Thursday, April 15, 2010

Why did late 60's/early 70's rock singers have two mics taped together?

I've been enjoying "Guitar Heroes at the BBC" on BBC4 where they compile clips from Whistle Test, Rock goes to College, TOTP etc. I've always wondered why rock singers from a period of only a few years would have two mics taped together. By the time I was paying attention in the late 70's the practice seemed to have stopped so I suppose it was a technical development that made the change.
I asked the question on Twitter and Facebook and got great rock'n'roll answers; " they could take it to 11", "early form of stereo recording" etc. In fact when I went back over my old BBC notes I had been told why they did it but only a few weeks out of university I don't think I understood common mode rejection!

Ronnie Van Zant of Lynyrd Skynyrd c.1973 - two mics!

So - having re-read my notes and had a trawl around the web (my word, there is some awful rot spoken by people who know very little!) here are the two reasons (and I'll list them based on the technology that fixed the problem), they both rely on the fact that the two mics are wired anti-phase to each other and the assumption is the singer sings predominately into only one of them (doesn't matter which).

1. pre-compressor/limiters you needed a way of loosing some of the induced stage and line noise - this does it.
2. pre-parametric eq - you needed a way to reject howl-round and this does it.

So - you mix the anti-phase feeds in two channels on the desk and all noise/feedback etc gets canceled and the voice (predominantly coming down one feed) remains. Interestingly another technique to gate a mic is to have either an optical detector on the mic stand or a pressure mat in front of the mic which mutes the channel when nobody is near the microphone.

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