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Audio Masterclass

Using Headset Microphones

On Stage
Using Headset Microphones On Stage
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Using Headset Microphones On Stage
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Using Headset Microphones On Stage Page 

2 Using Headset Microphones On Stage

2 Important information on how to use this e-Learning Module

3 Viewing this e-Learning Module

3 Copyright information

6 Using Headset Microphones On Stage

6 Why hide behind a mic stand when you can enjoy freedom of
movement on stage?

10 No, you won’t look like Madonna

13 Wired or wireless?

16 Breathe carefully, and in the right direction

19 Who can benefit?

21 Drawbacks?

23 Conclusion

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Using Headset Microphones On Stage
Why hide behind a mic stand when you can enjoy freedom of movement on

It’s odd how sometimes we persist in using things that should have passed
way back into history. The stand-mounted vocal microphone on stage is
surely one of them. Why put a huge metal contraption between you and
your audience? Surely you don’t need anything to hide behind?

Here’s an interesting experiment you can try out on stage. It’s probably
easier to set up if you’re the lead singer of your band, more difficult if
you’re the drummer, but I can guarantee interesting results.

Here it is... rearrange one of your songs so that you can step out from
behind your instrument and sing directly to the audience centre stage. OK,
I’m presuming you sing. Croak if you have to.

What you will learn from this is just how scary it is to perform effectively
naked in front of the audience. Removing the protective barrier of your
instrument suddenly puts you much closer to your fans than you would ever
have thought.

Now, imagine taking the next step and removing the microphone and stand
from in front of you. There’s nothing, absolutely nothing, between you and
your audience.

The first time I tried this (using a headset mic of course), I scared myself
silly. It was much more horrifying than I expected. It didn’t help that the
club was packed, extremely sweaty, and the front row of the audience was

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close enough for me to touch!

Of course, if I were a more accomplished performer, then maybe the extra

confidence I would have gotten from my skills would have come in handy.
But what I took from the experience was that by removing these barriers I
was so much more in touch with the audience.

My conclusion, after I had tried it a few times more, was that it was simply
a better way to perform. With or without my guitar, I felt a much better
sense of communication without the barrier of a stand-mounted microphone
in front of me.

If you sing lead vocals, Bono-style without an instrument, then you will
already be aware how much better you can communicate with the audience.

But consider for a moment how much you are using that mic as a prop. You
take it off the stand, you put it back, you change the angle you hold it at,
you throw it way up into the air and catch it again to distract attention from
the guitar solo...

That mic, if you think about it, is getting between you and the audience.
You’re caressing the mic with your hands when you should be
communicating to the audience with your soul.

The mic is like a third party playing gooseberry in the presence of lovers.
OK, just a thought, but it’s worth thinking whether this piece of mere
technology should get so much attention.

The other problem with a stand-mounted mic is that, if you also play guitar
for instance, it locks you into a single point on the stage. Whenever you

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sing, you have to be back at that one central point, and pronto too. Yes, you
can move away and strut your stuff between-times, but that mic is always
calling you back.

And something else I hate about the stand-mounted mic is that it gets in
the way of my view of the audience. I want to see the audience, at least as
much as I can under lights. And I want the audience, ugly git though I may
be, to see me, without something in the way.

Call it vanity if you like, but why would we be on stage in the first place if
we were not attention-seekers?!

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The Audio Technica ultra-unobtrusive AT 892, which is
available in a range of skin tones.

Using Headset Microphones On Stage Page 

No, you won’t look like Madonna

When I first started using a headset mic, more than a couple of people
joked that I looked like Madonna. I’m not quite sure who that’s an insult to.
Both of us probably. A worse comparison might have been if someone said
I looked like a demonstrator at the Ideal Home exhibition, selling dodgy
kitchen equipment. I’ll take that chance though.

Head-worn microphones have long been the norm in musical theatre, so

we can look there for examples of how it is done. Notice that I said ‘head-
worn’, not ‘headset’.

A headset mic is one that is attached to a band or wire of some kind that
usually wraps around the ears and positions the mic in front of the mouth.
A head-worn microphone on the other hand is just a small microphone on a
thin cable. It can be taped in place and is often concealed in the hairline, or
protruding ever so slightly from above one ear.

