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Equipment is just the tools you use. Don't get hung up on it and fetishize it, as it will distract you from truly being creative.

I once asked Miles Montalbano if he could recommend any books for the "Recommended Reading" section of $30 Film School . He named a bunch of poets , novelists, and painters , and then added, "Anything besides books on filmmaking ."

I loved that.

George Thoroughgood did an interview in Guitar Player magazine about 20 years ago. They kept bugging him to talk about his equipment specifications, and he just talked about baseball. It was my favorite interview ever in that magazine, even though I don't like baseball.

East Bay Ray told me that he considered Guitar Player magazine "guitar pornography." It does have centerfolds. It has little to do with art as far as I can see. It's about the image of being a guitarist.

Real artists inspire me regardless of the medium. I can learn more about music from some filmmakers than I can from many musicians . And we wouldn't even necessarily have to talk about music for me to learn.

What I'm getting at here is that people focus on the wrong aspects of an art. The technical is the least of it. Guitar playing, filmmaking, riding skateboards, and fine oil painting are more similar than they are different.

The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious . It is the source of all true art and all science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead: His eyes are closed.

Albert Einstein

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Chapter 5. Microphones, P.A. Systems, and Troubleshooting

Microphones, a.k.a. mikes , are devices used to turn an acoustic signal, like a voice or a drum, into an electronic signal that can be recorded or amplified. PA systems allow the microphone to be heard .

We'll also add in a little here on repairing stuff. Because part of being a D.I.Y. musician is taking care of your own gear.

Different microphones have different pickup patterns. This refers to how they pick up sound. A cardioid (a.k.a. unidirectional) pattern is heart shaped; it picks up most sensitively from the front and the sides, but not much from behind at all. They are good for live miking of vocals.

Figure 5.1. Microphone on mike clip on mike stand.


Two mikes are commonly used for rock: The Shure SM57 microphone is better for instruments, and the Shure SM58 is the standard for vocal. Both are reasonably priced ($120 to $170 new, way cheaper used). An even better vocal mike is the Sennheiser 835, which lists for $280.

All three of these are dynamic mikes, which require no external power supply. The Shure 16AM-CHN is an example of a condenser microphone. These require a battery in the mike or line transformer/adapter/power supply box or Phantom Power (power provided by the mixing board), are more sensitive, and better for miking from further away, for instance, miking a whole drum kit from above, or for recording a band from the audience or from above the audience.

If you are using a powered mike, remember to turn the battery off when not using it or the battery will wear down faster. There will probably be a switch on the power supply box.

Figure 5.2. Generic Radio Shack mike with omnidirectional pattern drawn in.


Figure 5.3. SM58 with unidirectional pattern drawn in.


Many mikes have a switch on the side to turn the power off and on. This is useful when the mike starts to feed back. Feedback is the squeal you get when a microphone is pointed at a speaker, and the signal forms a feedback loop, getting louder and louder. You can cut this by cutting the switch off and back on or by moving the microphone away from the speaker. If you know this, you will get better at cutting it without thinking. Eliminating feedback is also the soundman's job, but do what you can from the stage to help him or her.

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