Probably the most overlooked issue in house of worship audio is the placement of the all-important microphone. This issue is mostly confined to instrument microphones and choir mics. (With regards to speaking and individual singing mic placement, the issue here is usually the end user. However, we will discuss this in another episode.) For now, let’s turn our attention to instrument miking techniques.
There are a few different ways to mic almost every instrument. So, I am going to share my tried and true methods. Whether it be drums, guitars, bass, brass etc., if you go back in time just a few decades, you will discover that these instruments (especially drums) were miked very differently. In the ‘60s and ‘70s it was very common to put a microphone on the kick drum and use just one more as an overhead mic. This technique provided a very natural sound because it avoided the phase cancellations that can occur with multiple microphones.
Simple Drum Micing Techniques.
I still use this method today in various churches with excellent results. Specifically I will use a large-diaphragm mic on the kick drum. If there is no kick drum head, I will place the mic (attached to a short stand) inside the drum a few inches from the head and an inch in from the shell. If the drum has a front head with a hole, I will place the mic inside the hole as far as a short stand will allow me. Should the front head have no hole, I will place the mic about an inch from the head and about an inch from the edge.
If the church is larger, I can add another mic to the snare drum. On a snare I use a dynamic mic with a cardioid pattern, placing the mic about ½ inch off the drum head and about ½ inch from the edge of the head. I use this type of mic and placement techniques for all rack toms and floor toms. And lastly if I am fully miking a drum kit, I will add another overhead mic and a high-hat mic. I will mic the hat about ½ inch from the edge of the cymbal and just high enough above the hat as not to make contact with the microphone. Speaking of contact; at no time to you want any of your mics to touch the instrument they are miking. Before I leave drums, I want to mention that many churches have Plexiglas barriers or complete enclosures for their drums. Plexi will definitely isolate the drums from the congregation but can cause a variety of acoustic challenges. So use your ears when miking in a plexi environment.
Ok, let’s look at guitar (electric and acoustic) and bass miking. As you know guitar amplifiers can be very loud. So can bass amps for that matter. For this reason many churches won’t mic their guitar amps or bass amps. Or they may use a Plexiglas shield for the electric guitars and electric bass. When I put a mic on a guitar amp, I place a dynamic mic about 1 inch from the grill cloth and about an 2 inches in from the edge of the speaker (you may need to estimate where the speaker is). For an electric bass I use a direct box or a direct out from the bass amp. Occasionally I place and mic the guitar amp offstage to control volume. I have even put the guitar amp in a closet for the same purpose.
For acoustic guitars with an internal pickup, I use a direct box. However if I mic an acoustic guitar I will use a condenser mic and point it at the guitar sound hole at about a 45 degree angle in front of the players strumming hand and about 2 to 3 inches away from the guitar. The closer you place the mic to the sound hole the bassier the sound will become. If you don’t have condensers at your church a dynamic mic can work as well.
Before I get to choir micing I just want to mention brass. Horn sections are not common in most houses of worship, but I do have a church here in L.A. that uses brass regularly. At that church I use a dynamic mic on each brass instrument. The individual players will move in closer to the mic for solos and back off when playing with the section.
Ok, on to choir micing. Probably the most challenging task for a church audio tech is miking a choir. The goal is a good balance between the voices, high gain before feedback and a natural sound. I could do an article just on choir mic technique and I may do so in the future. Anyway, I like to use condenser mics on my choirs and not many. For a 15-20 person choir approximately 10ft wide and 3 rows deep I will use only one microphone. If I have a 30-45 person choir I use no more than three condenser mics. I find that the fewer mics I use the easier it is to control feedback. I will place my mics 2 feet in front of the first row singers. As for the height of the microphones, I like to set them 2 or 3 feet higher than the tallest person in the back row. This set-up prevents the front row from overwhelming the back row. If I am using more than one microphone I will place them about six feet apart. This is the 1 to 3 formula or the 2 to 6 or 3 to 9 formula (you get the idea). If your house of worship already has choir mics hanging from the ceiling, just adjust the height above the tallest singer in the back row. And don’t forget to space them according to the aforementioned formula.
The 3 to 1 Rule Explained.
Well, that’s about it my friends. I hope you can put some of the techniques to good use in your house of worship.