Non-technical guidelines on how to get the most
out of your mikes and your sound system
© 2012, 1996 G. Edwin Lint
Warning: This chapter is not intended to replace the operating instructions provided
by your equipment manufacturer. This is merely a general, quick-reference aid
for administrative personnel or the occasional user. This chapter should be reviewed
by the sound person (or committee) to assure that it is consistent with your church's
equipment and policies. If this material is outdated or incorrect regarding the
equipment your church is using, this chapter should yield in every instance.
Using Mikes for Speaking and Singing
If you are unfamiliar with the terms used in this section, please review the Sound
Glossary before going any further.
The microphone is the most frequently-used audio device in the church -- and the
most frequently misused, also. Here are a few tips to help you avoid some of the
more common problems.
most common problem is acoustic popping. This is caused when a puff of air from
your mouth hits the diaphragm inside the mike. In normal speech, the initial consonants
B and P cause what speech clinicians call "plosives." They cause a puff of air
to leave the mouth. The corrective action is simple: mike distance and angle.
If you hear a pop while speaking or singing, hold the mike a little farther from
your mouth, and slightly below your airstream. If you're at the pulpit, step back
a half step.
The result of a pop will be heard in the speaker as a dull thud.
Warning: The engineer in the sound booth cannot take corrective action if there
is popping. You must make the correction by changing the distance and/or angle
at the mike!
general, a handheld mike should be no closer to your mouth than the width of your
closed fist and no farther from your mouth than the distance from the tip of your
thumb to the tip of your little finger, when your hand is spread.
Singing usually requires less amplification than speaking, so hold the mike a
little closer for speaking.
tip of the mike should be a little below the airstream of your voice to help prevent
mike can detract from your appearance when held too close. If your mike has a
yellow windscreen, the view from the floor level where the congregation is sitting
may make it look like you're eating a lemon sherbet cone.
addition to popping, poor mike technique can cause distortion. This makes the
sound heavy and blurred. This cannot be corrected in the sound booth. The engineer
can only turn down the level, so the distorted sound won't be as loud. However,
the distortion will still remain.
You've probably heard plenty of distortion at a restaurant that calls diners to
their available table over a handheld mike.
two or more people are singing together, all persons should keep about the same
distance between mouth and mike. The engineer can only balance volume levels,
but the chance of getting a blended sound is greater if the mike distances are
Singing with a Sound Track
again, the engineer will be able to get a good balance between the voice and track
if there is no distortion, in addition to no popping. This is especially important
if the sound track includes one or more voice tracks as well as the accompaniment
the mike is held too close, it can change the illusion the audience has of the
relative presence of the singer and the track; the singer will seem very close
with the accompaniment far away.
Making a Sound Check
seldom get the luxury of making a sound check in a full house. However, you should
use performance volume and presence during your pre-service sound check even though
the church is practically empty. Don't use a tiny, timid voice during your sound
check if you plan to use a big, dramatic voice during the performance. Engineers
don't like those kinds of surprises; your audience won't, either.
Handle Your Mike with Kid Gloves
mikes are well insulated against external sound. Keep an ear tuned to extraneous
sound that you may be caused by the way you handle your mike and act accordingly.
If your mike has an on/off switch, slide it, don't snap it. Your engineer should
have your level down while you're doing noisy things like taking the mike out
of the clip at the top of a stand. However, if you know the mike is hot (on),
slightly twist it counterclockwise while you take it off the stand.
Is This Mike On?
blow into a mike to see if it's on. In addition to making an unpleasant sound,
the moisture from your breath isn't good for the mike. Without an audience, speak
into the mike using the same distance and volume you'll be using for an audience.
Include a couple plosives for this check, like the Peter Piper nursery rhyme.
If an audience is present, tap the tip of the mike gently or rub it with your
unpleasant howling and whistling sound is called "feedback." It happens when sound
travels from the speakers back into the mike from too short a distance. Feedback
is most likely to occur in a relatively small room while using a portable sound
system at a high volume level. To control feedback in such a situation, move a
little farther from the mike and stop speaking until the feedback subsides If
the feedback is violent and you're sure it's your mike, turn off your mike switch
until your level is reduced at the amp. You may also try to shield your mike from
the speakers with your body. If the mike is handheld, point it at a point in the
room where there are no speakers. A room with a low ceiling and speakers in the
ceiling is very prone to feedback.
