Ever wanted to know something about working with audio i.e. sound, music, stuff you hear? Well, here's a non-definitive but often detailed guide sharing some of the things we know that you may find useful. To get about use the menu below.
Updates added April 2010 then May 2014, then December 2015.
The information below is a guide - opinion only. Inclusion and links in this page do not necessarily mean endorsement of any of the products, companies or any guarantee of their suitability or reliability! This is up-dated but is soooo huge, forgive me for errors!
MP3, CD, tape, vinyl etc| TOP
There are increasing numbers of ways that audio is heard and produced on. The most common is digital audio formats like mp3, Apple's AAC and other similar formats. These are what are used for downloading audio from the web, iTunes and other music services. It's also the kind of thing that streaming services like Spotify use.
Still a cmoon format is CD which plays back digital sound at 44.1kHz at 16 bits. Basically the higher the bit-rate and the higher the kHz rate, the better the sound is and the nearer it is to the sound our ears hear in the world around us. When music is recorded today, it is recorded at a higher bit and sample rate than CD (eg 96kHz), and then 'downsampled' at the last moment to CD. Inevitably most digital recordings (even mp3) will record a higher quality of sound than analogue formats.
Tape does not sound so good because it is analogue. Analogue is not as good as digital in terms of quality of sound so that's why tapes do not sound as good as CDs. You are recording sound onto a piece of tape rather than onto a digital platform like WAV / MP3 etc.
Vinyl. Many DJs believe that the sound created by mastering (or producing your track) to vinyl is more pure than the sound created by CDs. This is because some vinyl allows the sound to be cut 'deep' into it.
Mp3s use compression techniques. So the sound is not necessarily as good as the same recording on CD. This is because compression means the sound is squashed and some frequencies, parts of the sound are cleverly removed to make the file size smaller. Some believe mp3s are as good quality as CD because the method of encoding (creating an mp3 file) is so sophisticated. Many would disagree saying that any compression of sound is bound to affect quality. The encoding method used by Apple and others (AAC) is regarded as being higher quality than mp3 (except for certain types of mp3 bitrates and formats)
Digital, analogue, studio music equipment | TOP
Thinking of buying some equipment on which to make music? There are many options, from digital pianos to synths to keyboards to soft synths (on you computer) to rack units to MIDI. What a minefield. Where do we start?
1. Digital Pianos. These emulate the sound of real pianos but are more portable. Many will also have extra sounds on them such as organ, strings and maybe even some styles like samba, pop, rock and so on which give you backing tracks in that music style and allow you to play along. Essential that you try these out before buying and consult. Good makes are Yamaha, Clavinova and Roland. Prices range from £600 to £6000! Essential that you get velocity sensitive keys - which means the harder you press down the key, the louder the sound!
2. Keyboards. And we're talking two types. First there are the models you get in schools which are aimed at non-musicians and have funky features like backing tracks for different styles such as hip-hop, drum'n'bass, metal etc. These are only worth considering with a low budget, or who like 80s style cheesey backing tracks..
The main types of (semi-pro and pro) keyboards are the ones worth considering. These feature 'sequencers' which allow you to make music tracks by giving you lots of different sounds and parts. This makes your keyboard an all-in-one music production unit if you want it to be. Essesntial is the ability to change settings / record / connect via USB.
For example, using the old Korg Triton as an example, you had a 16 track sequencer. This means you could record 16 different parts in a song.. so drums, hi-hats, brass, strings etc. Polyphony is the amount of notes that can be played simultaneously by the keyboard. You will also come across the word 'multi-timbral'. This basically means the number of tracks a keyboard can play simultaneously.
3. Synths. Very similar to keyboards but my definition of them would be more as units that enable you to shape and create sound, rather than as all-in-one music production units - so they often don't allow you to programme a song, as sequencers would. Examples include the Yamaha MO range, the Nord Lead 2, Nord G2, the Yamaha MS range, the Novation Supernova etc. These units create mostly dance music and urban music sounds and often have lower polyphony and no sequencer. This means they have to be used as part of a sound setup not as the only part. Again, USB connectivity is essential.
