live mics


Selecting the right microphone for your stage show is crucial to a sound performance

“The microphone is the core of everything,” says veteran front-of-house engineer Andy Meyer. “If you don’t have your source properly miked, what good is a $2 million PA or a state-of-the-art mixing console? If the mics are terrible, a great performance doesn’t mean a thing.”

It’s a challenge nearly all musicians face, from coffeehouse singer-songwriters to touring stadium acts. Musicians must decide which and how many microphones to use in any given situation, and how to best set them up to share their performance without feedback and without killing the vibe—or the audience’s ears.From lead vocals and drums to guitar and bass cabinets, live miking can be a tricky game, so we turned to Meyer and Robert “VOiD” Caprio for their expertise. VOiD is a front-of-house and monitor engineer who’s on tour with Cee Lo Green. He’s worked with Vanessa Carlton, the Fray, Nas and Cowboy Mouth, among others.

Meyer is currently on tour with Mötley Crüe, and has also worked with such artists as Justin Timberlake, Janet Jackson and Rage Against the Machine.


How do you select a mic for vocals?

VOID: It’s a matter of experimentation. The biggest difference is between male and female vocals. For men, it’s best to have mics that provide less proximity effect—when you get really close on certain standard vocal mics, the low end builds up. Men’s voices have enough bass already, so they don’t usually need that low-end boost.

MEYER: It really is a lot of trial and error. Go to a music store, put on headphones, grab a mic off the shelf and give it a try. Ask to listen through a floor monitor. Whatever feels and sounds natural is probably going to be your best bet. A mic doesn’t have to be the most expensive to get the job done.

VOID: The Shure SM58 is a classic, go-to vocal mic that a lot of touring pros have used for decades. You can still get a new one for around $100.


What are some other good ones?

VOID: For Cee Lo Green we use the Heil RC 35. Cee Lo likes very loud stage volume, and the Heil does a great job of capturing his vocals while rejecting ambient sound coming in from the sides. For his backup singers we use Sennheiser’s e 835, which is a simple mic similar to the SM58. For Max Collins of Eve 6, we used an Audix OM7. It brought out all the characteristics of his voice plus offered good feedback rejection, which let us turn the monitors up nice and loud.

MEYER: We used an Audio-Technica AE6100 for Justin Timberlake. His crowd is the loudest you’ll ever hear. When he was younger he sang into an SM58. The 6100 is the closest thing to a 58 we could deliver, with better ambient noise rejection, and he grew to love it. Axl Rose uses a Shure Beta 58 with a foam windscreen on it. Under the windscreen we would snip the foam so that it was very thin right at the center, which made the mic more transparent. Axl sings his high notes more softly than you’d expect, so we had to make the mic sensitive enough to capture his performance.


What’s your approach to miking rappers?

VOID: When I worked with Nas, he put his whole hand around the mic and cupped it, as a lot of hip-hop artists do. Engineers need to be aware that holding the mic like that changes its polar characteristics, so it’s not going to perform exactly how you expect it would.

MEYER: A lot of rappers will go from speaking at a regular volume to screaming, so it’s important to dial in compression to deal with that volume range. Zack de la Rocha of Rage Against the Machine holds the ball of the microphone like a lot of rappers do. I add a lot of extreme high-end and cut the upper mids when EQing his voice in order to restore the bandwidth, so it doesn’t sound like you’re hearing him through a telephone.


Should singers purchase their mics?

VOID: At a club, you don’t know where those mics have been—what hands and mouths have been on them. If you’re touring at any level, try to at least bring your own vocal mic. You can get quality mics like the Shure SM57 and SM58 very cheaply, and it’s well worth the investment.


How many mics should musicians use onstage?

VOID: Cee Lo wants to hear the live show sound as much like the record as possible, so I use a mic on every drum, two on the kick, two on the snare, and sometimes two on the toms when I have the time. But if you don’t have a directive like that, keep things simple. The fewer you have, the easier your job will be. And when you’re miking drums, observe the 3-to-1 rule—for every foot above a drum kit you place your overhead mics, you need to have them spaced 3 feet apart.


Best ways to avoid feedback?

MEYER: You can only turn any mic up so loud before it will start to pick up noise from the speakers, recirculate that noise and create a feedback loop. Don’t point the mic at floor wedges or side fills. Use common sense. If you start to hear feedback when you’re holding a mic, move away from the speaker.


Which mics work best with guitar and bass cabinets?

VOID: With Cee Lo, I use a Heil PR 31 on guitar. The Sennheiser e 609 is a common choice for cabinets, and the Shure SM57 and SM58 are standards as well.

MEYER: For Guns N’ Roses, we used Audio-Technica AT4050s, AT4060s and AKG 414s. For Rage, we used the AT4050s, which are large-diaphragm condensers.


Any tips for miking guitar and bass?

VOID: Listen to a guitar player and see how he or she likes to play and use the amp. If you have a choice of mics, see which best suits what they’re doing. Sticking an SM57 or SM58 in front of a guitar amp is never wrong, but it might not be as cool as it could be. That said, in situations when I haven’t had time to experiment I’ve thrown a 57 in front of a guitar amp and it’s been great.

MEYER: The 57 has a unique sound that we’ve all grown up on, but to me, it’s best used with analog preamps. With digital consoles it can sound a little harsh. The Audio-Technica AT4050s get a warm sound, and I always position them right in the middle of the speaker cone.


Final words of advice?

MEYER: Don’t be afraid to experiment. Take a mic intended for one thing and try it on another. You may be pleasantly surprised with the outcome. Just because a certain mic may be the newest, greatest thing doesn’t mean that it’s right for the job.

VOID: The bottom line is that there are no rules. You can try anything and see what works.

–Michael Gallant

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