Why Do Singers Use Microphones? (On Stage And For Recording)


Singers use microphones in many situations. Microphones are generally a necessary part of capturing singers’ voices, and in this article, we’ll look at why.

Why do singers use microphones? Singers will use microphones to capture their voice as audio for sound reinforcement or recording. By using microphones (in addition to other audio equipment such as amplifiers and loudspeakers), singers can effectively increase the perceived volume of their voice during live performance and audio playback.

We should all be thankful for the technology of microphones and their role in helping singers be heard. From live concerts to recorded audio (on the radio, on vinyl, in our devices, etc.), microphones allow singers to be easily heard while performing naturally.


A Primer On Microphones

Let’s begin with a brief description of a microphone.

What is a microphone? A microphone is a transducer that converts mechanical wave energy (sound waves) into electrical energy (mic/audio signals). There are many types of mics, and they nearly all utilize a diaphragm (reacts with sound), transducer element (converts energy), and circuitry (carries/outputs mic signal).

In other words, a singer can sing into a mic, and the mic will turn the sound into an audio signal that represents the singer’s voice. This audio can then be amplified and recorded, and recorded as audio. The audio signal (recorded or live) can also be amplified further and turned back into sound waves via headphones and loudspeakers.

This is a quick primer. For more information on the subjects described above, please consider reading these related My New Microphone articles:
What Is A Microphone? (Mic Types, Examples, And Pictures)
How Do Microphones Work? (The Ultimate Illustrated Guide)
What Is The Difference Between Sound And Audio?
How Do Speakers & Headphones Work As Transducers?


Different Roles Of A Microphone

The role a microphone will fulfill with a singer will vary depending on the situation. The ultimate purpose of a microphone on stage is slightly different than in a recording studio. 

In any situation, as previously mentioned, microphones convert sound waves into audio signals (electric energy). These signals can be eventually sent to speakers or other output systems, optimally with minimal feedback and background noise being collected. 

Of course, microphones are used for many different purposes, such as amplifying instruments or background vocals, recording voiceovers, etc. Let’s consider the main purpose of a microphone on stage versus in a recording environment. 

On Stage

When using a microphone on stage, singers need their voices to be amplified and projected as far and as loud as possible while still maintaining sound quality. This is usually necessary due to the fact that the voice can’t physically be projected clearly for everyone to hear in the listening environment (think of busy clubs or festivals).

This allows for everyone in the room to hear the singer even with ambient background noise, which is extremely necessary when in a large room with thousands of people. A major part of a live mixing engineer’s job is to ensure little to no feedback, interference, or extraneous/background noise is picked up by the microphones on stage. Note that the singer is also partially responsible for mitigating feedback and mechanical noise (by staying behind the PA system speakers and refraining from banging the microphone).

Of course, there are some instances where microphones aren’t absolutely necessary (think small coffee shops or campfires). Some large productions in theatres with superior acoustics, like orchestral or operatic performance, do not use microphones. However, the audience understands the importance of remaining quiet throughout in order to hear the performance clearly.

Related My New Microphone articles:
12 Methods To Prevent & Eliminate Microphone/Audio Feedback
15 Ways To Effectively Reduce Microphone Noise
Are Microphones Ever Used In Opera Performances?
Are Microphones Used On Broadway And In Other Theatres?

Recording

The audio signals captured by a microphone can be recorded for later playback. This is as true on stage as it is in cell phones and large-scale professional recording studios.

You may have seen some singers recording songs with their mouths extremely close to the microphone and wondered why they do that. The closer you are to the microphone when you sing, the less time the audio waves have to spread out and lengthen, therefore changing their pitch and tones. You want the cleanest sounds you can get, so putting your mouth closer to the microphone allows for that to happen.

Getting closer to directional microphones also increases the bass response of the microphone, thanks to the proximity effect.

To learn more about directional mics and the proximity effect, check out the following My New Microphone articles:
A Complete Guide To Directional Microphones (With Pictures)
In-Depth Guide To Microphone Proximity Effect

This is also where pop filters come into play. You have probably seen filters in front of microphones when someone is recording; this is called a pop filter. It helps filter out the plosive energies from the singer’s mouth that could easily overload the microphone.

In addition to plosives, recording engineers and singers must also be aware of sibilance and the potential for clipping distortion.

