Setting up the microphone stand correctly for a performance ensures on a basic level, that you’ll be heard consistently.
Mistakes and mishaps really get in the way or a recording or live show. So how do you prevent issues with your sound in advance? Using microphone placement techniques you can make the most of your sound, by getting levels right and emphasising your strengths.
In this article, we’ll tell you everything you need to know about setting up your mic, along with how to avoid the common mistakes made by less experienced musicians.
Setting up the microphone stand correctly for a performance
There are a number of things to consider when setting up your mic – and you can’t leave them all to the audio team (if you’re lucky enough to have one at the venue).
- Is the mic at the right height for you – and if you’re following another act, are you going to need to adjust it live on stage?
- Is the mic secure in the stand? You don’t want it to fall out.
- Is the mic the right distance away from your mouth, or instrument?
- Will, you be seated or standing? If seated, you may need to angle the mic stand, especially if singing while playing piano or guitar.
- Do you need an iPad or tablet attached to the stand? If so, you’ll need a clamp.
- Where is the mic on the stage? Set it up at the front and centre for a solo performance or lead vocals. If playing or singing as part of a band, work out where each mic needs to be, so the audience gets the best and most balanced views of everyone.
How do you mount a microphone?
‘Mounting’ a microphone refers to how and where you set it up. If mounting a microphone in a vertical stand, for example, you simply set it in its cradle and then set the stand for your needs. But you might need to mount a microphone more creatively, especially if playing or recording in an unusual setting. For example, you might use a second clamp on your stand to mount a mic and catch the sound at guitar level, as well as voice level.
Do all mic stands fit all mics – are microphone stands universal?
No, not at all. While most mic stands have universal fittings designed for a wide range of mics, some will not be able to support a heavy, bespoke, or non-traditional variation. So while the chances are your mic will fit the stand at the venue or studio, you cannot assume so. You can, however, buy adapters if you have a non-standard mic you like to use. You’ll also need to decide whether you want to use a vertical stand, a boom stand (the same as a vertical, but it bends in the middle for angling) or a desktop stand. A boom stand is the most common and useful for performing.
Microphone placement techniques
The placement of the mic is important. If it’s not in the right place, it won’t pick up the sound consistently, resulting in poor audio. The technique is, therefore, a combination of how and where it is placed and how it is used.
What is mic technique?
This refers to how the mic is used. The setup is extremely important with instruments, especially static ones. Unlike singers, instrumentalists will find it harder (and probably impossible) to hold the mic and move it around to create effects. It must be readily positioned for maximum effect. Vocalists must learn how to use a mic on stage and in the studio, to vary the sound, create an enhanced whisper and how to move it away slightly when going for a full belt.
Microphone positioning for vocals and vocal recording techniques
Find out more about how to use the mic when singing live and recording in a studio. These techniques are important to perfect, as they’ll have a huge impact on your final performance and whether you sound professional.
How to set up a professional recording microphone stand
We’ll take a look at setting up specific stand types, but first, here are some general tips.
Don’t wrap the lead around the stand too many times. This weakens the lead itself and makes it tricky if you want to take the mic out of the stand (and the act coming after you will not be happy having to do all that unravelling).
Never step on the legs on the stand. It will weaken and eventually ruin it.
How to connect shock mount to a mic stand
Vibrations from the stage can travel up through the mic stand and very sensitive mics can even pick up noise when the stand is held or moved by the singer. This is prevented with a shock mount. This video shows you exactly how to set one up.
How to set up a boom mic stand
Set up the vertical section first, then position the boom to extend directly above one of the stand legs. This prevents the stand from tipping over. Take care, not to over-tighten clamps. Do them up until they are firm and don’t try to adjust them once they are tightened. You should undo them first. Wrap the lead around the vertical end of the stand once, and again around the boom to secure it.
How to set up a microphone arm
The arm of your mic might be in the form of a boom with a vertical stand (see above), or a desktop mic with an arm that stretches across. This sort of mic is likely to be used in a recording environment, particularly if you’re recording in a home studio and doing your own mixing and editing at the same time. Get your full setup laid out, take a seat in a comfortable and ergonomic position, and measure where the best option is for your mic, allowing you to reach everything else you need and see your screens. Once you have the right angle, secure the clamps – both the ones to the desktop and for the arm.
How to put a pop filter on a mic stand
Also known as a pop shield or pop screen, these reduce air sounds, hissiness and plosives from vocals, creating a more polished and professional sound in both live and recorded environments. They are a circular shield made of stretched nylon, foam or metal mesh on a round disc and can be easily attached to your stand, with the added benefit of protecting your mic from corrosive saliva. You can even make your own from a metal coathanger and tights! If singing softly, place the filter an inch or so from the mic, and for louder rock vocals, make it 3 or 4 inches.