4. Rack Units. Are synths and keyboards that come in a unit but without a keyboard. They are often connected to and controlled from keyboards by MIDI (which we'll look at below). The advantage here is that you can buy a keyboard and lots of units rather than lots of keyboards. These are often used in studios where space is at a premium. For example the Korg Triton rack unit is cheaper than the keyboard version.
5. Soft synths live on your computer and are accessed by connecting a keyboard via MIDI or USB to your computer, or you can use your mouse and keyboard to play the sounds on the computer meaning no external units are needed. These soft synths are often used with audio editing software which we will look at later. Examples of soft synths are Emagic EVP88 (soft piano), Rebirth RB-338 (creating acid, trance, techno sounds), Reason, Ableton Live and many within programmes like Logic, Cubase, ProTools. Increasingly this is what is used because the sounds can be updated more easily and software exists beyond the sound itself so you can programme the sounds directly and upload.
6. Old skool all-in-one boxes. Not just a box but a box of sounds that can create music, has a sequencer but no 'real' keyboard but keys that work as a keyboard would. Examples of these are usually units for creating dance music on the fly. They are very good as cheap and basic units to learn and create on. Examples are the old but pretty cool Yamaha RM1X or the Korg Electribe, still a classic.
Encoding CD-RS, mp3 and more | TOP
Ever wanted to record your own CDs. Well, if you're not already then now is the time to start. Most people have computers with CD-R or CD-RW drives - or a separate drive to do the job. A CD 'writer' is a machine that creates a CD. The CD isn't the same as a commercial CD but is good quality. You can also record mp3 files (music files compressed and usually taken off the internet) and put them onto CD - or into an mp3 player such as Apple's iPod and a hundred different other mp3 players. Visit sites like www.soundclick.com, myspace.com, and youtube.com for some legal mp3s. Apple's iTunes is the market leader in legal downloads with an easy interface and iTunes easily downloadable from www.apple.com/itunes (for Mac or PC), but there are others. Remember that iTunes can download podcasts and video.
The advantage of mp3 is that file sizes are small (say 3.5MB - 7MB per song, as opposed to say 45mB - 70MB for a .wav or .aiff file used to burn songs to CD). MP3 players can download and upload songs from and into your PC using USB etc. MP3 players also store a lot of info (up to 40Gb = 10,000 songs) so you ain't gonna run out of songs in a hurry! Be aware that due to the proprietary ways of encoding (Apple uses 'AAC', Windows uses 'WMA') sometimes these 'mp3s' don't work on other software. So, for example, you can't play WMA files on an iPod. But you can convert them to playable formats. Remember that different mp3 encoders have different qualities and bit-rates. Ahigher bitrate will mean a higher quality (and a larger file size). There are also different technologies used to create mp3s and some of these are of a higher quality than others.
CD-R burning (or CD-R creating) software is freely available - iTunes from Apple is an excellent example of free software that is easy to use and powerful enough for many home users. There are many other PCor online programmes you can use. These all work in different ways and can write CD-Rs at speeds up to 40x (40speed). Don't worry about the technical side of that - it's fast. However, if you are recording audio, I recommend that you don't record on very high speeds because recording can mean the CD-R skips in many standard CD players. You can also get special audio CD-Rs - e.g TDK and Sony do them. Never use CD-RWs (re-writable) to record audio.
The encoding process of CD-Rs (and indeed commercial CDs) means that you must convert your audio to 16 bit 44.1kHz sound otherwise you will not be able to 'encode' or 'write' your CD-R. If you are recording several bits of audio a tip is that you use a software programme to try and get the sound level of each track at a similar level. An easy, (albeit unprofessional) way to do this is to use the 'normalize' function in software packages. For CD-Rs to be encoded for Windows, produce .wav files. Mac CDs need to have .aiff, .aif files (these are the same). Wav and Aiff files are simply digital files where you don't reduce the quality of the sound. iTunes and other programmes will also encode to and from mp3 with varying levels of quality.