For more information on pop filters, plosives, sibilance and clipping, check out the following My New Microphone articles:
What Is A Microphone Pop Filter And When Should You Use One?
Best Microphone Pop Filters
Top 10 Tips For Eliminating Microphone Pops And Plosives
Top 7 Tips To Reduce Sibilance In Microphones & Audio Mixes
What Is A Microphone Clip? (Physical And Electrical)

Recording vocals in a studio is as much an art as singing itself. There’s a lot to know about using microphones to record vocals. I’ve listed a few great resources on My New Microphone for you to check out regarding recording singers:


Handheld Microphone Vs. Head Worn Microphone

You may have seen people use both handheld and head-worn mics, maybe even in the same show. Perhaps you’ve wondered why they don’t just use one or the other. In most cases, using a head-worn mic is less desirable than using a handheld mic. However, sometimes it’s necessary for hands-free action due to difficult costume changes, high-energy choreography, or playing instruments while singing.

“Handheld” mics, whether they’re physically held in the singer’s hand or attached to a mic stand, are far more desirable when high-quality sound is needed because they are often more controllable and ofter superior audio characteristics/specifications.

Related article: How To Attach A Microphone To A Microphone Stand


Characteristics To Look For In A Microphone

When looking to purchase a microphone for singing, some options are better than others. Budget and application are perhaps the two biggest factors in choosing the “best” vocal microphone for you. For example, a robust Shure SM58 (link to check the price on Amazon) is an affordable, practically indestructible option for live performance but won’t sound nearly as good as a Sony C-800G (link to check the price at Sweetwater) large-diaphragm tube condenser in an acoustically treated vocal booth for professional recordings.

Shure SM58

The Shure SM58 is featured in the following My New Microphone articles:
50 Best Microphones Of All Time (With Alternate Versions & Clones)
Top 11 Best Dynamic Microphones On The Market
Top 10 Best Microphones Under $500 for Recording Vocals
Top 12 Best Microphones Under $150 For Recording Vocals
Top 20 Best Microphones For Podcasting (All Budgets)


Shure is featured in My New Microphone’s:
Top 14 Best Earphone/Earbud Brands In The World
Top 13 Best Headphone Brands In The World
Top 11 Best Microphone Brands You Should Know And Use

Sony C-800G

The Sony C-800G is featured in the following My New Microphone articles:
50 Best Microphones Of All Time (With Alternate Versions & Clones)
Top 11 Best Microphones For Recording Vocals
Top 11 Best Tube Condenser Microphones On The Market


Sony is featured in My New Microphone’s:
Top 11 Best AV Receiver Brands In The World
Top 14 Best Earphone/Earbud Brands In The World
Top 13 Best Headphone Brands In The World

Each microphone has its own set of specifications, and even if they are only minor differences, they can be noticeable. 

Things you want to look for in a microphone are (I’ve included links to in-depth articles on each specification):

Related articles:
Full List Of Microphone Specifications (How To Read A Spec Sheet)
Top 5 Microphone Specifications You Need To Understand

If you are playing live, appearance probably matters much more than if you were just using it for recording.

Costs may not be a factor for you, but if it is, it is entirely possible to purchase a cheaper microphone that works well. That being said, as a singer, you likely won’t regret getting a high-quality microphone, and I suggest getting your mic anyway for hygiene reasons. 


Best Types Of Microphones

For singers, the best type of microphone depends on the style of voice and the application. Professional audio engineers in both live and studio environments will often have a selection of vocal microphones to accommodate different singers in different styles and different sound reinforcement and/or recording environments.

In general, dynamic microphones are preferred for live sound vocal applications, and large-diaphragm condensers are preferred in studio vocal recordings. But again, these are only generalities.

Related articles:
What Microphones Types Are Best For Singing? (Live & Studio)
Full List Of Microphone Types And Sub-Types (With Mic Examples)
The Complete Guide To Moving-Coil Dynamic Microphones
Large-Diaphragm Vs. Small-Diaphragm Condenser Microphones

There are a few brands that are well-known for their vocal microphones. Consider the following mic brands (all of which are featured in My New Microphone’s Top 11 Best Microphone Brands You Should Know And Use):

  • Shure
  • Neumann
  • Sennheiser
  • Rode
  • AKG
  • Danish Pro Audio (DPA)
  • Electro-Voice

In reality, the best microphone is the one that works the best for what you need it for. A microphone can be rated incredibly high by thousands of people, but it may not be the right choice for you as a vocalist.


Final Thoughts

Microphones are wonderful pieces of technology that help singers put less strain on their voices while (in conjunction with amplifiers and loudspeakers) filling large acoustic space with the clarity of sound people are there to hear. Whether you are on stage or in a recording studio, microphones are essential to audio clarity and preciseness.

Arthur

Arthur is the owner of Fox Media Tech and author of My New Microphone. He's an audio engineer by trade and works on contract in his home country of Canada. When not blogging on MNM, he's likely hiking outdoors and blogging at Hikers' Movement (hikersmovement.com) or composing music for media. Check out his Pond5 and AudioJungle accounts.

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