Which Four Wireless Microphone Mistakes are You Making?

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Is it on? Will it be too loud?

There are four wireless microphone mistakes that get a sound tech in trouble.  The first mistake is one I’m often asked about.  I will be upfront and say that I’ve made two of these mistakes. Two, maybe three.  No, two.  Forgive and forget, right?  [sigh]

1. Allow signal seepage (that sounds… disgusting!)

It goes like this;

  1. Channel gain (trim) knob is at zero.
  2. Fader is at unity or below.
  3. The wireless signal still seeps (bleeds) through into the channel and out the main speakers.

Why does this happen when the gain is turned to zero?  The answer is simple and the solution even simpler.  The wireless pack has a gain control.  If the pack’s gain is too high, then it’s sending a massively strong signal to the mixer.  The mixer can’t handle it.  So, even with the channel gain at zero, the signal bleeds through.

Correct this by following these steps;

  1. Turn the wireless pack’s gain almost all the way down.
  2. Turn the channel’s gain to the 9 o’clock position.
  3. Set the channel fader at unity.
  4. Have the person who normally uses that wireless microphone use it as they normally would; talk or sing, ummm, normally.
  5. Listen.  If the house volume is too loud, have them turn down the pack’s gain.  More likely, it will be too soft and they will need to turn it up.  Have them make changes in minor increments.  Once the house volume is right, by turning down the channel gain, no sound would come through the channel.

A final note on this, check all input devices for proper signal levels coming in.  Nothing like fading out a music track, from a computer, only to hear it still playing in the house speakers.

2. Let them die on stage (alas, poor nine-volt! I knew him, Horatio.)

When should the batteries in wireless microphones be replaced?  The answer is NOT, “when the mic dies.”  It’s not that any of us want the embarrassment of having the pastor’s microphone die mid-sermon.  The problem is battery management is often the last thing on the Sunday-morning to-do list.

Make battery management a priority.  Keep the rechargeable batteries recharged.  In case of multiple weekend services, check the battery meter on the wireless devices between services.  If it’s low, swamp in fresh batteries.

Not using rechargeables?  Not a problem.  Know how long the batteries should last under normal usage, check their charge, and replace them BEFORE they die.  We use non-rechargeables in our wireless guitar/bass packs.  They last for the full Wednesday night practice, Saturday practice, Saturday service, and through both Sunday services.   We put new batteries in immediately before the Saturday service.  This way, when (or if) they do die during use, it’s during the next Wednesday or Saturday practice.

3. Let other people turn them on (padlocked and chained)

I HATE microphones with power switches.  The reason is simple; there will be problems.  People on stage will accidentally turn them off and not think to check they are on before talking.  In the wireless world, by their very nature, the microphones NEED a power switch.  That doesn’t mean you can’t keep them from using it. [Evil Laugh]

Many wireless microphone packs have lockable controls.  In the Shure’s we use, by holding down the SET and MODE buttons at the same time, the microphone is locked in the ON position.  Even if a singer switched the power switch to OFF, the microphone would stay on.

And then there’s the tape.  I still see wireless handhelds with a switch on the bottom and no way to digitally lock the power.  Grab a roll of black electrical tape and cut enough tape to cover the switch.

For people on stage who still insist on having control over the on/off switch, bring out your mobster accent and tell them this; “use can do watt use want but ifs there’s a problem, use be swimmin’ wit da fishes.”  Just an idea.

4. Random channel assignment  (wait, what?)

I can hardly bring myself to tell the story.  But, for your benefit, I’ll do it.

I walked into a church for an audio consult and spied the Mackie SR 24-4, the standard mixer for churches back in the 1990′s.  There were four wireless microphones.  On the mixer, they were labeled A,B, C, and D.  But here’s what the channel assignment looked like;

  • B was on channel 5.
  • C was on channel 17.
  • A was on channel 18.
  • D was on channel 11.
  • I was dumbstruck.

In general, like-minded inputs should be grouped together and logically ordered.  For example, all vocal microphones should be located next to each other on the console, in the order they are seen on stage.

Using an organized layout leads to fewer mistakes, faster mixing, and channel mix comparison.  What I mean by the last one is by having all related channels next to each other, it’s easy to compare EQ settings for problem-solving.  Let’s say the backing vocals set but something seems out of place.  By looking at the vocal channels next to each other, you can easily see if one has an EQ setting that might be higher than it should be.  Even with a digital mixer, flipping back and forth between two screens for comparison is easier.

The Take Away

Prevent wireless microphone bleed by correctly setting the wireless pack’s gain.  Practice good battery management so batteries are replaced before they die on stage.  Keep microphone control in the sound booth by locking or otherwise covering the power controls on wireless microphones.  Finally, don’t hunt and peck your way around the mixer; order the channel inputs in a logical manner.

Oh, and if you haven’t made any of these mistakes, be grateful someone taught you well.

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Comments

  1. Dusty says

    Hi Chris! Thanks so much for your site…I’ve directed all of my volunteer sound techs to your articles. I hope they read! So, I love the lockable wireless suggestion. However, we have a handheld unit that usually only gets used at the end of our services for announcements and/or a closing prayer. It seems that leaving it on and locked the whole service time would crazy drain the batteries. Any suggestions on this?

