Open Up and Say Ahhh: How Close Should a Microphone Be to Your Mouth?

Just as there are numerous types of microphones (from voice over mics to music mics), there are a variety of singing techniques. One that puzzles many people is when a singer puts their mouth directly on the device. Also colorfully referred as “eating the mic” or “kissing the mic,” you may have seen everyone from folk singers to hard rockers to thrash growlers using this method. However, even if they’re using the best microphone for vocals, that I reviewed in this article, are they getting the best sound when their mouth is touching it? Or is the mic picking up breathing noises and other unwanted sounds?

There is much debate around eating this apparatus. Is it good? Is it bad? And why do singers put their mouth on the microphone in the first place?

Read on to find out the answers to these questions and more.

Microphone Distance from Mouth When You are Performing

During the advent of rock and roll bands in the 1960s, singers would press their lips against their mics to produce a sound that equaled the volume of their bandmates. Back then, the devices simply weren’t sophisticated enough to give a singer the punch they needed.

This mouth-on-the-microphone fashion dates back to the 60s

Times have changed, and while mics and their related techniques have advanced, we still see people devouring them as though were a particularly good steak.

Pass the A-1 sauce, and let’s delve into this phenomenon.

5 Reasons Why Singers Put Their Mouth on the Microphone

Unfortunately, singing is nothing like when you crooned into your hairbrush in junior high. Singing into the device from different angles and different distances all produce unique results. One of these techniques involves resting your lips on the mic. Here are some advantages to this method:

  1. Direct mouth-to-mic contact is done to increase the volume of the singer’s voice, as well as amplify low notes (this is called the proximity effect).
  2. It’s useful when there’s a lot of other onstage interference from loud instruments, other singers or even monitors. If the other sounds can’t be reduced, singers need to separate their voice from them. This is done by singing into the mic as closely as possible in order to be loud enough so your voice isn’t drowned out.
  3. Placing their lips this way reduces distortion.
  4. When singing, vocalists have to be aware of the distance between their mouths and the windscreen. Kissing helps you maintain a uniform distance between yourself and the mic.
  5. If you’re singing a slower, intimate tune, mic-kissing is a good go-to for singing softly without sacrificing volume onstage or in the studio.

Some singers literally put the mic in their mouth when they want to create a special effect. Kurt Cobain famously did this when Nirvana played “Smells Like Teen Spirit” on Top of the Pops in 1991.

And some do it because they think it just plain looks cool!

7 Reasons Why You Should not Put Your Mouth on the Microphone

However, there are others that doubt the usefulness of mic-kissing. Here are some of their complaints:

  1. It covers the performer’s face when they’re singing, so their face isn’t easily visible to the audience or photographers.
  2. The sound is muddy and the bass sounds unnaturally heightened. This, coupled with minimized treble, will make you difficult to understand.
  3. Eating the mic causes plosives. These are popping sounds that happen when you sing the hard consonants P, T, K, B, D and G. Your breathing also becomes conspicuous.
  4. It’s unsanitary. This is especially gross if you share the device onstage with another performer.
  5. It could be dangerous if you use a cabled mic.
  6. Reduced enunciation, which make lyrics difficult to understand.
  7. You may chip a tooth.

Although musicians aren’t in agreement about the effectiveness of singers putting their mouth on the grille, there are techniques that are universally accepted as being effective and correct.

Tips on How to Use a Mic (While Performing Live and Recording in a Studio)

Every singer at the top of their game has mastered microphone technique. Ella Fitzgerald and Frank Sinatra are two singers who exemplify this. Although using one may seem as simple as merely picking it up and singing into it, there are many fine points to using this device like a pro.

1. Know Your Microphone’s Pickup (Polar) Pattern

It’s important to know your microphone’s polar pattern so that you can employ the correct technique when using it. Polar pattern refers to the mic sensitivity to sound waves coming from specific directions.

