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How to Deal With Microphone Feedback
Did anyone else want to turn off the Oscars last night not because of how boring they were but because of the microphone feedback? Did you notice that every few seconds when someone would speak either a high-pitched zingy squeal would happen or a quiet but creepy robotic ghost noise would follow their words? You may remember theses sounds from such moments as your 6th birthday party when you’d stand too close to the boombox with your Mr. Microphone. I am not a scientist, so I will not attempt to tell you exactly how microphone feedback works, but I will run down a few of the simpler fixes you can try at your next Bat Mitzvah, karaoke night, or Academy Awards telecast.
1. Move the microphone closer to peoples’ mouths.
One way you get feedback is by the sound that’s being amplified making it’s way back into the microphone it originated from. The farther away the microphone is from your mouth, the more room there is in front of it for other noises to get in. Much of the time last night the main presenter microphone was setup kind of low or far away from the folks doing the talking. And speaking of the mic being too low on the stand…
2. Turn down any speakers that are near the microphone.
At a live event, you always have these speakers called “monitors” sitting on the stage that point back toward the performer and are meant to help them hear what they sound like to the audience. If those speakers are too loud or if the mic is too close to them, you’ll get feedback. Step away from the monitors and put the mic back up near your face.
3. Keep microphones away from each other and turn offstage microphones off when they’re not in use.
I think this was to blame for much of the noise last night. For some mysterious scientific reason, when mics are on and pointed at each other at just the right angle they can create that terrible sound. Many of the presenters last night had wireless mics pinned to their chest so we could hear them as they walked out or goofed around away from the main presenter mic. But then they would walk over and talk right into the mic on the stand with their lav (industry term, babe — short for lavalier which is one of those mics pinned to your shirt) still on. Or, a presenter would only use their lav and then the recipient would use the mic on the stand while the presenter stood like three feet away in the shadows, again, with their mic still on.
Of course there are plenty of others, but these are the three easiest fixes. And I know what you’re thinking: but how does a band, for example, all stand on stage together with mics and monitors and not have this happen? It takes a lot of finagling and futzing around with where everyone is standing and how hot the speakers are and how hot the mics are and all that. Avoiding feedback is one of the reasons your favorite band is spending an hour doing their sound check before coming on stage. Maybe don’t wear heels next time?