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Is This Thing On?

Every single musician will have to deal with a microphone at some point in their career, whether performing live or recording in a studio. But how do they actually work?

Microphones convert sound waves into a small electrical signal. So, basically, it's a type of transducer, a device that converts energy from one form to another, so that it can be transmitted, stored, and delivered in various ways.

There are a few ways this process can work. We'll go over the basics here, but if you're hankering for a more in-depth explanation, check out Brad Allen Williams' excellent article for Flypaper.

Types of Mics
There are a few different types of microphones, usually categorized by the method used to convert the air pressure variations of a sound wave (input) to an electrical signal (output). The two most common types are the dynamic microphone and the condenser microphone.

Dynamic microphones (also known as moving-coil microphones) work using electromagnetic induction. When sound waves hit the diaphragm (a thin membrane of various materials, suspended at its edge), the diaphragm starts moving back and forth. This diaphragm is attached to a coil, surrounded by a magnet, and thus a magnetic field. The moving diaphragm rocks the coil back and forth and generates an electrical current. This is the inverse mechanism of a loudspeaker, which translates those electrical pulses back to sound.

Dynamic mics are robust, relatively inexpensive, and versatile. For these reasons, they are commonly used in live performances. They can also typically handle high sound pressure, like from guitar amps or drums, and they generally do not require external power.


Condenser microphones (also known as capacitor microphones) work a little differently. They use a capacitor, a device that consists of two separated plates that can store energy in the form of an electrostatic field. One of these plates is made of a very thin and flexible material and acts as the diaphragm. The diaphragm vibrates in the presence of sound waves, varying the distance between the plates, which varies the capacitance. As the capacitance changes, so does the voltage across the capacitor.

Condensers require an electrical current to work. The most common power source is called phantom power (often labelled as +48V or P48). A DC electrical current is transmitted through the microphone's cable, so you don't need to plug these mics into the wall.

Condenser mics are more sensitive, more fragile, and are therefore usually more expensive than dynamic mics. They are known for their ability to capture fine detail.

Polar patterns
Every microphone has a property known as directionality that describes the microphone's sensitivity to sound from various directions. Here are the most common pickup patterns.
CARDIOID
This pattern picks up sound in a kind of heart-shaped pattern, mostly from the front.

SUPERCARDIOID
This pattern picks up less from the sides, and is slightly more sensitive to sounds from the rear.

HYPERCARDIOID

Considered more directional than both cardioid and supercardioid mics, the hypercardioid pattern picks up more signal directly in front and behind the mic.  

FIGURE-OF-8
This pattern picks up sounds equally from two opposite directions.

OMNIDIRECTIONAL
This pattern picks up sound evenly from all directions at once.

SHOTGUN
This pattern is the tightest and narrowest directionally, so it picks up almost no signal from the sides of the microphone.  

 
VARIABLE PATTERN
Some mics allow you to modify and choose between different polar patterns.


This is all especially important information this week in particular, as we'll be discussing topics relating to studio preparedness on Thursday during our next Office Hours session on Facebook Live. More info and a link to join below! 
 
Andrea de Carlo, Soundfly Mentor
Here's what we're talking about on Flypaper this week. 
Your Email List Is Still More Important Than Your Social Channels. Here's Why
People may tell you about bands only needing social media accounts, but they're wrong.
"I have a dream..."
 
On this day in 1963, Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his historic speech, itself almost as monumental as the Lincoln Memorial monument he stood in front of. The speech was one of the concluding events of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, which also included some short performances by Peter, Paul and Mary, Bob Dylan and Joan Baez, Marian Anderson, and gospel legend Mahalia Jackson. 

As influential as King's speech was, what many people don't know is that it was actually basically over by the time he got to the "I have a dream..." section. That part was largely improvised, though he had riffed on the subject in prior speeches. And if it weren't for Mahalia Jackson shouting from the steps: "Tell them about the dream, Martin!" to prompt him, he may have never uttered those words on such a vital stage. 
Your challenge this week:
Make a 30-second musical idea using only the sounds of clapping and your voice

This is a great chance to play around with your mics! Try to write a short 30-second piece of music that uses only the sound of clapping and your voice. Feel free to use as many tracks as you want. Build a sonic environment of many interlocking loops, or just keep it simple with a single voice over a simple clapping rhythm. 

Share what you come up with for a discount on your next Soundfly mentorship session! 
Soundfly Mentor (and giant, infectious personality 'round these parts) Keturah Brown has unleashed her new soulful pop ballad, and it's a winner! 

Heartfelt in its honesty, her latest track, "Sober," is reminiscent of Alicia Keys, yet restrained (and one might say sober) where Keys may have decided to go epic and grandiose. The way the subject matter and production execution come together is just super smart and enjoyable. 




Take me to a random article in the archives, please. Okay!


Anything you'd like to learn in an upcoming Soundfly Weekly issue? Send us an email and let us know!
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