Learn: Eat: Perform with Spoz and Gary – Part 1: Using a Microphone

When Worcestershire Lit Fest started a couple of years ago, one of the first projects was a series of spoken word workshops – Learn: Eat: Perform. Each workshop run by a different poet or poets.

Yesterday there was the first of 2013’s Learn: Eat: Perform workshops, hosted by Spoz and Gary Longden. If you are a regular at Midlands spoken words events – or local punk gigs – you’ll know Spoz. If not, you need to see him in action: he’s ace; you can catch samples here and here. He does a lot of teaching in schools so, if he’s in charge, you know you’re in good hands. Gary’s a relative newcomer to the scene who’s recently been wowing audiences in a poetic duet with Malvern slam-winner Amy Rainbow as well as with his solo material.

I’m going to split my write-up into at least two parts as we covered so much yesterday. Part one is Spoz’s information and advice on using a microphone.

Many of us are terrified of mics – they’re in your face, in the way, they malfunction, feedback and fuck-up.

But the audience has come to hear YOU, the poet. (The mad buggers may have even PAID to come to hear YOU, the poet!) So it’s a bit of a disappointment if they can’t hear your fabulous poetry. If you believe in it, make it heard.

Some of us – I know one or two – declare we can project, Lady Bracknell-style; ‘One does not require amplification!’ And in a small room, with a small audience, that may be perfectly fine but in a large hall the back rows will be missing your gems so use the mic, if there is one.

As an aside, the last couple of years when Malvern Writers have done Ledbury (in the poetic sense, I hasten to add) we have been in the Seven Stars Pub, which has two bars. One lovely MWC lady insists she can be heard as she has a trained voice – she does, it’s superb – but, even in the main performance space I couldn’t hear her from the back of the room and my hearing’s reasonable; try to imagine a deaf poetry fan’s disappointment at not catching a word. The other bar was oblivious to her existence but, when I read something rather risqué later, there were raucous cheers from locals through there. Maximise your audience (and, possibly, embarrassment)!

Using a mic will also enable a greater range of vocal effects. You can whisper – the audience will quieten – and then startle them with a loud line. You can be intimate (sexy, even), evil, cheery or teary.

If the mic is on a stand you can take it out and hand-hold it so you can move about the stage but beware of tripping over wires. And if you also have a book/paper be aware you’ll be a juggling act as well as a poetry turn.

Keep papers away from the mic itself; no one wants to listen to your pages rather than the words on them.

Spoz suggests getting your mouth close to the mic; either rest it against your chin, held vertically, so the end is just below your mouth, so you are talking over the knob of it (we had the most obscene-looking diagrams of mic reception, by the way; available on FaceBook); or hold it pointing at your mouth-ish and within a couple of fingers’-distance of your mouth.

Yes, that close.

Turn down the amp volume rather than move the mic away. As you move away the pick-up by the mic quickly decreases. If you can’t hear yourself through the speakers, nor can the audience.

Keep the mic in whatever position you have chosen; don’t turn away because the words will be lost. Pivot your face based on mouth and mic position if you wish to look from side to side at the audience.

Don’t hold the wire-covered knob at the business end of the mic, pseudo-rock-star-style; you’ll make the sound quality poorer; hold it by the shaft (back to the diagrams, dearie me).

Try to get a sound/equipment check before the event begins.

PA for spoken word may well require different settings to music amplification. Too much base (“bottom”) will result in a boomy, muffled noise. Too much treble (“top”) will be hissy and sibilant.

Your mic will plug in to an amplifier (or, if you are lucky enough to have a radio mic, its dongly-wotsit-thingy will plug in). There may be several mic “channels”. Make sure you know which is yours – follow the wire, if needs be. By your channel there will be some knobs. One will say treble, one will say base, one will say channel volume. There may be others; you can probably ignore them.

“Flat” is when both treble and base are set to zero (usually upright=centre of dials on an amp); for spoken word you’ll want the treble raised slightly (10-15%, say “ten-past the hour” on the treble dial; and the base lowered slightly (negative 10-15%, around “ten-to the hour” on the base dial).

Check the volume. It will depend on the equipment and the room; the only way to get it right is to try. If you do the classic “one, two; one, two, testing,” you might want to do a “p-p-p-“ as well to make sure the PA isn’t “popping” – making that horrid distracting pop sound on “p” or “b” or “t”s as you enunciate them. If it is popping, check the amp settings; you might need to back-off the base and/or treble.

If there’s reverb or echo, left over from the previous musician(s), turn it off.

If no sound comes out of the PA check:
– is everything plugged in?
– is it all switched on at the wall?
– is the channel volume AND the amp master volume turned up?
– is the mic switched on? (Some have switches, some don’t. Be wary of radio mics – as Gordon Brown found out the hard way.)

Feedback – nope, not polite critique of poems from a stanza workshop but that horrible, painful, electrical screech – happens when mics are placed too close to speakers or, sometimes, if the volume is up too high. (Another reason to get close to the mic, then; you can turn-down the volume.)

Microphone stands are as feared as mics themselves but, again, they’re a useful tool. When you arrive at a gig, try to get a good look at the mic stand well before it’s your turn in the spotlight. When it is your turn, make sure the stand – if you’re going to use it – is set at exactly the height you need and that it’s secure. You don’t want to be on tip-toes reading, nor stooped so you can’t make eye contact with the audience. And you don’t want it to collapse mid-poem (been there, done that: ouch). Make sure all the little knobs/twist joints are tight (but not too tight or the threads strip and the next person up will hate you forever). Tighten – clockwise; losen – anticlockwise.

Finally, electricals can be dangerous. Don’t put drinks on the amps or speakers. Don’t let other twits with less imagination than you put drinks on the amps or speakers. If cables are damaged, shout. If equipment is damaged, shout. If there’s a hint of a shock from anything shout very loudly indeed and make sure it’s switched off till checked out.


Word Press tells me it’s the second anniversary of Fox Tales. Doesn’t time fly.

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10 Responses to Learn: Eat: Perform with Spoz and Gary – Part 1: Using a Microphone

  1. Myfanwy, what an amazingly coherent representation of the session yesterday. Great advice here. I hope many readers will take notice of it.

    I enjoyed the session and particularly like the way you’ve written it up, interesting and informative, thank you very much indeed.

    • Myfanwy Fox says:

      Thanks, Polly – really glad it reads ok. I had to write it up soon, else I’d forget it all. (I have a slight advantage as my Dad used to run PA equipment for local events sometimes; he liked building loudspeakers and rejigging old amps. So I grew up with the terminology, even though I’ve never used any of the equipment till now.)

  2. Speaking sans Mike (though thank you for your detailed tutorial) congrats on your second anniversary. Fox Tales is waggin’ high.

  3. Spoz says:

    This is spot on luv! Nice one x

  4. Pingback: A New Poetry Page | The Ranting Papizilla

  5. Poets definitely need to know how to work a mic!

  6. Myfanwy Fox says:

    Yes, it certainly helps if we want to be “out there” yet mics terrify far too many of us. Only way to really do it is practice and experience. *Puts on brave face*

  7. Pingback: Small Lightnings Avebury Workshop (and Stonhenge) | Fox Tales

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