In either of the above positions, then clearly the mic is some distance from
the mouth. In musical theatre, this doesn’t matter because they don’t use
rock and roll levels and feedback is much less of a problem.

These positions actually do pick up an amazingly clear sound that is more

natural than the mic placed very close in front of the mouth. But when high
sound levels call for effective feedback management, then the closer the
mic is to the mouth, the more resilience against feedback there will be.

Still in the theatre, when conditions require that the mic is placed closer to
the mouth, a short boom can be fitted that extends from the ear closer to the
sound-emitting orifice. Clearly, this will be more easily visible. But booms,

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and the mics themselves, are available in a range of skin tones to provide
reasonably good camouflage.

There is no reason other than the risk of feedback why you couldn’t try out
theatre-style head-worn miking. It would depend on the type of music and
of course the venues you play – some venues, as you will know, are more
prone to feedback than others.

But let’s go back to the headset mic. Shall I tell you a secret...? I made mine
from a wire coat hanger. Not the mic, the headset of course! It took about
five minutes with a pair of pliers, and I don’t feel the need to spend any
money on a ‘proper’ one.

The microphone itself is a Beyerdynamic MCE5 miniature mic that I

have had for twenty years and still sounds fine. Amazingly, it is still
available now, although it is a little larger than modern designs. And I must
remember to switch it off otherwise it runs the internal battery down and
they don’t sell them in the local store any more.

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DPA 4066 omnidirectional microphone and headband.

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Wired or wireless?

One point I haven’t mentioned yet is that a headset mic isn’t necessarily a
radio mic. The topic of radio mics would warrant a 20-part series in itself
so I’ll limit myself here to describing the main pros and cons each way.

In the context of headset and head-worn microphones, a radio mic is a

miniature microphone connected to a transmitter. That microphone could
just as easily be connected to a cable. Some miniature microphones come in
different versions that are intended for wired or wireless use.

In my view, the default condition is a wired microphone. There has to be

a special reason to use a radio mic. Radio mics are amazingly good these
days but there is always that once-in-a while opportunity for malfunction.

My time spent working in theatre has taught me that batteries are replaced
every show, so you know for sure how you stand on that point. Even so,
some venues can have unexpected reception problems or ‘cold spots’ on the
stage. And there is the ever-present danger of interference. And not every
country is as regulated as the UK on radio transmissions.

So that’s my preference, but of course it is personal and yours might differ.

If you use a headset radio microphone then the advantage you have is that
you can move anywhere on the stage without restrictions.

You can even go out among the audience if you really feel you have to (it
always helps with those slow numbers!).

With a wired mic, firstly you have to arrange the cable so that it fits
comfortably on you. I just put the connector end of the mic, and the XLR

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that it attaches to, in my pocket. So the cable to the stage box sprouts out
of my pocket. Those with a more sophisticated stage appearance would
probably want to arrange this differently, perhaps mounted onto a waist
band with Velcro. It isn’t any kind of rocket science.

Having a cable dangling from you does limit your range of movement
compared to a radio mic. But compared to a stand-mounted mic you have
an incredible range of movement anyway.

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Sennheiser MKE 2 fitted to the NB 2 head band. A long-time theatre regular.

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Breathe carefully, and in the right direction

There are several new experiences to enjoy when using a headset mic. The
first is that you are always ‘on’, at least while your fader is open. So where
you could previously back away from the mic and say something to the
keyboard player (“What key did you say we were in?”), you can’t do that
now. You’ll only forget a couple of times before you get the hang of that.

The second is that you can’t even cough or clear your throat. Well, you can.
But the audience will hear. If you tilt the mic up and away from your mouth
however you can probably get away with it. And having a quick mouthful
of beer – for your voice of course – is going to be rather more tricky than it
was before.

But as I said, the benefits of using a headset mic are significant, and to
my mind outweigh a few inconveniences. One thing you will have to pay
attention to however is the position of the mic itself. There’s not a lot the
front-of-house engineer can do to help here, other than give you a bit of
advice if necessary. Once the show starts, making sure the mic is in the
right position is up to you.

