Top 2 Gifts Every Singer Wants

Top 2 Gifts Every Singer Wants

Enough with the socks and gift cards!  Give the singers in your life something that they will actually use all year; a quality microphone to record their cover tunes, original tunes or their next album.

But how do you pick something great without having to do a bunch of research? (and who has time for any of that this month?) It’s easy to spend too much on the wrong stuff when it comes to musical gear.  But some things you just can’t cheap out on.

No worries.  I’ve put together of the best microphones that I’ve used professionally as an audio producer and vocalist and for fun projects like recording free demos for aspiring singers.  And being one half professional audiophile and one half frugal mother of four, this list starts at cheap and goes to moderately priced.

Which Price Range is Best for the Singer on Your List?

The lower priced items will get you good quality for any singer who sings for fun (not for money). They’ll be able to get a great sounding

If the singers on your gift list are recording a demo or an album, the higher end products I’ve recommend will give them a professional level result without slapping down thousands of dollars. (No, you really don’t need a $5,000 mic.  Someone would love to sell you one, but unless you make your living from singing and/or recording fulltime, it’s not time.)

Either way, the lower priced items will be a welcome addition to any singers gear bag, so if you’re like me (the half of me that strives so hard to actually stick to a budget) you can feel just as great if you have little to spend.  (I use affiliate links for a quick way to get you to the goods where I almost always find the best price. I make a few cents if you do, which is greatly appreciated.)

1. Microphones

THE BEST

Recording microphones are different from live singing microphones.  Most singers don’t have to supply their own live mics, but every singer needs a quality recording mic (aka condensor microphone).

I’ve chosen to include two microphone packages because they’re an incredibly good deal and the add-ons are well worth the price. You can also buy just the mic, but you generally won’t save much.

1. Rhode NT1-A with Focusrite Scarlet2in2 and shockmount

$375

The Rhode NT1-A has been a favorite of mine for decades.  I’ve used the whole series of NT’s in broadcasting, recording voiceovers in major studios and for recording vocals. Like all professional level mics it requires something that’s called ‘phantom power’.  But if you by the package you’ve got that covered.

This is not a USB microphone.  But the included Focurite Scarlett preamp connects it to a computer.  USB mics have come along way but a good preamp is still the absolute best way to get the purest sound for any recording that really needs to impress.

Why I Love This Mic
  • Rhode is a quality brand with a long history of making top of the line recording gear.  Other brands that are known for their professional quality include Audio-Technica, Sennheiser and MXL but compare apples to apples.  A $300 Sennheiser doesn’t compare to a $3000 Audio-Techica but it can with a $300 Audio-Technica.
  • Great for ignoring room sounds so you don’t record what you don’t want.  It might seem like any mic should do that, but there can be a wide difference in how well they do.
  • Picks up all the ‘sparkle’ in both male and female voices
  • This series has adds a nice warm feel to the voice.  In other words, it peaks the best frequencies in the lower end of the voice without making it sound muddy.  Mics in this price range should do this but different brands and price points affect how well they can pull it off.  This mic does an especially good job of this.

 

Why the Add-on’s are Worth It
  • Every recording setup needs a preamp.  If the singers on your list don’t do alot of recording on their own they either need a preamp or need a better one and they will LOVE you for this add-on!
  • The Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 preamp (aka ‘the red box’) is seriously the best preamp I’ve ever heard at this pricepoint.  To get better you’d need to spend in the thousands.  No joke.  I would buy this package just for the preamp. But my husband won’t let me.
  • The included Shockmount keeps the mic from picking up any sound from bumping against anything during recording.  High end mics generally come with their own Shockmount so it’s not really an add-on but it IS very essential. It’s a good $60+ value.
  • A Pop Filter keeps pops and clicks from getting picked up.  It is crucial to any high quality recording and it’s never bad to have an extra. It’s about a $20-30 value.
  • This package also comes with 20′ of Premium XLR(mic) Cable. Most singers will buy short, cheaper quality cable because they cost less, but cheap cables give out quickly and can add extra ugly noises into recordings.  Every recording singer eventually realized a high quality, long cable is what they needed all along.  This one is about a $20-30 value.
  • A Dust Cover for the mic is also included in this package.  I don’t know anyone who used dust covers in their studios. Most high end mics come with their own padded box but that’s really designed for engineers that have multiple microphones that need storing.  I’m guessing this is one area they cheaped out on to save themselves money on this package.  But that’s just fine.  A recording singer will usually only have one mic so they really don’t even need a box.  Chances are they won’t use the dust cover either.  But it does make your gift look larger!
  • Lower end companys won’t guarantee their product for very long but Rode’s included 10 Year warranty (when registered online) is proof that this is a quality mic.  They’re basically proving the mic will last ten years.  And it really will.
  • The monatarly value of the addon’s is around $100-150.  But the biggest advantage of buying this package is that the price of the microphone has come down in price.  The NT series of Rode mics used to cost over $500. Now you can get it for almost 50% off!

BUDGET FRIENDLY

On the lower end of the price range you can still find some high quality gems.  What’s the difference? Generally some of the parts are cheaper versions of the companies higher end products.  But that does have an impact on sound.

This particular mic has a much better sound than others in this price range but it generally won’t be as good as mics in a higher price range.

