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The more I look at microphones and amplifiers and PA systems and pickups (oh my) the more I am realizing that I have no idea what I am doing. (sorry the question is so long, it's kind of a stream of consciousness thing. there's a tl;dr down at the bottom.**)

I am a multi-instrumentalist playing with a volunteer band that plays at several retirement and nursing communities in the area a few times a year. We've played indoors in a room with school cafeteria acoustics, indoors in a smaller/warmer dining room area, and outdoors on a cement patio. The people in the band who have gigged before and have their own equipment have set me up with a mic and mic stand a few times and done their best to place it so that I can be heard with either instrument, but it is not really an ideal situation. I have to have my face right in the mic while fluting and therefore can't really see my music or the rest of the band, and it is rather too close for comfort while I am bowing the violin.

Ideally, I would like to have a setup that is somewhat self contained and possibly wireless if I am going to be moving around and switching up instruments all the time. (I'm kind of klutzy.) I'm also not above picking something up that fits my budget (under $100) and almost does the job and DIYing a rig that better suits my needs.

I was originally considering getting a small practice amp that I could clip onto my person (such as the Honeytone N10B) and just switch cables between a lavalier mic clipped to the headjoint of my flute and a violin pickup as needed: Cherub-WCP-60V-Violin-Pickup (amazon) $7.20; Danelectro-N10BK-Honey-Tone-Black (amazon) $19.99; Audio-Technica-ATR-3350-Omnidirectional-Condenser-Microphone (amazon) $18.99 (picture shows a watch battery, so I assume this means phantom power is optional?); 1/8 to 1/4" adapter (already own).

While I like the roughly $50 price point of that set up, further reading on this site has lead me to believe that a practice amp will not have enough juice to carry over the other instruments, particularly not when they are also mic'd.

So, possibly a personal PA system? I do believe that I could get away with using a single headset mic for both instruments, provided I can keep it out of the way of both the shoulder rest and the bow on my violin, and a headset seems to come packaged with the PA systems I have looked at. But I'm really not at all certain how to determine if one of these in my price range would hold it's own with the rest of the group? Idea: Or, could something like this also serve as a line-out to the mixer rather than serve as the speaker itself? Actually, my keyboard has a 1/4" mic in (complete with separate volume knob) and a 1/4" line out which certainly makes me think the idea is viable. Granted, my keyboard is a bit cumbersome compared to something I might be able to clip to my person, but it also might turn out to be one piece of the puzzle that I don't have to purchase.

Actually, yeah, do they make microphone switches that would allow me to have two microphones plugged into the same cable on the mixing board and just switch between whichever one I want to be active? I think I could maneuver around a single cable that came directly to my belt or something if I were able to easily alternate between inputs, or if I were using just a single headset mic. That could work very well for me and might even let me get away with spending a little bit more money on the mic.

(After reading more into wireless systems, I do not think this will be practical financially or even in application. I don't know if anyone else in the group currently uses a wireless system and whether we'd have to continuously juggle frequencies at each different venue, one of which is adjacent to the township police and fire/rescue facility and might therefore be subject to additional radio activity. Additionally, I probably would prefer to not have to pay for both a transmitter and a receiver in addition to the microphone itself.)

**So, the tl;dr version: Budget is $100 or less for all

1) volunteer multi-instrumentalist on a budget: can't stand having stationary mic in face, what are my options (some thoughts in the text above)? I play flute and violin and whatever else I can get my hands on with several vocalists, a bass guitar, a banjo, two acoustic guitars and a ukulele/acoustic guitar/mandolin. The group plays mic'd.

2) is there such thing as a microphone switch (ie, a device that would allow me to plug multiple sources into a single input on the mixer and designate which source is active, like an hdmi switch for the tv)? my search results on Amazon seemed sketchy so I thought maybe it had a different name if it existed.

3) can I/should I consider using my keyboard as microphone/cable manager to help realize my dream of musical mobility? Will it save me money? Is it just too clunky to bother (Casio LK 165)? Or is it just too weird to have a keyboard on stage when no one intends to actually play it?

Thanks for your input.

-Kim

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2 Answers 2

You have a few core requirements...

  • amplification (being heard by the audience)
  • monitoring (hearing yourself)
  • performance (playing well)

First, it's all about the performance, really. You should learn to play flute with a vocal mic (see: Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull). Violin/viola can be micked with a cardioid condenser placed near/above head level pointing down, if the general stage volume isn't too loud. Learn to adapt to these two common scenarios.

You seem to indicate your current gig has a P.A. that provides adequate amplification. Most pro gigs will have a P.A. - you should structure your gear so that you'll be ready for pro gigs, as well as personal.