On both Mac and PC, the operating system itself lets you burn a CD. On the Mac this is a case of inserting a CD, then dragging the files onto the CD. Then clicking on the burn icon/option in the Finder window (or from the Apple menu). You can also create multiple session CDs. (CDs that you write to on more than 1 occasion). Specific CD writing software is recommended (Toast for Mac) and other programmes like Nero for PC are great.
Music software | TOP
Comes in various forms and sizes! If you want some software to easily create some dance tracks then why not go for Dance Ejay, Rave Ejay or Hip Hop Ejay which enable you to quickly put together tracks for each genre of music. Other software includes Fruity Loops or the excellent Propellerheads Reason / equally outstanding Ableton Live. Logic Pro X has some incredible features and is my software of choice on the Mac. But find what is right for you and the style of music you're recording / creating.
There are different fun kinds of software such as Create Pop Sensation allowing you to create a pop band and tunes. Just have a look around in music catalogues for more!
Apple's bundled 'ilife' software called 'Garage Band' is increasingly very helpful for ideas or even recording. This amazing bit of kit allows you to create and record (via MIDI or audio) a great number of sounds. You can increase tempo, change the key and more on the fly (instantly without rendering). It also has some amazingly warm virtual (software based) guitar amps to allow you to plug your guitar into the Mac and then create some amazing music.
More serious software is for semipro and pro musicians to create, edit and shape sound in a much bigger way. Low cost versions of sequencing software (allowing you to create tunes with 8, 16 parts in) include Logic Express or Steinberg Cubasis (or other 'LE' versions). These allow you to get sound into your computer and then process the sound by adding basic effects, changing volume etc. You can use these programmes to create audio that you can then burn to CD.
More high-end software is Cubase, Logic Pro, Pro Tools and others. Logic is Mac only, Cubase is an equally good product. The other products commonly used for mastering (finishing) sound is Pro Tools by Digidesign - download free software from their web site - www.digidesign.com
If you are looking to produce more dance music stuff then Ableton Live and Propellerheads Reason are the way to go.
Getting music into a computer and MIDI | TOP
MIDI is a way of transferring digital information between digital devices such as keyboards and computers. The cool thing about MIDI is that it can also be used to control digital devices. For example you can operate and call-up sounds from your keyboard using Emagic Logic or any other MIDI software. You can control other aspects of sound as well. An advantage is that when you record audio into your computer it takes up a lot of space. When you bring in MIDI information, the sound is not physically stored on your computer but still on the keyboard. You can also manipulate the MIDI sound. However, if you want to use effects then you have to record sound into your computer as audio.
Another thing is General Midi (GM). These sounds are standard on most computers and keyboards and include a range of sounds like drums, piano and more. Although not great, these sounds can be very useful and are used to play back General Midi files which you may have come across (also known as SMF files, standard midi files). SMFs are songs people have written using the GM sounds. For example, someone may have remixed a Matt Redman or Graham Kendrick song on GM. You can either buy or download it, then play it back on your PC or save it to disk and put it into your keyboard then play it back from there. When loaded into your keyboard, because the basis of the song is there, you can adjust the GM sounds to create your own 'remix' of the song. This depends on how the MIDI file was saved. It is not always possible
To get MIDI into your computer you will obviously need a MIDI connector. The main way is by getting what's called a 'system compliant' USB-MIDI keyboard which should be just about every keyboard available. This is a keyboard that you plug into your computer and the MIDI signals are sent up and down the USB cable into and back from your computer. No other 'drivers' (software that allows the keyboard to work with your computer) are needed. Try M-Audio among other companies for this. MIDI keyboards offer varied options form basic to more advanced MIDI. All keyboards are now USB based.