Where you want the mic to be is in the line of fire of your voice, but not in
the line of fire of your breath. So you can’t place it directly in front of your

Even if the mic you use has a tiny clip-on wind shield, you can’t expect this
to be as effective at dealing with breath noise as the grille on, say, a Shure
SM58. Fortunately, the voice projects over quite a wide angle compared
to the breath. So you only have to position the mic a short distance above,

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below or to the side of the mouth and it will be far enough away from the
breath, yet will still pick up a good voice quality. The best tone of voice is
usually found above the mouth.

This is worth a try actually – record yourself at your leisure and experience
the range of qualities available with small changes in mic position.
However, from a distance the mic will look like a wart on your upper lip.
It’s going to look like a wart anyway so it’s just a matter of deciding where
you want the wart to be.

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Sennheiser MKE2

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Who can benefit?

As I said earlier, an instrument-less lead singer can benefit from losing

his or her ‘prop’ – the hand-held mic - and addressing the audience more
directly. A singing guitarist has much more freedom to move around and,
again, has one less barrier between himself or herself and the audience.

But there are two people in the typical band line-up who have even more to
gain from the headset mic – the keyboard player and the drummer. Being
multi talented myself (using the word ‘talent’ in a very loose way, you
understand), I have spent time behind a keyboard on stage.

It is certainly workable to have the mike coming at you from the front,
on a boom. But there are times when you want to look at the audience,
times you want to look at the keys, and times you want to do a quick bit of
programming. Having your head effectively locked to a single position is
not ideal. Using a headset mic is much more flexible.

The same goes for singing drummers. I have to admire how they do that.
I can’t even play the drums – I know that because I’ve been practising for
three years and nothing is happening yet! There have been some amazing
singing drummers over the years. Yes, including Phil Collins because he
can actually play those things pretty well.

But you only have to look at a drummer with arms and legs flailing but with
mouth firmly pressed to a stand-mounted microphone to see how awkward
this is. And out of the entire band, the one person who has most difficulty
connecting with the audience is the drummer.

A singing drummer therefore surely must benefit massively from a headset

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mic. The only problem could be feedback from the massive levels of
foldback I have sometimes heard drummers use.

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The biggest drawback with the headset mic is the elevated risk of feedback.
There are such things as directional miniature microphones, but the capsule
tends to be more bulky, because of the way they work, and the boom has to
be more heavily engineered to keep the mic in the right position.

And where you can get as close as you like to a traditional vocal mic,
you always need a small safety margin of extra distance with a miniature
microphone, to avoid blasting with the breath.

Another drawback is that you’re strapped into the microphone the same
way you are with a guitar. Where the headset mic offers freedom in certain
ways, it takes it back in another.

And depending on how energetic your performance you might have

concerns about physical security. I’ve never had one fall off or seen it
happen, but I imagine it could.

Another point is that the front-of-house engineer is less likely to become

your friend. He or she likes to choose the microphone, but you have
made the choice for them. It is in a way putting them in an uncomfortable
position because they how have to work with an unfamiliar mic on the all-
important lead vocal.

I could also tell you the story of trying to communicate my desire to use
my headset mic to an engineer who didn’t speak English. And Eastern
European languages, unfortunately, have I none. (Still, it’s amazing how
much better communication goes with a few beers after the gig...)

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Having said all of that, I am convinced that the headset mic has a lot to
offer, and that we should be using them a lot more than we do. Even if they
do not ultimately replace stand-mounted microphones completely, having
better communication with the audience is a significant factor in providing
great entertainment.

And don’t forget – the more the audience can get involved with your
performance, the more merchandise they’ll buy! So a headset mic can add
to your bottom line. How much better than that can it get?

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Thank you for reading Using Headset Microphones On Stage. However,
there is something else you have to do now...

You have to put your understanding into practice. And you have to listen.
This e-Learning Module has given you insights into how to use headset

However, the only way you will truly understand is to use these insights in
real life performance situations.

Good luck!

David Mellor, Audio Masterclass

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