One good solution is a "keyboard amp" - they reproduce the full frequency range well, many can be tipped back or lifted up to provide direct monitoring (nearby and aimed at your head), and many also have XLR outputs to send to a P.A. system. A similar, better solution would be a small (4 channel, both mic and line inputs) mixer and powered speakers (your "personal P.A."). Even cheapo computer speakers might get the job done.

Most importantly, you want to "capture the source instrument" well. For stage violin that's a bridge transducer, or for less money a body transducer (a $5 acoustic guitar one will work OK). For flute it's a clip-on mic (such as the Audix ADX10FLP). Leave them plugged into your personal mixer and mute any you're not using.

Send the mixer AUX outputs to your "monitor" speakers, and the main outputs to the P.A., and you're good to go. This set up will allow you to control your various volumes both in your monitors and "in the house" (the audience), possibly allow for adding effects such as reverb, and plug in easily to P.A. systems of any size. You'll get mobility (clip-ons are the way to go here) and personal monitoring.

Because you can get the mixer and speakers for $50, I recommend you put considerable research and/or money into finding awesome mics/transducers - by far the most important component in the signal chain is the first link: capturing the natural sound of the instrument.

For flute, compare against: http://www.countryman.com/countryman-microphones-integral-to-flutist-michael-masons-performances

For violin, try this site: http://www.electricviolinshop.com/mighty-mini-pickup-system.html

Your price point is a little low if you want high quality, but you can make do with some EQ and effects. But I strongly recommend you put some time and possibly money into researching and acquiring good mics/transducers - they'll hold up for years and work in every situation short of a symphony. HTH!

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I'm afraid for that budget you're not going to get it any better than a single stationary mic. Both flute and violin are rather easier to mic and bring out in a PA mix than acoustic guitars, mandolins etc., so if that's the context, you have no drums, electric guitars etc., I'd stay with a single mic. Of course, you need to set it up right!

First, you should choose a suitable model. Condenser mics are generally clearer than dynamic mics and therefore preferrable for acoustic instruments; in particular violins come through much better in my experience. Unfortunately condensers are also rather more prone to feedback etc. problems. You definitely do not want an omnidirectional one, that only works well for recording or in the very close range. A cardioid one is already considerably less susceptive, e.g Behringer C2 if your budget is so limited. A supercardioid would probably be even better; those are available in the low-price range mainly as camera mics... probably not ideal to set up, but might work.

You want to place the mic slightly over-head pointing down at about 45°, of course not too far away but it also shouldn't be necessary to have it right in your face (if you don't need an Ian Anderson sound). Most important is the position relative to the PA and the monitors (if any); speakers and mic each should point away from each other as much as possible.

Then you need to set up the mix. You want to cut away pretty much all the bass range as a starting point, that should already get you rid of a lot of feedback / rumble problems. You probably don't have much fine-grained parametric EQ possibilities with your console, but as much as possible you should try to find the frequencies most prone to feedback, and minimise those.

If you manage to get loud enough this way, then you should at any rate have a pretty nice, natural sound for both flute and violin. And no problems with switching etc..

If you say this definitely doesn't work, you've tried all, well – (but I doubt it, for as I said guitar miking has at least as much feedback trouble) then you're in for a rather nasty hack with direct-pickup solutions for that money, and probably won't achieve a really pleasant sound.

Cheap violin pickups have a strong tendency to sound creaky, dry, harsh... you can achieve a somewhat acceptable sound, but it requires first a good preamp, and then lots of artificial reverb. Some of the more expensive models actually work quite nicely.

Omnidirectional gooseneck mics, as I said, suffer from feedback at least as much as a cardoid on a stand. There are some specialist models available that can probably offer the best live sound possible at all, but I'm afraid not feasible for you.

For flute, any close mic should get you rid of feedback. but close unshielded condensers would probably also suffer form lots of breath sound etc., so I'm again not sure if that would even help.

No, I think the real problem is not the single mic. It's probably not that you're too quiet, at all – unless you're actually playing to quiet to begin with!
More likely, you just feel you're too quiet yourself. That's completely normal perception especially for people with little live experience. You can't solve this by making you overall louder, what you'd need is proper monitoring. But if you don't have monitors already, then that's again not in your price scope.


As for your other points, keyboard as preamp... nah, forget it, such hacks are almost bound to break live. You need proper XLR mic connections.

Or, well, yeah: wireless is definitely an option nowadays. Modern systems work very well, the bands used by police etc. are also seperate completely since everything is digital. Only, the price...

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