The other method (for older keyboards) comes in various disguises such as on a PCI card (the slot in the back of your computer) or USB-MIDI, which is what I'd recommend as its easier.
MIDI transmits info between your keyboard and your computer. If you have a pro keyboard, you can record your MIDI information to your PC. This way of doing MIDI means that instead of saving audio files to your computer (which takes up space), you can just save information such as what sound the computer should play back, how and when (taking up much less space!!). If you are using your MIDI keyboard to access soft synths (sotware synths that live on your computer) then it is much easier to play back sounds rather than manually clicking on virtual notes on a virtual (computer based) keyboard via your mouse!
Another use for MIDI is for control of aspects of your music production. MIDI can control volume, pan (left or right speaker), the position of data sliders (which affect the sounds on your keyboard) and more. A common use in studios is to control and communicate with outboard (not software) digital mixing desks such as Steinberg's Houston interface.
Getting audio into your computer is different. If you have a Mac you get a high quality stereo in and out connector built in. Basic interfaces allow you to record a couple of channels and often have a mic (XLR) specific channel.
If you need to get more than one input at a time, get specialised audio interfaces (eg from MOTU) which will enable you to record multiple tracks at once.
Some ways to use music | TOP
1. Get clips of preachers and edit them to get the essential points
2. Get clips of speakers and put music under them to create a good atmosphere. You can always do this live
3. Produce your own tunes and get them to sound semi-professional4. Remix Christian songs and then use them for worship with the young people. Since 1997 I've done around 60 Christian songs in dance music, breakbeat, trance, ambient, hip-hop, funky, Caribbean, rock remixes.
5. Empower your young people to both learn about using music software, and get them to produce their own music, record it and put it onto CD. Do this with your own music.
6. Do music and then put this over a video you have produced with the young people
7. Sync music and video together so that one compliments another. Do a song with lyrics and get the video to reflect the lyrics (we've done this with a remix of Slim Shady by Eminem). You can also do lip sync videos.
8. Most importantly, all this is from and for God. God has to be the centre. Everything is submitted to him. He is over all. None of this can become an idol. I want God to be first and foremost in all things in my life.
Some hints when producing music | TOP
1. Listen to professional recordings in the style of music you are producing in. How do they do it?
2. Use sounds that compliment each other and use different parts of the sound frequency and range
3. Use panning (left and right) to help sounds stand out in a mix and give a stereo feel
4. Poor equipment can't be rectified by high quality software and mastering
5. Thinks about levels of sound - how loud each track is. Mix them in as you would like, as feels right and as the professionals do
6. Listen to your music on as many different mediums as possible, home stereo, car stereo, PA etc. to make sure the levels are correct
7. Listen for any clicks, pops, hisses, especially if you have recorded vocals then get rid of them!
8. Use graphic EQ, compression carefully on each track and then on the finished track if needed
9. Try to avoid the sound being 'muddy' i.e. with little clarity - too much reverb can cause this
10. Mix live instrumentation with sampled and electronic sound
11. To make digital sound become less digital, to expand the mix and to make tracks stand out, think about using effects such as delay, reverb, compression, chorus, detune etc.
12. Try not to take one beat and simply loop it through a track. If you do this, remove parts of the drum beats at specific moments (perhaps before going into a chorus)
13. Think about how to build a track up so not everything kicks in at once
14. Beef up bass drums and bass by using 2 at the same time (make sure they don't clash)
15. When using vocals a common technique is to have the same vocal panned both hard left and hard right on 2 separate tracks. Or overlay the 1 vocal sound onto 2 tracks to give more body. Or get the artist to record the same part twice and pan one mix left and one right. These kinds of techniques are also used on guitars, (especially acoustic ones) to bring real stereo feeling to the sound
16. Don't just use the in-built keyboard sounds, tweak them and make them your own, distinctive
17. Using compression on bass guitars and drums gives a lot of 'punch'. Vocals need compression
18. Use reverb and chorus to add a bit of sparkle to your tune.
19. A good mic is essential. Use a recording type mic rather than a live stage mic (the basic Rode diaphragm micss are good). You will also need a standmount to clip the special mic clip onto the mic. These mics are sensitive so handle with care!
