Buying Your First Microphone

One of the first pieces of equipment every band needs to purchase is microphones.

So, you pile in the van and head off to the local music store… only to find a huge, ginormous selection and “helpful” sales people speaking a language you do not understand… you ask yourself, “Do these sales clerks get paid on commission?”… and the silent scream in your head begins, “AHHHH. Now what”?

Here’s the transcript from the video:

Today we’re answering the question, “Which microphone should my band buy first?”

Let’s start with some super simple microphone basics…

Every microphone will amplify your voice and instrument, even the $10 ones. What you’re looking for is good sound quality. In other words, that $10 microphone might make your voice loud, but you’ll sound like you’re in a fishbowl. The $1,000 mic is more likely to make your voice sound exactly like your voice.  Our goal here is to balance the sound quality with the amount of money that you want to spend.

The first thing you need to know is different microphones are made to be used for specific purposes. So, that $10 mic is probably going to be fine to announce bidding at a local auction or to use as a prop in an air band. But, it’s not going to be so good for your band.

The two most common uses for microphones are live performances and recording. For the most part, there is one kind of microphone made for each purpose (of course, there are always exceptions but those are best left to the pro’s). Generally, dynamic microphones are used for live performances and condenser mics are used for recording. So, before you even look at which mic to purchase you have to decide if that microphone is going to be primarily used on the road for live gigs or in a studio for recording.

To get the best sound quality,
you need to match the right microphone to the job you want it to do.

Condenser microphones are sometimes called capacitor mics because the electronics inside the mic uses capacitors. Recording studios love to use them because they have a greater frequency and transient response. Those technical terms mean they reproduce your voice more accurately. The downside is that they’re very sensitive to loud noises (which is one reason why studios are often divided into small rooms that are well insulated for sound). One more problem with condenser microphones is that they tend to be very fragile (until you get into the more expensive solid state mics). This sensitivity to loud noises and fragility is why most bands don’t take condenser mics on the road. A smaller issue is that condenser microphones require a power supply. Most boards can supply this power but not all soundmen (especially in smaller church venues) know how to do this. Generally, condenser mics are more expensive than the same quality as a dynamic microphone.

Dynamic mics can also be called moving coil mics because they use a coil and magnet inside. Dynamic microphones are the mic of choice for most live performances because they’re very durable. They don’t have as accurate sound reproduction as condenser mics, but live music doesn’t require the same quality as recording. These mics are resistant to moisture (from your breath, rain, or humidity). They also don’t require a power supply, making it exceptionally easy to set up at venues. So, dynamic microphones are the best choice for most bands live gigs.

Most musicians buy dynamic mics first because they want one primarily for live performances. Recording studios usually provide their own mics so musicians generally don’t buy condenser mics unless they’re setting up a home recording studio.

Now there’s a couple ways to go when buying a mic:

You can buy a Super cheap mic and replace it in just a couple of months, bit I think this is a complete waste of money because you won’t be able to use the cheap microphone for anything in the future.

You can buy a Super Expensive mic, but again I don’t think this is your best option if you are just starting out because you won’t know which mic is best suited for your voice, nor will you have the experience and the rest of the equipment to use the microphone to its maximum potential. There’s a good chance you’ll buy a mic that doesn’t suit your needs for years to come.

I think you should go with medium priced, good quality microphones for your first microphone.  A good quality, medium priced mic can be used for years. Start out using it as your primary vocal mic and when you have experience and money you can upgrade. The quality microphone can still be used for backing vocals, instruments, or as the primary vocal mic in a pinch.

So Here’s My Specific Microphone Recommendations:

I think most bands are best served by purchasing Shure SM58’s and SM57’s as their primary microphones. The exception to this would be if your band has a technogeek (my word for an exceptional soundman who knows everything about sound equipment and keeps up with all the latest changes) – if you have one, trust the technogeek and keep them happy because they are very hard to come by.

Here’s why you should buy a Shure SM58 or SM57 microphone:

• Shure has been making the best-selling microphones for over 40 years – they are the industry standard.

• These microphones are legendary for their rugged durability. They’re almost (although I have seen it done) indestructible.

• Because they’re so well-known, every soundman already has experience working with them – they understand exactly what the microphones will and won’t do on their particular sound system.

• They are directional microphones, this means that they are good at repelling sound from nearby monitors or speakers. In other words, they minimize feedback issues.

• They’re also very good at picking up even if you’re a little bit off-axis without losing vocal quality. (Off axis means not singing directly in to the center of the microphone.)

• The frequency is geared to the range of a voice with a good presence rise. Presence rise improves the intelligibility of the human voice. In laymen’s terms – this is what makes your voice cut through the mix (be more prominent than the instruments). It also means that the soundman does not have to EQ as much (and let’s face it, in smaller venues EQ often isn’t done at all).

• This microphone gives the best “bang for the buck”. Typically you can find them on a good sale for around $100, and because they are the industry standard there are many good sales.

So what’s the difference between an SM57 and an SM58 microphone?

Here is a 57…and here is a 58.

There’s really just one thing that’s different (but it matters). SM58’s have a pop filter and ball grille. This means that the 58’s have a foamy lining that you sing in to. The lining cuts down on wind noise (from your breathing as well as actual wind) and on popping (which usually occurs when you sing P’s like in the word POP). This lining is surrounded by a metal grill shaped like a ball. SM57’s have a completely flat top. The insides of both microphones are identical and can be used in a pinch interchangeably.

SM58’s are usually used for vocal mics because of the pop filter. 57’s are most often used as instrument microphones for a couple reasons: the pop filter isn’t necessary for P’s or wind and the grille makes microphone larger on the 58’s so it’s more difficult to get close to your instruments. So if you’re a vocalist buy an SM58 get SM 57’s to mic your instruments. As you gain experience and want to upgrade your microphones you can still use the 57’s and the 58’s in other areas of the sound system because they are well-built and they’ll last. Don’t forget to check Amazon as you’re shopping for the best price. They often have sales on mic packages. There’s a link below for the SM57 and the SM 58.

I hope you found this helpful. Thanks for watching.

Additional information:

Here’s places that I would start shopping for the best prices on your first microphone:

Note that I am not even attempting to quote you sale prices because each company runs different sales at different times. Usually, they are all pretty competitive.

Amazon:  SM58’s SM57’s

Sam Ash: SM-58 Cardioid Dynamic Vocal Microphone

Musicians Friend

Guitar Center

E-bay (as always, be careful buying used equipment – it may have been abused)

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