Using a Sound System
you are unfamiliar with the terms used in this section, please review the Sound
Glossary before going any further.
Color-Code Your System.
mikes and amp/mixer controls can be marked with colored vinyl tape. I have used
this tape in the following colors: red, yellow, blue, green, tan, white, black.
It is especially important to tape-mark handheld and wireless mikes, and less
important to color-code pulpit and other fixed-mount mikes.
your regular special singers to use the same color mikes for the sound check as
for the performance. Suggestion: Each time a group sings, save the settings you
made during the pre-service sound check. These settings will be a good starting
point the next time this same group sings.
Miking the piano.
are two schools of thought for miking a grand piano: under the piano below the
sounding board and above the strings. Ben Speer of the famous Speer family is
known throughout gospel music as an excellent sound man. When the Speers sang
at our church in the mid-70s while Ben was still traveling with the group, here's
how he miked the piano: under the piano with the mike pointing straight up at
the sounding board.
Ben Speer now works for Bill Gaither as his sound director, for taping and on-stage
manipulate mike hardware by grasping the metal shell of the plug, not the rubber
collar or the cord. If your hardware is the professional 3-pin connector format,
it will be very reliable. However, there are four separate solder connections
inside each plug unit so some care is indicated.
To plug a mike into a jack, grasp the metal shell of the plug, match the three
pins with the three little holes, and push firmly until a distinct click is heard.
To unplug, depress the thumb latch with one hand and pull plug straight out with
the other hand. Do not twist. There will be a thumb latch on the wall jack and
on the female plug at the end of the mike cable.
If the regular mike cord is not long enough, the cord from another mike can he
used as an extension. Remove the cord from the second mike and connect the two
Troubleshooting A Mike That Is Not Working
the amp on?
the mike switch on? UP is usually ON.
the amp's mike channel turned to the proper level?
the mike plugged into the right wall jack?
If you've made these checks with no results, try another mike
protect a tape you want to save by removing the safety tab from the back edge
of the cassette with a knife point. With the cassette flat on the table and the
tape-edge facing you, the tab on the left rear corner will protect the upper side
(Side A) of the cassette. With that tab removed it will be impossible to put the
deck into record mode and thereby erase a valuable recording. If you ever change
your mind and want to record on that tape again, just cover the tab-hole with
a small piece of tape and it's reusable.
Be sure your tape is on cue before the service begins. Do this by playing the
tape until you hear the first note of music. Stop the deck immediately, remove
the cassette, and use a pen barrel to rewind the tape by one revolution of the
WARNING: Most cassettes have a non-recording leader of clear tape at the beginning.
Use your pen barrel to wind past this leader before starting your recording.
Auxiliary Inputs And Outputs
can use the following audio devices with your sound system by patching between
your AUX in or out and the other device's AUX in or out. This may be done with
these kinds of devices:
Take these precautions when patching these kinds of devices into
the power off on the both devices.
Make sure the input or output on the other device has one of the following labels:
[or a comparable term]
Never patch an output marked SPEAKER to any of the input labels shown above.
Make sure your amp's level is down for the channel you are using; then experiment
with gradually increasing the level.
Of course all experimentation of this type should be done before the service begins.
Music And Sound Track Tapes
copyright law forbids photocopying or duplicating any music unless it is in the
public domain and marked P.D. -- or you have the expressed permission of the copyright
owner. Music producers frown on copying sound track tapes and this should not
be done in any way that will pervert the sale of an original tape. Never loan
a copy of a sound track tape to another church or organization. Either loan the
original or do nothing.
Airstream. The flow of air from your mouth to the mike while
speaking or singing.