20. If two sounds seem to 'clash' in a mix (eg bass drum and bass guitar) then add a little bit of reverb to one of the sounds or a tiny amount of delay. This should help a little.
Pray before you start!
What is graphic EQ, compression, effects? | TOP
Graphic EQ - this is about the sound spectrum that you hear in music and the world around you. At its most simple it's about bass, mid and treble. Most stereos and car stereos now have graphic EQs built in. These change the sound by altering different frequencies. It is important in studio and live sound for various reasons.
Studio sound - alters the dynamics of an individual sound. It can add more bass or add more sparkle to the treble, without making it too harsh. It can reduce the muddiness of a mix, help eliminate the pop on a mic or subharmonic sound that isn't necessary etc. It can also help certain parts 'stand out' in a mix. You can make vocals sound different, bring them to the front or rear of a mix. By recording instruments and vocals, and boosting or cutting around certain frequencies, you make sounds more clear. There are 2 types of eq - regular graphic EQs and parametric EQs. Parametric EQs are better and more advanced. When using other effects, use EQ first.
Examples of EQ-ing - Cutting at 150Hz-300Hz (or up to 800HZ) may cut out muddiness from a mix. To give the mix more sparkle, boost at around 6kHz, 8kHz or 10kHz. Cut EQ on tracks at 30-35Hz to eliminate these deep sounds you can't hear. This can act as a boost to bass. A boost at 6kHz can add life to a guitar or vocals. To help eliminate pops from vocals, cut the vocal track at around 50Hz. To help reduce sibilance (the 'ssss' sound on vocals), cut around 6-8Hz. To give vocals a more up-front sound, boost around 100-250Hz. To add some body to vocals you can boost 1kHz to 6kHz range. The deep boom on drums is around 50-80Hz, as it is on bass guitars. A tip is to not boost bass and drums at the same frequencies as one cancels the other out, actually reducing bass. Use EQ sparingly. Some pop producers give songs a big cut in EQ around 400Hz-4kHz. You can cut around here and increase around 4-8KHz to sometimes increase the 'perceived loudness' of a track.
Live sound - much of the above is true for live sound. The other advantage of having a 31-band graphic EQ for live sound is the ability to get rid of feedback noise. What you do is create feedback by speaking into a mic (for example) then turning up the sound until it feeds back. As it feeds back, you cut out frequencies one by one until you get rid of the feedback. Don't cut too many frequencies as you'll lose the dynamic of sound. Cutting out feedback means the PA can go louder without feedback.
Compression - this is about what it says, compressing the sound, reducing the difference between the loud and soft parts of a song. There are many benefits to compression. The 'tight' bass drum or bass sound you hear on all tunes is partly through excellent compression. It gives a punch to sound. Compression is also essential on vocals to maintain a consistency in volume of sound and to aid the overall vocal sound. Compression will aid in levels as evening up the overall levels of the song means you can boost the volume further, to maximise the sound, without distorting the song.
Basic idea is a ratio of say 2:1 will compress the signal to twice the input signal. The threshold setting is the level at which compression kicks in (so -19db will allow more sound through than -3db). The attack is how quickly the compression acts on the signal so if it's 0ms or automatic it will be almost instant. The release (also called decay) is how quickly the settings are released from the initial action on the signal. So, a faster setting will mean the compression decays quickly, 10ms will allow a little bit of time before the compression is released. Hope that makes sense!
