Mic Check

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Microphones can be one of the most crucial (and under-valued) elements in a musician’s rig. The right microphone can capture a vocal or instrumental performance in just the right way, and allow the performer’s voice or instrument to shine in both live and studio settings. Selecting the right mic for the job might seem a complicated task. Much like guitar players will own multiple guitars, many musicians and producers will amass quite a collection of microphones throughout their career, favoring different mics for different applications. However, choosing a microphone doesn’t have to be a challenge.

We asked some different artists and producers what inspired them to get into music, and how they chose the microphones they use for production and performance. Each has their own take on music and how microphones can impact their sound.

The Workhorse

Zak & Becky Alwin Rhymz Suhreal

Zak and Becky Alwin blend raw blues, folk and rock with the urban musical elements of hip-hop, rap and beatbox. A husband-and-wife duo hailing from Indiana, Rhymz Suhreal has been writing and performing together for over 16 years.

Who has influenced your career the most and what inspires your songs?

Zak: I think of my parents. I remember all the great vinyls spinning on their record player - it didn’t matter what it was - if it was good, it got played. It was this gumbo of good sounds that I grew up on that contributes to our own eclectic sound. I remember my dad giving me my first hip-hop tape - Kurtis Blow’s “Ego Trip”. It opened my mind to poetry and storytelling. I’ve been hooked since I pressed play.

Becky: Inspiration for our songs comes from our own experiences, and how we see other people experiencing those same things. A huge inspiration is our audience. By listening to people’s hearts and stories, we find common threads and use those for inspiration.

When shopping for a microphone, what do you suggest?

Zak: In the past, we had a couple different mics we used to track with. Until we were fortunate to get a Mojave Audio MA-200. We tested it and compared it to other mics, and we were blown away. After a couple weeks, I sold the others we’d been using. The Mojave was doing such a great job capturing my acoustic, my electric amp, and our different voices and different styles. It captured everything, and helped the natural detail come through in our mixes.

Jazz It Up

Kat Gang

Born in Boston, Kat Gang is an up-and-coming star in the contemporary wave of singer/songwriters. She studied music theory as a teenager at Berklee. Kat eventually fell in love with the magic and energy of New York City, where she earned her BFA from NYU. Kat delivers her unique brand of jazz-influenced music to audiences in theaters and jazz clubs all over the world, winning diverse awards along the way for both acting and singing.

Who has influenced your career the most and what inspires your songs?

It is difficult to choose, but I would say Rodgers and Hart have had the most impact on my songwriting and interpretation. I am continually inspired by the twists and turns of the melody, and witty, unexpected lyric rhymes.

When shopping for a microphone, what would you suggest?

If money is no object, get a Neumann U87! But seriously, I use a Shure SM58 for everything, and it sounds great. Another fun one is the Shure Super 55 - I use this one to bring a retro style to my gigs and people always tell me how good it looks!

Every musician has that ‘Holy Grail’ piece of gear that they dream about. Kat is no different!

How does the venue change the sound of the mic? What about wireless mics? On stage versus recording studio mics?

Those are very sensitive issues. Sometimes the hardest part of a successful live show is having the right things on stage so the band can play to the right levels. SM58s are the industry standard for live vocals. It is really up to the individual and the budget. A wireless mic is handy on gigs. If I have a wireless, the whole event usually runs more smoothly.

A recording studio is a different story. I am a sucker for the ribbon mics. They have a warmth and depth that sounds good for jazz vocals. Most studios will have a selection. Try a few out, and listen for which one works the best for your sound.

It is important to remember that no one knows your own voice as well as you do. You have to like the sound. I keep 2 SM58s for gigs, and an Audix F50 for rehearsals at home. A mic with an on-off switch can come in handy.

Faith, Family and Music

Doug Briney

Growing up in Southern California Doug Briney was falling in love with Country music while all his friends were listening to Rock and Pop. He has been a pastor for over 23 years. Doug served and performed in Alaska for a number years, leading worship at churches in Anchorage. Doug calls Nashville home now, where he writes and records his music.

Doug brings a passion to his music, telling stories of the things that matter most to him: faith, family and music. Doug lists Toby Keith as his biggest musical influence.

When did you first know you wanted to be a professional singer?

It started way back in High School. I’ve spent 26 years leading music in churches, and have always considered myself a professional musician. As a professional Country singer, that started 9 years ago when I began competing in a radio competition in Alaska.

What advice could you give someone just starting out in the business?

The best advice is to work hard, and hone your craft. Don’t take ‘no’ personally. Keep working hard and ‘no’ will turn to ‘yes’.

