Do NOT hold the mic like the guy above, if you want to avoid feedback.
by Justin Leighton Long
Feedback can be a nightmare for singers. That piercing scream and everyone covering their ears can be embarrassing to say the least.
The subject is actually pretty complicated, but let’s keep it simple.
Feedback is caused by too much outside sound, usually from the speakers, getting into your mic.
Remember, just because the mic is intended for your voice, it isn’t conscious. It doesn’t know what’s your voice and what is outside sound. The mic is going to pick up any sound that approaches it.
We want to try to get the most of your voice and the least of anything else into the mic.
Just keep it that simple in your mind. The enemy is letting outside sound into your microphone.
Hopefully these tips will help.
“Eat the mic!”
In the old days, it was rare to do a show without the sound person yelling this old joke at you.
Of course, they don’t mean literally, they just mean to get your mouth as close as possible to the mic.
Remember, that metal grill is not the microphone. It’s actually there to protect the microphone, which is under the grill.
That means, even if your mouth is literally touching the grill you’re still not too close to the mic.
In fact, live microphones are made to only pick up sounds that are close to them. If you are even six inches from the microphone, it won’t pick up your voice properly.
In fact, it will start picking up all the other instruments or outside sounds.
Not only will you be too quiet, your voice will sound thin and nasal. That’s how live microphones work.
Also, because you’re quiet, the sound person will have to turn you up and turn you up more. Do you want feedback? Because that’s how you get feedback!
So eat the mic!
You don’t have to scream, but you should definitely sing at your full volume.
When you whisper in the mic, the mic will have to be turned up way too much to compensate. This makes the mic too “hot” and very likely to feed back.
It seems like some singers will try to sing quietly so that they aren’t “too loud.”
Here’s the thing though: the audience is listening to a different set of speakers than you are. So you’ll never be able to tell if you’re too loud.
If your voice is too loud and bothering you, that doesn’t mean it’s too loud out front, it’s just that your voice is too loud in the floor monitor.
Just ask the sound person to turn you up or down. The universal cue for this is to point at yourself and then point up or down, in whatever direction you want your volume to go.
The other reason singers seem to sing quietly is when they’re worried about how they sound. I guess the thought is that if the audience can’t really hear them, the audience won’t know if they sound good or not.
While the worry is really understandable, at some point you have to be firm with yourself. If you don’t want to be heard, why are you going on stage?
And don’t stress, everyone has off nights, and you’ll never get good without doing those shows!
Never point a mic at a speaker!
Very few things are 100% for sure in the music industry. One thing that’s an absolute fact: if you point a mic at a speaker, it will definitely feed back.
The big danger here is the floor monitors. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen a singer place their mic hand by their side absentmindedly, only to point the mic right at the monitors.
What happens every time? Squealing and screaming feedback. Every time.
And there’s nothing the sound person can do about it. Except maybe turn off the mic.
So how do you make sure this doesn’t happen? Same way you learn everything: practice.
Don’t cup the mic!
A lot of people seem to think wrapping their whole hand around the microphone grill is the cool way to hold a mic.
Whether or not it looks cool, it alters the way that the microphone functions. Instead of picking up in only one direction, the mic will pick up in every direction. That makes it roughly the same as pointing the mic at the floor monitor.
That means feedback.
So how do the pros get away with it?
Well, for one thing, with practice you can learn to hold the mic that way, but without covering enough of the grill to cause the mic to malfunction. That means spending time intentionally making a loud PA feed back and learning how to hold it in a very specific way.
For another thing, the pros have a $2000 a week sound person who works for them at every gig. With enough practice the sound person can figure out how to undo some of the damage that mic grip causes.
A little bit of trivia. Do you know how that mic grip started?
It started with artist who were lip-synching either on stage or on a video. With your hand wrapped around the grill, the audience can’t see your mouth and they have way less chance of being able to tell whether or not the artist is actually singing.
So whether or not it looks cool now, it got started for some pretty uncool reasons.
Set your monitors right!
It can take years to find your favorite settings for monitors, but there are a few rules of thumb that can help with feedback.
First of all, try to work with as little volume as you can get away with. Most clubs sound systems aren’t perfect and you’ll usually never hear yourself as clearly as you do when practicing by yourself at home.
The simple truth is the less volume in your monitors, the less chance of feedback.
If you do feel like you need to hear yourself better, the best solution is to think about what else, other than your voice, that you can turn down.
When I was running live sound, singers would often ask over and over for more of their voice in the monitors. When I ran out of volume, I’d often go check the monitor for myself. I can’t tell you how many times I would hear a guitar or a keyboard was just screaming loud in the monitor, covering up their voice.
Moral of the story, if you can’t hear yourself, try to turn something else down first.
I like to think of a monitor mix as a bucket. There’s only so much room.
So if you fill the bucket with 25% drums, 25% guitars, 25% bass, 15% backing vocals; there’s only 10% of the bucket left for your voice!
For that reason, I try to only add the elements I absolutely need to do the show.
Sure it’s way more fun to hear every detail of every member of the band, but you have to think, will hearing this particular musician actually help me sing? If you don’t absolutely need guitar or bass or whatever, don’t put it in.
For example, I’m a guitar player but I’ll never put the other guitar players in my monitor. If they’re playing the right thing, with the right timing, and I am too, hearing them doesn’t help me. If they’re playing, say, a little out of time, I can’t do anything to change that while performing. I also can’t follow them in being out of time, that wouldn’t help the sound of the band.
Try to keep it down to maybe four things. Remember the bucket theory. At some point, when the bucket gets too full, it will slosh over. That slosh can often be the cause of feedback.
Hopefully this article has helped you understand some of the mistakes that can lead to feedback, whether you’re singing or speaking.
So keep these tips in mind and enjoy your next show or rehearsal!