For brief help, compress drum tracks at ratios of 5:1 to 8:1, set attack to 5ms, release (decay) to 10ms and the threshold at around -15 to -19db. For vocals compress at say 4:1 (though you may go higher with the compression ratio), set the threshold at around -3db (though you can increase this) and attack and release to automatic or lowest setting. For the whole track try ratio 2:1, attack and release at fastest/auto and the threshold at -5db to -9db. If you want to only use compression over the whole track, not individual tracks. Just experiment and see.
Other Effects - to add a bit of sparkle, experiment with effects, especially if you have a software based system. Use reverb on vocals (always, to some extent) to give presence. Not too much else the mix becomes muddy. You can also add reverb to a whole mix of a song (to all the tracks) to give it life. Adding chorus can also do this. If you want to cut EQ on part of a track that is 'muddy' use a good grpahic EQ - then if you have the tool, boost the frequency that's been cut with reverb. So, you cut (reduce) EQ at say 400Hz - 2 KHz. Then add some EQ at 400Hz - 2KHz. Just a creative idea posted by someone from sphereofhiphop.
Other good tools are multiband compression, stereo/aural exciters and various mastering effects to give your mix that more professional sound. If you are serious about mastering (producing 'finished' tracks) then seriously consider mastering hardware devices like the TC Electronics Finalizer Express (www.tcelectronic.com) or the software plug-ins from Waves (http://www.waves.com) such as the L1 Ultramaximizer. All these are expensive but expand and excite the sound amazingly. They also maximise the 'perceived loudeness' of a song. So if you put a professionally mixed sound against your well-recorded mix you'll find your song sounds a little less bright and not as loud. This is where the L1 or L2 Ultramaximizer really comes into its own and is worth its weight in gold!
What about PA equipment and sound? | TOP
Need to buy some PA (public address) equipment to add volume to your work or to enable you to have a band etc? Here's some tips, tricks, hints and ideas for you..
For more on choosing a PA and setting up a PA, click on the left menu for our specific guide or click here...
A PA setup will include 2 speakers, a power amp (to power the speakers), a mixer (to allow you to input lots of channels of sound and instruments) and the connecting leads. It may also include sub-bass speakers, graphic EQ, effects units, speaker stands and foldback monitors (the things on the front of stages that allow artists to hear themselves and the music).
A good option to consider is using Wireless technology such as are made by Mackie or by Behringer. These will allow you to use an iPad as your mixing desk and come with effects. They are slightly more pricey than a regular mixer but gives you the flexibility to move around the room and do the sound via iPad over WiFi (a WiFi signal that is put out by the desk and doesn't rely on you having a general WiFi signal).
Shop around but don't scrimp on quality. If speakers are cheap it's because they're nasty! Consider makes such as Mackie, Yamaha, RCA, EV, DB Technologies, JBL etc.
Always get a decent power amp that will give you more power than your speakers handle, but one that has a cutoff should things start to clip and get too loud. This is to make your sound as efficient as possible and in case you want to add sub-bass speakers that will also need powering.
Mixer - A high recommendation is the outstanding and very high quality Mackie, or even Allen & Heath if you have lots of dosh. Behringer do a wide range of products, mainly copies of other products. For occasional use, Behringer can be cost effective. If using a mixer a lot, avoid and use Mackie or Soundcraft. A more expensive option is to go for a digital mixer (better sound quality and more options). Consider getting one with effectrs built in to use reverb with vocals especially.
Foldback monitors are also a great idea - or in-ear units. Without these, the artist on stage can find it very difficult to hear the sound as the main PA speakers should always be positioned in front of them to minimize feedback. (You can use in-ear monitoring instead but it's expensive!) Speaker stands can help - get ones with pins to lock the speaker stands to keep them safe from falling. Graphic EQs are a good idea - get stereo 31 band ones - again, they are commonly available. Behringer do a wide range of well-priced products to help you with live sound. Separate effects/reverb, noise gates or compression unit(s) also make a significant difference.