Ambient sound. Background noise that gets mixed in with
the target sounds. In a recording of a sermon, for example, some ambient sound
is desirable from the house mike(s) to give a sense of resonance and reverberation,
as in a large auditorium. Too much ambient sound will make the recording seem
mushy, hollow, or booming. Headphones are required to discern the proper balance
of ambient sound and target sound. See Presence.
Amp, for amplifier. An electronic device that receives electronic
signals from mikes, tape decks, or mixers. The signals are mixed together, increased,
and sent over wires to speakers as amplified sound.
AUX [or line] inputs. The jacks on an amp, mixer, deck,
or other audio device that is receiving a line input from a similar audio device.
A rod-type device that attaches to the top of a mike stand and permits horizontal
as well as vertical positioning of a mike. Especially useful for persons who sing
while playing the piano.
Broadcast-quality. A tape recording that is appropriate
for use on the air in terms of such factors as levels, ambient sound, balance,
Bulk Eraser. A special electromagnet with a momentary-on
switch for erasing an entire tape in just a few seconds. Should not be used close
to tapes that are to be saved. Tape decks have erase heads that erase previous
recordings. The bulk eraser, however, erases the whole tape instead of just the
portion that is being recorded.
The wire that carries signals from one device to another.
3-Pin. (Also known as a Cannon plug.) The
hardware that enables cables to be connected to mikes and amps. A 3-pin connector
is generally used with low impedance systems.
Deck. The equipment for recording or playing back a cassette,
CD, or reel tape. It requires an external amp or earphones for hearing the sound
since it does not have a built in amplifier such as a "tape recorder" .
Distortion. An unpleasant characteristic of sound that has
been recorded or amplified at above zero level, or with the mike held too close
to the mouth. [The sound in a restaurant when reservation availability's are announced
is often badly distorted.]
Equalization (EQ) Enhancing the highs (treble) and lows
(bass) to give the overall sound the most pleasing effect.
Feedback. Squealing, howling, or ringing sounds from the
speakers caused by the sound cycling through the mikes and speakers when the mike
levels are too high and/or the mikes are too close to the speakers. Feedback is
less common with low impedance mikes.
Female. Audio jacks that receive male plugs. This distinction
is similar to that used in the plumbing industry.
Flat. A mid-range equalization adjustment that emphasizes
neither highs nor lows.
Hot. A mike that is on and working; a mike with the level
High Impedance. (High-Z) A mike system that uses 2-wire
cable, is limited to relatively short cable runs from amp to mike, and that is
subject to feedback problems. High impedance equipment is usually cheaper than
House Mikes. The mikes that are used to record/amplify the
overall sound in the room in addition to a particular speaker or singer. House
mikes are usually mounted high in the room and not directed at any particular
sound source. With a portable system in a room with a high ceiling, put the house
mike(s) on a mike stand that is extended to its maximum; point the mike straight
up at the ceiling.
House. This is a general term that refers to the room in
which the sound system is located.
Jack. The hole into which a plug is inserted. A chassis-mount
jack is permanently fastened to a piece of audio equipment. A wall-mount jack
is fastened to the wall, usually with a face plate. An in-line jack, also known
as a female plug, is part of a cable assembly.
Level. The sensitivity of a mike to sound, as controlled
by a volume control; another term for volume.
Line Input, Output. The circuits of a tape deck that receive
audio signals from another audio device and that send signals to another audio
device. LINE IN is for recording. LINE OUT is for playing back. Tapes may be duplicated
by patching: From LINE OUT of the playback deck or amplifier to LINE IN of the
recording deck. Such a recording may be made in a noisy room since no mikes are
involved. Also known as "direct recording."
Line Matching Transformer. Converts a low impedance mike
signal to a high impedance signal; will have a 3-pin connector at one end and
a quarter-inch phone plug at the other. Fits on the end of the mike cord and plugs
into the high impedance mike jack of your audio device. Should cost about $10
at your mall radio supply store.
Low Impedance (Low-Z). Opposite of High Impedance. Less
feedback, longer cable runs, requires 3-conductor shielded cable and 3-pin connectors.
Audio hardware items that are plugged into jacks or female plugs. See ''female''.