    • says

      Dusty, the battery length depends on the microphone and battery. We use a wireless handheld in much the same way and it lasts for at least three hours. Would last longer but that’s all that’s needed. We use rechargeables but also use regulars when we use all of the rechargeables. We’ve got a lot of wireless equipment.
      If you want to see how long a battery would last under full usage, turn on a wireless mic and set it in front of a radio so it’s transmitting sound all the time. Check it every 15 or 30 minutes.

  2. Joe007 says

    Hey Chris, I’ve had issues where our wireless mic is at peak and its gain at 3 also the amp volume at 3 also and on getting to the back its not getting the vibe in front of the church. What do I do

  3. Randall says

    RE: On-off switch on wireless mics:
    Been worship leading 40+ years. Have been blessed with very faithful sound techs. Most were electronic geniuses. However, in none of my churches were they paid, professionals. They were volunteers. I’ve tried always keeping my wireless headset mic on and letting them turn it on and off. Many, many times I’ve talked into a dead mic. Other times I have needed to say a word to the pastor, or a singer or instrumentalists only to have it broadcast to the congregation. So, I always control it myself. I can even “clear my throat” between verses if necessary. I’m one person. The tech has to think about several. I train my singers that the most important thing they do is to make sure their mic is on, because if it’s not on then the true most important thing they do, which is get out the message, will not happen. Bottom line, I never have a dead mic.

    • says

      Randall, I’m sorry your experience has lead you to doing that. The techs have many things to do and that should be part of it. That being said, I totally understand you telling them “leave my mic on, I’ve got it.”

  4. Joe007 says

    I use the gain volume of my wireless mic to the fullest, d gain on the mixer at 3:00 n my faders at nearly peak n in a praise concert. I go to the church auditorium n discover its nt getting to the back

  5. Rick says

    RF management!! Especially if you’re in a crowded wireless environment. I learned my lesson the hard way. Shure’s Wireless Workbench was a lifesaver.

  6. yyding says

    My channel assignment tends to be vocals (stage R->L so it’s the same order as what I’m looking at on stage), guitars, piano, drums. Our pastors wireless is on channel 13 permanently (we have a 12 channel multicore), so I always know where to reach for. Our mics are handed around a lot so there’s colored tape on the vocal mics as well.
    I actually have some trouble with batteries. Non-rechargeables in this case. We’d switch on the bodypack and it will show full, then it’ll die mid sermon at times. Not entirely sure what to do about that.

    • charles says

      I also use colored tape on my mics. As for batteries, I’d never trust the built in testers (they sometimes take a bit to ring accurately or don’t tell you the remaining charge with much precision). Instead, you can pick up a cheap multimeter and check relative charge as DC Voltage (my nine volt batteries register 9.5V at full and 7V when replaced). Once you get used to that, you can use the multimeter to test little components, cables, etc. It’s really worth the ten bucks.

      • Mike says

        A multimeter (volt meter) is NOT the same as a battery tester and should not be used as one. While dying batteries will often register a lower voltage, this is not consistent nor does it give an accurate indication of their charge level. Some batteries will show nearly full voltage until just before they die. A proper battery tester will test the battery under an electrical “load” to show its charge level.

  7. Wes says

    i use alphabetic order for vocals or singers (eg) a (abin) named person in 1 st channel and then b (ben) and so on or use age order. senior pastor on first and then next older person

    • says

      I can understand the alphabetic order as long as you know who it is and as long as the singers NEVER change. Age order? There is a lot of guessing on that one. I would not suggest anyone do that. The ONLY exception I would make is the “first” vocal channel on layout is assigned to the pastor and the second to the worship leader. This way, you can quickly jump to those key positions no matter who is preaching or leading that day.

  8. says

    seems to me that setting gain on transmitters should be the same as channel gain, but maybe that’s what you’re saying. On wireless transmitters I set gain so that the audio level on the receiver (e.g. ULX series) is not distorting when a loud talker is at their loudest (on ULX receivers, audio at red rarely is OK, but not too often). Then set the mic/line switch on the receiver correctly. Then the wireless source is just like any other source – use channel gain to hit the right target on the meter (0 on analog boards unless you’re using the ‘target gain method’ and you have a lot of channels).

    As far as the switch, I just make sure I set up the protocol beforehand. If it’s a handheld, most of our talkers want to be in control and I’m OK with that because they’re good about turning it off. If it’s a headset/lapel, it’s more critical that it’s turned off so I just confirm that it’s off as they step off the platform. Most talkers will keep up with it and prefer to be in control, so I give them enough rope to hang themselves with.

    • Mike says

      I always ensure that on/off switches on wired mics are covered with black tape. Wireless mics are turned on before the service begins, and I remind everyone to just leave them turned on. If someone asks why, I tell them that it’s the sound tech’s job to determine what needs to be turned on and off and reassure them that I will un-mute the mic (on the mixer channel, of course) when it’s needed. They should just be able to pick up the mic and talk or sing, which most people prefer once they get used to the idea. If someone forgets to turn on the mic and doesn’t notice me waving at them from the back of the room, and the audience can’t hear them, who do you think gets blamed and/or glared at? Hint: NOT the speaker or singer. Keep the control where it belongs: at the sound booth.

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