Shopping for a microphone, what do you suggest?

Stay with a good name brand. I like EV and Blue. You have to understand your voice and the trance of the mic. If I’m using it in a stand the entire performance, I like phantom-powered mics. If I’m going to be handling the mic, I go with a mic that has low handling noise and good gain. Try out different mics, see which one sounds best for your voice. An SM58 is still kinda the standard, but for me, I like EV and Blue.

Rock Steady

Eric Knight

Los Angeles-based rocker Eric Knight believes in working hard and pushing forward to achieve your musical dreams. Eric began singing and writing music when he was 13 years old. His ultimate goal has always been to write great songs. Eric believes that “if it’s a great song, it’s a great song no matter what group or person sings it.”

Eric has recorded and performed with some of the biggest names in rock, opening for Dave Matthews Band, KISS, Aerosmith, and Kid Rock. Eric was named “Outstanding Male Solo Artist” in the 2008 Rock City News Awards show The Rockies, garnering votes from industry insiders and fans alike.

Which song do you wish you would have written?

“A Day In the Life”, from the Sgt. Peppers album by The Beatles. It has this eerie yet beautiful sound about it.

What advice could you give someone just starting out in the business?

Work on your craft everyday. Learn the business as much as you can. Network like crazy. Every ‘no’ gets you closer to your ‘yes’. You are running a marathon, not a race. Strap in because it’s the longest roller coaster you’ve ever ridden.

What microphone do you suggest?

I’ve become a big fan of the Sennheiser e865. It picks up every nuance of your voice, and they just sound fantastic.

Boogie Woogie Boy

Noah Pine

Atlanta-born Noah Pine lives and breathes music. Growing up, Noah could be found playing keys at the local blues BBQ - Fatt Matt’s, or sneaking into Churchill Grounds to play piano jazz with the old school. At 18, Noah left to tour, opening for acts like Maroon 5 and Gavin DeGraw.

Back in Atlanta, Noah continues to make a name for himself as a composer, studio session player, and performer on stage with his own groups. Noah’s songs are stories inspired by current events, or whatever he is reading. “Music should be uplifting - from the soul.” he says.

What are your favorite microphones? What advice do you have for using microphones?

I’ve always liked using a Shure SM58 when it comes to plugging in and leaving the acoustic setting behind.

Great singers have different ways they like to sing and make using a mic cool and bad-ass. Watch David Bowie sing into the mic; how he walks up to it, holds it, and makes it an extension of himself. Watch how Mick Jagger owns the mic on the Stones’ 1975 tour. Mick and Keith get up close on the same mic and sing harmonies and share their sweat.

All venues have different vibes and different sound systems and different acoustics. Keep your stage volume down and hope the sound engineer is cool. Singing with microphones takes lots of practice. The main goal is to be able to sing like you would sing acoustically.

More than Pretty Enough

Josey Milner

Rising country music star Josey Milner has been singing since she was a young girl. Originally performing the National Anthem at the rodeos in which she also competed for 8 years, Josey was invited to sing at the National Steel Guitar Convention when she was 14. That’s where Leona Williams advised her to get a band together and start performing. Inspired by these words, Josey returned home and formed her band, playing everywhere she could and launching her career.

Her first single, a cover of Miranda Lambert’s “Dead Flowers” boosted her to national stardom. Her 2012 single, “Not Pretty Enough” kicked off an anti-bullying campaign, with Josey as a national spokesperson for Angels and Doves, a non-profit nationwide anti-bullying program.

What has influenced your career the most and what inspires your songs?

Miranda Lambert, Patsy Cline, Jo Dee Messina, and George Strait. My inspiration comes from what I think people will enjoy. When I think about a song, I always focus on the lyrics. If I feel listeners would relate, then I do it.

Shopping for a microphone, what do you suggest?

I love Sennheiser. I’ve been using a Sennheiser mic for the past year and I love it. It’s light weight and the sound quality is wonderful. Definitely my top recommendation.

Check One Two

Everyone has a voice, and a good microphone lets everyone hear it. Whether choosing an industry standard like the Shure SM58 for live performances, or picking just the right condenser mic like the Mojave Audio MA-200 or Neumann U87 for capturing your voice in the studio, a great microphone can take you and your music anywhere you want to go.

Tell us your story. What inspires you? What microphones do you use? How have your mics changed your music?

For part two of this series, please visit Vocal About It: Wise Words from Singers.

Learn more about microphones of all types with our Microphone Buying Guide.

Tags: Microphones

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