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Evolving Traditions in Pulpit Miking

John McJunkin • July 2019Sound Sanctuary • July 15, 2019

t seems that in this modern age, pastors are energetic, free-roaming individuals who don the wireless headworn mic and refuse to be shackled to the pulpit. Stand in one place while delivering the message? They’ll do no such thing! You may want to keep an eye on them — they might end up scaling the trusses to get a rise from the congregation.

Or maybe not. There are certainly examples of traditionalists who actually prefer to stay put. They step up to the pulpit, open the Scripture, and get busy addressing the congregation. There are some that may occasionally take a step or two away from the podium, but they tend to get there and stay there. So how do we audio types deal with this increasingly rare, stationary creature? How do we mic up this motionless minister for clear, high-quality speech transduction?

I’ll limit our discussion here to stationary microphones, with only peripheral mention of mics that may stray away from the pulpit. We’ll look primarily at gooseneck mics and mention the notion of redundant miking with lav or headworn mics as well. First let’s bolt down some terminology. We’re using the term “pulpit”, but you may also hear it called the “podium” or the “lectern”. The latter two terms are used more commonly in the secular domain, but all three refer to essentially the same thing. Fixing the position of the mic offers some advantages: greater gain before feedback, potentially higher-quality mics, and the likely elimination of wireless technology. There are some drawbacks too: the pastor has zero mobility, podium mics can be perceived as antiquated, and capturing consistent levels can be challenging with a pastor who exhibits a “bob-and-weave” speaking style.

‡‡         Position That Mic

So how do we get our mic positioned so as to effectively pick up the voice of the pastor? There are three common options. Almost certainly the most common is the gooseneck mounted in the podium. There are a couple of types of mount — proprietary or an XLR connector that not only physically holds the mic in position, but also provides the electrical connection through which the signal flows. Either way, the mechanism through which it attaches to the pulpit must provide some kind of shock-absorptive suspension to minimize the thump and bump created by hands or other items placed on the pulpit. The purpose of the flexible nature of the gooseneck is to facilitate quick, easy adjustment to the proper height for the speaker. There are modular systems in which the mic capsule is separate from the gooseneck support, and there are mics in which the capsule and gooseneck are integrated together into one unit. There are also several varieties of gooseneck available, with various combinations of rigid and flexible segments. Modular goosenecks can be spendier, but it’s nice to only replace a component that’s failed, versus the entire system.

A second option for mic positioning is a traditional microphone stand. One positive here is that since the stand is physically separated from the podium, the rumble and thump created by physical interaction with the pulpit is all but eliminated. A negative is that two objects must be moved if the pulpit is not to remain stationary during services. Also, a separate mic stand represents additional visual clutter on the platform.

The third, and least common mic positioning mechanism is suspension from above. One reason it’s less common is that it usually requires some professional design and execution. Also, a mic that is slender enough to avoid aesthetically displeasing visual obstruction but is of high enough quality to capture voices effectively will likely be a little spendier.

‡‡         Pattern Preferences

The pulpit mic constrains the pastor’s mobility, but how much? Tighter cardioid patterns can deliver more gain before feedback, but at what cost? Forcing the pastor to lock into a tightly constrained physical stance to stay within the narrow pickup pattern is less than optimal. The choice of an omnidirectional pattern is also probably not a great idea in relation to feedback. So a middle-ground approach is probably best — a straight-up cardioid should create a broad enough pickup stage to facilitate a little motion on the part of the pastor. Proximity effect is an issue as well — if the pastor can hear their voice as presented by the audio system, they can likely calibrate an appropriate distance from the mic to avoid boominess. Similarly, plosives can pose a problem. It’s not practicable to use a big round pop filter like we do in the studio, so the little ball of foam is likely to be seen — but hopefully not obtrusively so. Nothing screams “antiquated mic technology” like a big ball of foam obscuring half the pastor’s face.

‡‡         Frequency Response

As is usually the case when we’re attempting to achieve maximum gain before feedback, the spectral response of the mic is important. There’s no need for a DC-to-visible light response. Shaving off everything above 12k Hz is not going to draw complaints, and unless the pastor has a powerful, rich bass voice, you can probably also filter everything below 100 Hz or even higher, particularly if the mic exhibits strong proximity effect. Limiting the potential for feedback is always a good thing.

‡‡         Doubling Down

As a kid, I always wondered why I couldn’t perceive the voice of the president dancing across the stereo image as he spoke into those two mics at the podium. As an adult professional, I now know that those mics are not panned in the mix — they’re both there to create a redundancy. If one fails for any reason, the other offers an instantaneous backup. This is not a bad idea for critical applications or VIP speakers. Another way to help ensure continuous operation through technical challenges is to place a lav or headworn mic on the pastor to backstop the pulpit mic. Of course, the mixer will want to choose one or the other — blending both will result in comb filtering. This type of redundancy also facilitates a little stroll away from the pulpit if the pastor is so led.

‡‡         Look Ma — No Wires!

Most of the time, the signal from a pulpit mic will reach the mixer by way of cables. Most professionals agree that wired systems are more reliable, and avoid even the possibility of the RF interference that can plague wireless systems. On the other hand, a gooseneck pulpit mic that transmits to the mixer wirelessly is worthy of consideration for two principal reasons: it reduces the visual clutter of cabling, and can turn the entire pulpit-mic construct into a mobile unit that can be moved at the beginning and end of the pastor’s message if desired.

‡‡         Visual Considerations

One of the main benefits of placing a lav or headworn mic on the pastor is visual in nature. If it’s done right, it improves the visual aesthetic, eliminating less-than-attractive technology from the platform. If a pulpit mic is going to be used, the goal should be to reduce the amount of ugly as much as possible. Most gooseneck mics are available in visually indistinct flat or matte black, but other colors are available if they help to improve the aesthetic. Additionally, gooseneck mics have become more slender over time, which also helps. As mentioned prior, a narrow, less obtrusive foam windscreen is preferable over a big black Bozo nose. One other common application for gooseneck mics is around boardroom tables, in which case it’s nice to have a bright LED to indicate which person is currently speaking. We want no such thing on our pulpit mic, so either choose a model with no such indicator, or the capacity to semi-permanently disable it.

‡‡         Final Word

There is a surprising array of things to think about when considering pulpit miking, so it’s worth spending some time and engaging in some research before reaching any conclusions.

John McJunkin is the chief engineer and staff producer in the studio at Grand Canyon University.

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