work as it’s just more tidy and polished looking.
Next time I will be looking at some of the different types of microphones you can buy and what they can offer you. If you have any queries on this or any music tech-related issues please do get in touch.