Cardioid Polar Pattern

Cardioid-pattern models are the gold standard for concert settings. They’re popular because they only pick up sound from the front and block sounds from all other directions. When you’re using this type, be sure to sing directly into it, or your sound may be compromised.

You’d be surprised at how the way you hold your microphone can make or break your sound.

2. Hold It Properly

Something as subtle as how you hold your mic strongly impacts your sound. In addition to this, it can influence your throat and your breathing.

Proper Hand Placement

You should position your hand on its midsection, between the head and the base. This allows the device to do its job, which is making your voice sound as good as possible. It also hinders feedback.

You’ve probably seen singers who wrap one or both hands around the entire grille. This is called cupping, and it changes a unidirectional microphone into an omnidirectional one. This means it will now pick up sound from all directions, which translates into feedback. The bigger your hand, the more cringeworthy this will be.

Rappers often hold the mic right under the ball, close to their mouths. If you hold the device this way, it’s important to rest your thumb on your chin to keep it aligned with your mouth. This will prevent it from moving around and producing an inconsistent sound.

Don’t have butterfingers, either!

3. Hold it Firmly

Squeeze the Microphone Firmly

Always hold it firmly with all of your fingers. If you loosen your grip, the mic will wobble around in your hand, causing excessive noise that will compete with your voice. And, of course, you may drop it.

When you have a nice, solid grip on it, you can work on adjusting the angle.

4. Get the Angle Right

A mic’s angle affects its frequency, so it’s important to be aware of its positioning. Hold the device at a 45-degree angle and sing slightly off-axis. This means singing somewhat off the center of its head. When you sing off-axis, it diminishes the likelihood of plosives that are more evident if you’re singing directly on-axis.

Microphone Positions

In order to sing off-axis, point the microphone at the area between your chin and bottom lip or between your nose and upper lip. You can also point it toward your cheek. Using whatever angle is most comfortable for you will yield the same result. This can be done with mics on stands, as well. Even slight changes in degree can affect the coloration of your vocals.

Slight changes in your head movement can also affect your sound.

5. Be Aware of Your Head Movements

It’s easy to get lost in the moment and turn your head to look around at the audience, or glance around the studio while you’re singing. That is, until you suddenly realize you’re no longer singing into the mic. Develop an awareness of when and how you’re moving your head, so you can move the device along with it. This also applies to a mic on a stand. Don’t look away from it while you’re in the middle of a verse.

Pay Attention to the Position of Your Mic

As you can see, the ideal sound relies on precision, and distance between you and the device must be precise.

6. Be the Correct Distance From It

When you record vocals in the studio, the mic should be situated between six to 12 inches from your mouth. You should also use a pop filter, which is a type of screen used to suppress plosives. The filter should be attached about one inch in front of the microphone.

If you’re using a mic on a stand, generally distance it about three finger-widths away from your mouth. During a live performance, hold it about three inches from your mouth.

Mic Distance from Your Mouth

However, there are times when you should widen that distance to achieve a particular effect.

7. Know When to Pull Away

When you’re hitting high notes, it’s important to pull your microphone away from your face to prevent feedback and distortion. The louder and more powerful your voice is, the farther you should pull it away. You’ll avoid distortion and your voice will sound clear. However, if you pull away too rapidly, your sound may weaken.

Pull Away While Hitting High Notes

You can also use this technique if you find yourself having trouble sustaining a sound. When you begin singing the note, pull the mic away from your mouth, and then draw it back as the sound decreases. To the audience, this will register as one sound with consistent volume.

Useful Links

Final Thoughts

Why do singers put their mouth on the microphone? Many swear that it enhances their vocal technique, while others say it undermines it. If you do use this method, there are specific approaches you need to follow in order to make your sound as listenable as possible.

Do you do any podcasting on the side? The techniques you use onstage or in the studio can translate to podcasting. When you have several hosts, it’s easy to learn how to connect multiple microphones to a computer for a great sound. Find out here how to do that. Just don’t eat the mic until everyone else has been served!

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