Acoustic guitar mic placement – micing acoustic guitar live
Consider a condenser (very sensitive) or dynamic mic on a boom stand for your guitar. Stand or sit exactly where you plan to play, then angle the boom arm in front of the 12th fret and not the hole – around a foot away. It’s also worth considering a stereo mic setup…
Ab stereo microphone technique
Two mics work very well for a stereo sound, but make sure they’re both the same distance away, to create consistency. This is also known as a spaced pair. Experiment with your stands anywhere from one to three metres apart to create the best effect. As you need to create angles for this, a boom stand works well.
Stereo drum mic technique
Micing drums become much more complex, as there are many sounds and levels to balance – in stereo. You’ll need a mic stand with plenty of height and a boom, so you can angle it down from above. You’ll also need some very short boom mics to catch the lower sounds and mid-sized ones.
Ortf mic placement and Ortf mic technique
This is much like stereo mic placement, but in ortf (also known as near-coincident), the spacing has to be 17cm apart and with the mic stand arms at a 110-degree angle. The idea is to replicate the way ears hear the sound and was devised by a French television company o the 1960s.
What can go wrong with the mic setup – and how to handle it
Let’s take a look at some of the common issues that you may encounter, if you don’t set your mic up quite right, the person doing it for you hasn’t, or you don’t use it properly.
- You lose projection. This could be because you’re too far away from the stand, or the mic hasn’t been set up close enough to where you need to be.
- You keep knocking it or backing into it. Conversely, if a microphone has been set up too close to your guitar when you move you might bash into it. This is especially concerning with as stringed instrument, as it can put the guitar out of tune.
- The boom hasn’t been clamped sufficiently and drops, either vertically, making your stand super short, or to the side, if it has been angled.
- The stand has been clamped too tight and you can’t loosen it to adjust it. If this is in rehearsal, just get someone to give you a hand, but it’s trickier if you’re following someone else.
- The lead is caught on, or wrapped around, equipment – or a person!
- The best way you can avoid all of these pitfalls is to double-check your setup before going on stage. Be aware of health and safety and always make sure you leave everything as it should be, for the person following you. That’s just good musician etiquette.
How to cope if things go wrong during the performance
So the worst has happened and something has gone wrong during a show. The number one rule here is – don’t panic! Stay calm and work through some troubleshooting in your head. Here are the possible issues and how to handle them.
The microphone doesn’t work
Check it’s on. This may sound silly, but many an act has made this mistake. Always know where the on switch is on your mic. If you’ve followed someone else, they may have turned it off, or knocked it off accidentally. If this doesn’t rectify it, or it starts cutting out during the gig, gesture to the sound person by pointing at the mic and speaking into it, to make clear that you have no sound. Stay calm and keep smiling. This is a common problem and the audience will feel more relaxed if you are too. If it’s an issue with levels, you may need to stand closer to the mic, or hand signal to the tech that you need more volume.
Microphone starts to drop mid-performance
If the mic hasn’t been tightened properly, it might start to drop, as the stand loses height. While performing, just lift it back up to position and tighten the clamps till it feels secure, while acting like nothing out of the ordinary is happening. The audience will barely notice if you don’t make it a big deal. Even if it’s a sudden drop – which is less likely, just rectify it, and carry on as normal. Dealing well with an issue like this will make you look even more cool and professional!
You can’t adjust the stand
If it’s too high or low and the clamps are too tight, then take the mic out of the stand and hold it. Be sure to unwind the lead and take care not to trip. If this isn’t an option, see if there’s another mic you can use, or make a joke about it and ask for help. If the stand is too far or near, you can also adjust your position (unless playing a large instrument like a piano).
You trip on the lead or knock the stand over
Do try and be spatially aware on stage. But if the worst happens, just carry on, like Madonna, when she fell over at the Brit awards.
Setting up mics can range from being simple (literally slipping the mic into its cradle and altering the stand height) to being incredibly complex when micing hundreds of voices and instruments a once. As an emerging artist, the most important considerations are your technique and understanding how the various setups work. Above all, if you have to adjust your stand live on stage, stay calm and always untighten the clamp, before attempting to change the height or angle (and make sure you tighten it again once in place).
- What microphone stand is best?
Generally, a boom stand (a vertical stand with an arm that can be angled) is the most versatile and useful for a musician. For recording, you may need a desktop stand too. If you already have a mic, check that the stand fits it well and can support its weight, or has an adapter.
- What is an XY microphone?
This is a stereo sound mic, so it has two channels as opposed to a standard mono mic. This creates a fuller and wider sound.
- How do you hold a cardioid microphone?
These mics are sensitive to where they point, rather than the rear and sides, so that they only pick up the sound intended and no extraneous noise. This means you must hold it pointing toward your mouth or instrument. If not, it won’t pick you up properly.
Have you had any issues with setting up the microphone stand correctly for a performance? Do you have any microphone placement techniques for our readers? Let us know in the comments below.