Microphone Technique

Last Monday was week five of my stand up comedy course (read about week 1, 3 and 4). For the first time I used a microphone during my set. I’ll be honest, using a microphone is fairly trivial. Just point it towards your mouth and speak. But my instructor, Joe Charles, explained a few finer points to help make your set run smoothly.

Find out what is available

Is there an amplification system available? Will there be a sound technician? If you’re performing at a comedy club or an open mic then of course one will be provided. But what about if you’re doing a one off gig at a pub or a corporate event? The location may not be set up for performers and the organisers may be expecting you to bring your own microphone and amplification.

Joe Charles told us about turning up at an event with no amplification and having to rely on voice projection, while his hand kept creeping up to his chest to hold a phantom microphone. He said you only make this mistake once in your career, after suffering the embarrassment once you always check what is available beforehand.

Holding on

There is no right or wrong way to hold a microphone. Some comedians rest it on their chin, others hold it below their chests requiring the volume to be cranked all the way up. You’re going to have to develop your own technique to match your unique style. Here are three things to bare in mind:

1. Keep the microphone a fixed distance away from your mouth. This will give your voice a consistent volume. Once you have mastered this you can explore the effect of varying the distance to incorporate vocal variety like whispering and shouting.

2. Microphones are directional. Point it towards your mouth so you’re talking into the top of it, rather than the side.

3. Don’t obscure your face too much. You want the audience to make out your expressions, and you don’t want to look like this:

Dealing with a bad setup

The biggest skill when using a microphone is adapting to unpredictable situations caused by a poor quality or faulty PA system.

If the connector is loose then hold the microphone at the bottom so that it doesn’t fall out.

If you can’t hear yourself when you speak first check that the microphone is turned on. If it’s on the problem might be due to the positioning of the speakers (i.e. the audience can hear you fine but there are no speakers pointing at the stage), or it might be due to a technical fault. Ask the audience if they can here you. Be assertive when you ask, the audience may be feel uncomfortable answering or they may not be able to hear you.

Be prepared for when things go wrong. Eventually you’re going to have problems with the wire falling out of the mic, or something breaking. Stay relaxed and have a joke prepared for these situations.

The mic stand

Be purposeful. Decide in advance if you will use the mic stand or not.

If you decide to leave the microphone in the stand adjust it to the right height. Put your foot on the base of the mic stand to keep it steady while your doing this.

If you decide not to use it then 1. Remove the mic from the stand by gently pulling and twisting so it doesn’t pop out and hit you in the face 2. Untangle the cable 3. Move the microphone stand to to the back of the stage, otherwise it will just get in the way.

Be aware of the wire

If you’ve got a wired microphone then watch out for the wire when your moving across the stage. If you tread on it while your moving you risk pulling the connector out of the mic. Use your other hand to flick it out of your path, but be aware of doing this too often as it could become a repetitive distraction.

Handing over

At the end of your set place the microphone in the stand and leave it in the centre of the stage. Try and make sure the cable is not tangled up. Don’t turn the microphone off. Be considerate to the next person coming on stage.

If you don’t have a mic stand make sure the microphone is in your left hand when you hand it to the next person so your right hand is free to shake their hand.

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