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Understanding Podium Mics

When I was a kid, I was fascinated by politics. Especially the all-encompassing presidential elections that seemed to dominate the TV of the day. I remember watching President Jimmy Carter’s inaugural address and that he spoke at a podium with two microphones. I really wasn’t a Carter fan but that’s not the point. What does matter is those two microphones.

It seems like a rather obvious move now. One mic goes down and you still have another one on line. However, the big question in my mind was what manufacturer supplied those two microphones for the inauguration? I didn’t get the answer to that question until much later in my life. In the meantime Ronald Reagan was elected President and was inaugurated. At his big speech he used three microphones. I figured this guy had to be more cautious than Carter or he just wanted to make certain that every word he spoke was heard.

So this is obviously about podium (also known as pulpit) microphones. Not presidential podium mics but House of Worship pulpit mics. By the way, every president from Richard Nixon to Barack Obama has used a Shure SM57 for their inauguration speeches. So, you may ask yourself, “If the 57 is good enough for all those Presidents, shouldn’t it be good enough for my pastor?” Well, if the answer were yes, that would be the end of this article and we would all be using SM57’s at our podiums. However the answer is more complicated than that.

There are hundreds of microphones that work beautifully for podium applications. Many of these mics are designed specifically for podium use and have no other practical application at all. The biggest challenge in the pulpit mic arena is matching the microphone to the speaker or preacher. In actuality, you probably already have a microphone or microphones you use for your podium. None the less, you may be planning on a mic purchase and I may be able to give you some ideas.
Most pastors that preach from the pulpit will do well with a gooseneck or boom condenser microphone. These are condenser mics that are built into a gooseneck or boom. We know that condenser microphones are more sensitive than dynamic mics. This is a very good thing when the user has good mic technique and experience. The only potential problem is that very often a lay person who has little microphone experience will be reading the bulletin or making announcements using the same podium mic.

For the less experienced microphone user, a dynamic mic is usually a better choice. A dynamic mic is generally more forgiving than its condenser counterpart. Maybe that’s why all those Presidents used SM57s. When properly used a dynamic is a much better tool for amplifying the spoken voice. In addition, gooseneck mics are less obtrusive and can be placed closer to the speaker’s mouth without taking attention away from the speaker. Many thin black gooseneck mics are almost invisible.

So, let’s look at some simple rules for using a condenser podium mic: First, remember that your condenser mic needs phantom power to operate. Ok, now make a fist and stick out your thumb. Bring your thumb up to your mouth. The opposite side of your hand represents the distance between your mouth and the microphone.  If your pastor uses this distance as a constant, it will be easier to EQ the microphone and get a consistent tone a volume level. Of course, every sermon has its more emotional and louder vocal moments. That said, all your pastor has to do is keep a consistent distance from the mic the entire delivery comes across more sonically accurate and tonally realist. In other words the preacher’s delivery just sounds better.

Next I like to mount my gooseneck mics to the podium using a shock mount. Isolating the mic a bit from the wood or Plexiglas (or whatever your podium is made of) will reduce chances of vibration being introduced into your mix. This is a good bit of advice whether you use a condenser mic or a dynamic one.  In addition many mounts have a female XLR connector built into them. It will take some extra work to drill out your podium and install the mount but it is a very handy feature to be able to plug your gooseneck directly into the mount. This also reduces vibration.
Dynamic microphones can also work very well for a podium. As I said earlier they are less sensitive—but in reality you may only have a dynamic mic at your disposal. So, your goal is to make that mic sound as awesome as possible. With this type of microphone I want my preacher, or anyone using the mic, a little closer than the condenser. That is my personal preference. If you can just get your users to speak at a constant distant you will have a much easier time getting a good sound out of your mix. As with all microphones the more time you spend mixing your pastor the better you will be able to make them sound. EQ is going to be your friend when using a dynamic podium mic. A compressor can also be very handy.

We will talk about compressors and your preacher at another time. For now, I can’t forget to mention that there are dozens of wireless podium microphones available in condenser and dynamic versions. They certainly have applications in the audio world but in a church I just don’t see it. This just seems like a lot of expense for not a lot of return. However, if you have money to waste and decide to go wireless the same rules will apply. 

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Jamie Rio

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