(or Mic) for microphone. The device that captures sound and feeds it into an amp,
mixer, deck, or other audio device.
Mike inputs. The jacks on an amp, mixer, deck, or other
audio device that is receiving sound. Many mike inputs are switchable between
mike and line. In the line position, such an input can receive a line (but not
amplified) signal from an amp, mixer, deck, or other audio device. If a line input
is sent into a mike input in the mike [rather than line or AUX] position, the
probable result will be distortion.
Mixer. An electronic device that mixes the audio from several
(at least 4) mikes and 1 or 2 auxiliary sources before sending it to a main amp.
A mixer has the same level output as a tape deck and cannot drive speakers. A
mixer may have a mike level output to permit it to be daisy-chained with other
Mixing. Blending sounds from multiple sources and of multiple
types to achieve a pleasant overall sound. Effective mixing may require some music
knowledge or appreciation as well as electronic capability. Headphones are required.
Cue. The process of setting up a tape or CD cut so it will begin to play
when turned on with a minimum of dead air. The term is also used in radio to signify
the position of the pot that switches the input to an auxiliary cue amp. The "on
cue, position is one notch lower than the lowest point on the dial. In radio,
two turntables or CD players with cueing capability will permit a DJ to play music
nonstop. While one selection is playing, the other is being cued through the auxiliary
cue amp/speaker. They are then alternated in that manner. To cue a tape or record,
play it until you hear the first note of music, stop immediately, and back up
past that first note. The distance between the cue point and the first note must
permit the deck or turntable to achieve normal playing speed without wowing (off-speed
distortion) the first note.
CDs are easiest to cue by following this process:
sure you have the proper selection and note the track number.
the CD player on PAUSE
When it's time
to start the music, Press PLAY
Patch Cord. A relatively short cable with connectors at
The patch cord connects two audio devices, such as a deck and an amp, or two decks.
CAUTION: Audio plug hardware is not standardized. A church system may use several
sure the plug on the end of your patch cord matches the jack on the audio device.
The hardware on the end of a mike cable or patch cord that is inserted into a
Pop. A form of audio distortion that is caused by excessive
breath sounds entering the mike during speaking or singing. The initial consonants
B and P are known for causing pops. Popping can be reduced by keeping the mike
below the breath stream (slightly below the chin) and/or moving the mike farther
from the mouth. Some people, because of the characteristics of their speech, are
very prone to popping and must take special precautions.
Pot, for potentiometer. Originally, a rotary-type volume
control knob on a radio control board or other audio device. In radio jargon,
pot now means the slide-type control units found on current equipment. Slide pots
are more practical because they permit instant visual scanning of the relative
position of each pot.
Presence. The sense of how close the sound source is to
the mike. If you're recording speech, such as a sermon, the combination of mike
distance and level setting should give a close-up presence. If the mike is too
far from the speaker, there will be too much ambient sound mixed in with the speech
to have a good sense of presence. When making a recording for a tape ministry
or radio broadcast, the ideal setting is a mix of close presence and ambient sound
to give a sense of realism. Headphones are required to get a good mix. See Ambient
Quarter-Inch Phone Plug/Jack. Also called a banana plug.
The standard hardware item on headphones.
RCA Phono Plug/Jack. The basic hardware item for connecting
stereo components and speakers. The jacks on the back plates of tape decks are
usually RCA phono jacks.
Sound Check. This is a simple process of making sure the
mike levels are set properly before the service/performance begins.
Speaker. The audio device that receives amplified signals
from the amp and produces sound. The mike is never referred to as a "speaker"
A prerecorded sound track; an individual sound source on such a sound track.
VU METER. A dial-face meter that measures the input to or
output from an audio device or channel in volume units, Distortion may be a problem
if the needle rides in the red area above zero level. Current devices tend to
be equipped with LED (light-emitting diode) meters instead of the dial-face style.
These meters display a sliding bar of light instead of a moving needle. In stereo
equipment, each channel has a meter.
Windscreen. An external or internal guard over the end of
a mike for reducing popping or wind noise.
Zero Level. +/- 0 decibels on the VU meter or the LED level