When using a mixer, make sure you get the input levels into the mixer at their optimum point and then leave space on the mixer faders for the ability to increase the sound if need be. Try to keep levels under the red lights on the mixer. Having a mixer with sub-groups can help. These are useful for example if you have 2 bands say on at different times. Instead of turning down all the faders belonging to that band, you assign the faders at a sub-group and then turn down the subgroup faders. Easy!
REMEMBER - Get the very best cables and leads that you can. Remember that Jack leads lose quality over lengths of 10m and will be subject to potential radio interference. Using balanced jack leads (as opposed to the cheaper 'unbalanced' leads), or preferably XLR leads will solve this problem. But don't scrimp on your costs. With home hi-fi, it's recommended that at least 10% of the budget goes to cables. The minimum is same for your PA. You will save yourself a lot of time and trouble if you buy quality cables. Make sure cables are as short as possible, that they are shielded, and are good thick cables. No more cheapy cables. Cheap cables = hum, noise, feedback and bad sound.
Microphones, radio mics etc. | TOP
Like everything, buying a mic involves getting what you pay for! You pay cheap you get nasty! You pay good you get quality! My recommendation is the Shure SM58 microphone for most stage and vocal usages. It's got a great sound, is used by many professionals and most importantly is got a rugged construction. It's not the cheapest mic but you shouldn't have to pay more than £85 or less for the mic. If your budget is less, the Sennheiser 'E' range is also very good (the high end of this range out-performs the SM58 but is more expensive).
There are many different kinds of microphone 'patterns' (the patterns of sound the mic picks up). First there is an omnidirectional mic. As the name suggests, the 'omni' means 'all' so the mic will pickup sounds from all sides of the microphone. Obviously, these will pick up lots of other sounds around the mic that you may not want (called 'ambient noise').
There are other mics called 'unidirectional' mics. These come in different shapes and forms (called 'cardioid', 'supercardioid' or 'hypercardioid'). Unirectional means that the mic only picks up sound from specific directions. So, unlike the omnidirectional mics, the unidirectional mics will not pick up sound coming from 'behind' the mic, but only the immediate area in front of the singer's mouth. The main ones are called 'cardioid' mics (such as the very good and very famous Shure SM58). These reject a lot of the other sound from around the mic (unwanted sound coming into a mic from other sound sources is called 'bleed'). The supercardioid and hypercardioid mics are much better where there are lots of other instruments or sound sources, as they have a much 'tighter' (narrower) pick up pattern. This means that even less other sounds can 'bleed' through into the mic.
The reason why it is important to avoid 'bleed' from one sound source into another is twofold: firstly, it can cause feedback (the high screeching, whistling sound), and secondly, if you are recording or wanting a high quality sound, it keeps each sound 'clean' and free from other 'ambient' noise.
Within these mics listed above, there are basic microphone 'transduce'r types: dynamic and condenser. A 'transducer' is the way that a microphone works to pick up the sound. Don't worry about how these work. However, dynamic mics are much better for live work with vocals and big sounds. Like the SM58, they are rugged and can take a lot of knocks and keep on working! Condenser mics are more sensitive, and need something called 'phantom' power to work. These can be found on mixer desks and will need to be switched to 'on' for a condenser mic to work.
The larger diaphragm condenser mics are the ones you find in recording studios. These provide very real and excellent upgrades in sound for singers and for instruments. These are the mics you see 'popstars' and recording artists using in studios - and are more expensive and better quality. These give a wider dynamic range (say for example 60Hz to 20 kHz) and give a warmer sound generally than stage mics which are designed to 'cut through' the frequencies at a live gig. Excellent mics are the Rode NT1A or 2, Rode NTK, the AKG C1000, C3000 range and the Neumann U47 and U87 (very expensive!)
