Notes to Self... (from a DIY singer / songwriter)

Why you should bring your own MICROPHONE to every gig

In At the Show, Gear/Technology, Lessons Learned on September 21, 2011 at 3:40 am

Beta 87 A Live Condenser Mic

I’ve had some training in music technology, but by default I am “technologically impaired,” which is why I didn’t think of these things myself. Until recently, I pretty much only played in venues that had their own sound system/PA, and used all of the gear provided. I’ve had some sound mishaps, and sometimes wondered why another performer’s sound at the same venue on the same night could sound different (i.e better) than mine. While on the road, a friend in Indiana who knows a LOT about sound and gear and stuff gently nudged *ahem…forced* me to reconsider my approach, and kindly escorted me to Guitar Center to pick out my own sound setup. I will be eternally grateful for his nudging!

#1 Priority:

Bring your own MICROPHONE (a good one!)

1) I suppose the most obvious reason is for sanitary reasons. Do you really want to have your mouth that close to someone else’s spittle? Especially if you’re starting to do a lot of gigs, you can’t afford to blatantly welcome germs! 2) I did not think of this, but now it seems so obvious: unless you’re playing at a high-end venue KNOWN for their sound, chances are they WON’T be wasting their high-end equipment on you. If you don’t bring your nice mic, you’ll probably be singing through a crappy one, or a decent one at best. Think about it… no sound guy/venue owner/open mic host is going to let an unknown, inexperienced, inconsiderate, and sloppy musician slobber all over their GOOD mic. Even if you are none of those things, the sound guy doesn’t know that. If I were a sound guy, I wouldn’t let someone else use my good mic either! I would think this is especially true for an open mic, since ANYONE can stagger up to the microphone so the sound guy has to be prepared for anything. But for a serious musician, an open mic can count as a great gig and chance for exposure! Don’t waste it on a crappy sounding mic!

Personally, I had no idea how much of a difference a great mic can make in your sound AND volume output!

I recommend the Beta87A by Shure. Its a condenser mic (needs phantom power, which shouldn’t be a problem since all boards should have it), so if you’re not getting any sound just let the sound guy know you need phantom power (or maybe mention it beforehand if possible). Shure mics seem to consistently sound great and clear. Right before seeing my Indiana friend–who convinced me to try the Beta 87A–I bought a Shure SM58 for a hundred bucks, just to have a decent mic of my own (I had an Audix already, and it wasn’t cutting it for me–kind of a dark and muddy tone). I knew I wanted to get a Shure because their tone is generally more clear and precise, but I didn’t really think there would be a lot of difference in the models. The Beta87A is about $250, but WOW… when you try it compared to less expensive models you can really tell the difference! It puts out a clear studio quality sound, and can handle a lot of volume without distorting, and put out a lot of volume without getting that crunched, compressed tone. I’ll just say that sadly, my poor SM58 has never left the house. Don’t get me wrong, its a great mic, especially if you are looking for a good starter mic for open mics and smaller venues. But if you know you’re serious about getting a great live sound, just skip over the “starter mic.”

If money is an issue, the Shure Beta58A is a decent middle ground. For about $160, it’s not as clear and powerful as the Bet87A but it still sounds great and can handle more volume than the SM58 (supposedly this is the only fundamental difference between the SM58 and the Beta58). The Beta58A is pretty standard for nice venues, and the extra volume is worth it because better output means the sound guy doesn’t have to turn you up as high so you don’t have to worry as much about feedback, especially in larger venues that need more volume to carry the sound (hence why I said the SM58 is ok for smaller venues).
  1. Thanks for a great article. I sometimes get “looks” cause I bring my own (decent) mic, you know the look I’m talking about – the “what a diva” look. LOL. But it’s worth it.
    I generally don’t like the Shure’s because they tend to have a very hot and metallic sound and have been hauling my RODE M1 around, which I love. And we are all different in taste and styles, I know a lot of people love Shure. But mine is a dynamic, and I don’t know much about condenser mics.

    I was wondering if there is anything else you need for a condenser mic, aside from “phantom power”? How much control do you have over the sound yourself?

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