As a worship sound pro, the top three questions asked of me are:
1) How do I get my audio system to sound better? ?
2) How do I make my worship band sound better? and
3) How do I make my choir sound better?
This month we will be investigating #3.
The first thing you will want in your choir are a group of people who can sing on pitch and in time. I know that’s painfully obvious, but many wonderful churches will let anyone who feels the calling to sing in the choir. If that’s you, then more power to you.
However if you want your choir to lift up the congregation and bring them closer to the Lord, it helps if they sing like angels. That said, I am going to assume that everyone in your choir is proficient in their singing skills.
So now your job as a worship house mixing pro (or volunteer) is to make your choir sound as good as possible. The quality of the microphones you use to capture the voices will be very important in how good your choir will sound. Also, the sound system and acoustics of your worship space will greatly influence your choirs’ overall sound. This month we will be concentrating on the type of microphones you use and where you are placing them.
If you are looking to buy some new choir mics, I have some suggestions for you. And, if you just want better sound out of your current mics, I can help there too.
Let’s start with those small mics suspended from the ceiling hanging in front of your choir. These mics are almost exclusively condenser types and can sound very good if they are positioned properly (we will discuss placement a little latter). AKG, Audio-Technica and Shure (in alphabetical order) make some fine hanging condenser mics. Obviously I have not used every choir mic brand and model out available but I do like the Shure MX20CB, Audio Technica U853R and the AKG HM1000. All of these mics sell for less than $200 each and have good sensitivity and reproduction. If you are only miking a choir, with possibly a light accompaniment, the hanging microphones will work really well.
Once you add a worship band you will need a different approach to miking your choir. I have tried just about every microphone configuration to get a great sound out of a choir competing with a worship band. About a decade ago I placed eight dynamic mics in front of my choir. I figured I would close mic my four choir sections and put their voices out in front of the band. It worked pretty well but choir vocalists are not lead singers and close miking put some of the more powerful singers too far up in the mix. In my mind a choir can sit back in the mix a little as long as you have a nice blend of the voices. So today I usually use two condenser microphones on my choirs. I say usually because if my choir is more than a dozen people I will use three mics and possibly more. The reality is that I don’t have huge choirs to mic. Six to ten participants is my norm.
Anyway, back to the two condenser microphones. I own a matched pair of AKG 414 mics. These are large diaphragm microphones and yes, they are expensive. However I have used a variety of large diaphragm condenser mics with really good results. I also have a friend who is using Blue Microphones (condenser, large diaphragm) and thinks they are the best. The point is that you don’t have to use the most expensive microphones to get an excellent sound. Good mics are important but the placement of your mics can make or break the overall sound of your choir.
So, where should you put those mics? First, is you choir in a single row or semi-circle or do you have them on risers? Let’s start with risers; Assuming you have two rows of 5 singers per row on a one step riser and whether you have your mics on stands or hanging from the ceiling, I use the “2 by 2” rule. You will position your microphones 2 feet in front of your front row of singers and 2 feet above the heads of the back row of singers. This may put your mics up pretty high on a stand or above the heads of your front row but it actually works well. Especially if you are using sensitive condenser microphones.
Now if you have small choir standing in a single line of semi-circle (I like the semi-circle myself) you can use a few as one microphone. Place this mic the same distance from the center singer as from the end singers. In other words; if you have a six foot line (or semi-circle) places the single microphone 3 feet from the center singer. This position should be 3 feet from your end singers. If this does not match up adjust you choir and mic position accordingly.
Before we crank up the music, let’s talk about where your choir is on the platform (stage). If you have enough room, put your singers on one side of the stage and your worship band on the other side. The reason for this is that condenser mics are generally more sensitive than dynamic mics and a worship band (especially a rockin’ worship band) can bleed into the choir mics. Should you have a relatively small platform, at least place your singers as far away from the drummer as possible. Of course if your drummer is playing behind a Plexiglas shield, that will help tremendously with the isolation of the percussion sound. And lastly my friends, sound check your choir before you add in the band. This will give you a chance to hear the pure choir sound before without any bleed from the band. This makes it easier to adjust tweak the choir once the band is playing.