Bear in mind the SM58 is what's called a 'dynamic cardioid' mic which means it picks up sound near the mic only. Other vocal mics are what's called 'hyper-cardioid' which means that you need to be nearer still to the mic. The advantage with these is that because you sing nearer to the mic, you give off and get less feedback.
Other mics you may see are 'gooseneck' mics (the twisty ones you see in traditional pulpits), 'rifle' or 'shotgun' mics which point towards a subject and mostly shut-out extraneous sound to the left and right (for example say you were filming and recording an owl up a tree and wanted to hear only the owl. Take note these do not 'fire' the sound forward, they are just direction specific), and 'boundary' mics, which you can put on the floor and it picks up the sound from around it (these are of course omnidirectional and usually fairly average quality).
Radio Mics come in two forms with 2 types of frequencies. The 2 forms are diversity and true diversity. These basically mean they have 1 or 2 aerials. 2 aerials is better as it means more consistent sound. The 2 frequencies are UHF and VHF. Basically the oldder / cheaper mics are VHF and you choose between 5 registered frequencies. The UHF radio mics run on a different frequency band and are less prone to 'dropouts' than the VHF ones. ('Drop outs' are when the sound cuts off).
Then your options are handheld mics, lapel mics or head band mics - depending on whether you're (a) a rapper, (b) a preacher, or (c) a fitness instructor. Many speakers are now using mics that discreetly fit tightly to the face, rather than tie clip mics, which are easily knocked and banged around. If you have the money, go with headset mics.
Quality makes include the AKG range, the Shure SM58 true diversity mics, Sennheiser and Audio-Technica. Expect to pay over £200 for good radio mics, over £300 for the top quality ones (such as Sennheiser).
Recording sound, the options | TOP
There are 2 options when recording. Do you want to record everything onto one track or do you want the ability to record individual tracks so you can edit the sound levels at a later stage? The second process is what's used to get live recordings at big worship events. The process usually involves going away and editing, adding, even replacing sound. Once this is decided, the options are tape based recording, minidisc, hard disc or computer.
Mini disc units offer better quality but do compress sound so you will lose some quality. Remember that you often need special minidisks that are more expensive than normal ones. You can also get CD recording units, with up to 16 tracks, but you will be more time limited, so recording a 2 hour wedding may not be possible.. Hard disk recorders are the better option (more room and potentially better sound quality) There are now many hard disk recorders that are fairly cheap and high quality - see any music site for more.
The advantage of recording sound live properly is that you can record individual channels. So, for example, you have a band with drums, 2 guitars, 1 bass and 2 singers. Each of those will have an individual 'channel' on the mixer. So, you would need a recording unit that would have at least 10 channels on it. Each of those 10 channels would have given you the ability to independently record each channel. This would enable you to change the levels, the EQ and the overall sound on the recording, once you had recorded the sound.
Companies such as MOTU do digital interfaces that connect to your computer via Firewire. I use one of these units and connect live sounds into the MOTU firewire unit. These then go into my computer (up to 12 simultaneously) and record into a software programme (I use Logic). I set up Logic so that each track records a different channel on the MOTU unit. So, for example, 2 lead singers are hooked into channels 1 and 2 on the MOTU. I then setup Logic to accept an audio signal from the firewire connection coming into my laptop. Then on Track 1 in Logic, I tell it to receive 'input 1' and tell track 2 to receive 'input 2' and so on. This was done on a project to record a school choir, and on another for a CD single for a charity.
Sound and USB / bluetooth / wireless connectivity | TOP
At my church, both the sound and the words are controlled via an iPad which connects to the mixer / projector wirelessly.
The outstanding Mackie (and the less but cheap Behringer) both produce mixers that can be controlled wirelessly by an iPad. This gives the operator the ability to be anywhere in the room and doesn't limit them to sitting behind a PA desk! This also frees up space in the room (no laptop or computer needed for words either).
If you are considering buying a PA for live sound in a church context, this is increasingly an option to consider.