The term "hand-mic" generally means any microphone held in the hand and used to pick up human speech. Hand-mics are used in a huge variety of settings, from musical performances to television interviews. When you say "microphone", most people picture a hand-mic. Everyone knows what they are and what they do, and everyone thinks they know how to use them. Sadly, this is not the case.
Although there is a knack to using the hand-mic properly, it's really not difficult to learn. Perhaps that's why it's so frustrating to see people get it wrong - because it's so easy to get it right.
Listed below are some general rules of microphone technique. We've used the example of a television presenter conducting an interview, but these rules can be applied to most situations.
- Be aware of what type of mic you're using. In particular, you should know about it's directional characteristics.
- Make sure you do a sound check yourself, well before the interview. Position yourself and the microphone, and speak exactly as you intent to during the interview.
- If the mic has an on/off switch, keep an eye on it. If the mic is battery-powered, make sure you turn it off when you've finished.
- Hold the microphone firmly. Remember that the mic will pick up any handling noise so be careful not to move your hand around on the mic casing, or bump the mic into anything.
- If you're exposed to the wind, try and give the mic some shelter.
- Hold the mic at a constant distance and angle from your mouth (or your subject's mouth). Around 15-20cm from the mouth should be fine.
Any more than this, and not only will the voice become weak, but other noises will become more prominent.
Any closer than this, and you'll get various unpleasant sound effects (such as "popping").
(Note that musicians have a special set of rules for mic distance. Most vocalists hold their mics fairly close to their mouths.)
- Always direct the mic towards the person who's talking. You can also use mic-pointing to direct your subjects. When you point it at yourself, you're talking. When you point it at the subject, you're saying "Now it's your turn to talk". If you have more than one subject, you can use the mic to point toward the person you want to speak.
- Never give the mic away during an interview. It's not uncommon for a subject to want to hold the mic, but don't let them. It creates all sort of problems and it's just not worth it.
If you want to see some good examples of microphone technique, watch television talk-show hosts moving around their audiences. These people know how to use their microphones - not just as technical instruments, but as a means of maintaining control.
Vocalists tend to eat their mics. Whilst this works well for singers who know what they are doing, it is not appropriate for speaking and general mic work.
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