Audio-Techica AT2020

Why I Love This Mic
  • You’ll find Audio-Techica mics in any major recording studio.  They’re built well and sound great.
  • Though most AT mics in studios are the top of the line (and price point), the AT2020 is made with the same quality parts at an incredible price for the quality.
  • Most high quality mics will require something called ‘phantom power’.  If the singer on your list has a box or board they plug a mic into, they already have phantom power.
When the Add-on’s are Worth It
  • The included Neewer Suspension Boom Scissor Arm Stand and pop filter are perfect for those who record at a desk.
  • If recording is done standing, this stand will extend to a higher point.  This is great if you record next to a desk or surface you can attach the stand to.
  • This is a broadcast recording standard stand. It’s been used for decades in broadcast environments so it’s perfect for podcasts or recording done at the computer.  The standard vocal mic stand is tall and sits on the ground.  It’s all preference but this stand is inherently better built than a floor stand and can easily be moved out of the way or adjusted to different heights.
AT2020 Package – a really good deal

For $140 you’ll get the microphone (requires phantom power), suspension table mounted mic stand (mounts to table), pop screen (essential for recording) and cloth (that really does nothing)

Just the Microphone

$80  will get you the phantom powered microphone only (this is an amazing price btw)

$120 will get you the USB version of this mic that plugs directly into the computer.  Same mic but audiophiles (like me) will argue that the recording signal is always cleaner on the phantom powered mic but at this price range you won’t hear much difference.

TWO MORE OPTIONS WORTH CONSIDERING

1.  MIC ONLY 

Want to skip the add-ons?

You’ll still get a great price on the mic only (with shockmount and dust cover) for $230

2. GET THE PACKAGE PLUS A MIC STAND AND SOUND REDUCTION PANEL

Every recording singer absolutely needs a stand and some kind of sound reduction for recording.  SoundPROOFING is different (and isn’t really necessary for most vocal/singing recordings. Unless the singer on your list has built their own recording room (if they have, believe me, you’ve heard about it), they will LOVE YOU for these to added products. 

(I have 3 just incase I record more than one musician at a time.)

This stand runs around $20 and the sound reduction panel runs $100-150 just by itself.

For just $450 for this package, you’ll get up to $170 in added value for just $75 more than the basic package. That’s a really great deal!

2. HEADPHONES

THE BEST

Sennheiser HD 630VB Headphone with Variable Bass and Call Control

$399

Why I Give These Headphones My Top Review
  • Sennheiser is one of the brands you’ll find in every top recording studio.  Becuase the bulk of their products are for professional studios, their lower end products (yes, $400 is lower end for them) benefit from a compny who knows how to get the best sound.
  • The soft padding on Sennheiser headphones serves a much bigger purpose than comfort.  It’s designed and shaped to capture sound and redirect it for better quality.  This is not true of all other headphones.  Another reason to buy for a top company.
  • A unique feature to these headphones is the variable bass control.  If the singer on your list is mixing songs (working on recording themselves) they will be able to highlight the voice for mixing by turning the bass down.  Super handy!
  • These headphones also work with all smartphones so you can use them for great listening on your devices and when making and receiving phone calls.  Definition: they will never take them off.

(side note: Best Buy usually has these at a discount near the holidays.  But I’ve done the math and after taxes you’ll still pay the same or more than on Amazon)

 

MIDDLE OF THE ROAD

Sennheiser HD 280 Pro Headphones

$100

Why I Love This Mic
  • You already know why I love and recommend Sennheiser products. This mic is cheaper due to the ‘less bells and whistles’ standard for this price range
  • You won’t feel like the music completely envelopes you like in the 630VB’s but you still get great clarity with these headphones
  • The HD280 Pro headphones are also collapsable so they’re easier to carry around with you.
  • The padding on these is designed for comfort only.  And they’re very comfy!
  • Headphones take a beating.  But what you won’t find in most headphones in this pricepoint is a unique feature of the Sennheiser HD280 Pro Headphones: replacable parts!  This feature alone can be worth more than the cost of purchase if you’ll use it.
  • Of the other headphones in this price range at the time of writing, these are my top pick for bang for the buck.
  • These would be a budget friendly solution to listening to your voice while recording.

BUDGET FRIENDLY

Audio-Technica ATH-M30x Professional Studio Monitor Headphones

$58 (current sale)

Why I Love This Mic
  • If you were to buy the next model of these headphones, the ATH40x, you’d be back in the $100 price range.  And all you get for your extra money is a detachable coiled cord.
    But chose this model, which is almost exactly the same and you can save almost HALF!
  • The ATH30x’s are billed as professional studio monitor headphones.  This means they’re perfect for listening to your voice as you record. You can use them to mix music in a pinch but they’re better served as an entry level pair of headphones.  And at this price they kill the competition.
  • The ATH30x’s have a really strong midrange. which just means that the singer will be able to hear their voice a little better than other headphones in this price range that focu on accentuating the highs and lows.
  • These are made by a high end audio company so they tend to last longer and wear better than the competition.

Hey singers – what gifts would you put on your gift list?  Leave your list in the comments below!

Second trimester: Making the most of “the glow”

Second trimester: Making the most of “the glow”

Today I am 25 weeks pregnant. It’s taken a long time, but I think I’m finally in the stage which is commonly referred to as “the glowing period”. Perhaps people are just being nice, but I have been variously described as “glowing” “blooming” and “bonny’” in the past few weeks, which I’m taking as validation that I look as good as I feel!

Having had a rough ride in the first trimester, I’d like to take some time to record some of the positive things about this stage of pregnancy:

Skin changes

My usually oily skin and hair have dried out a bit, and oddly I hardly seem to sweat anymore, which means I can go 4 days without a shower. Result.

Motivation

I have literally never felt so motivated in my life. I am a goal-orientated person by nature, so the rush of positive hormones plus the inevitable impending deadline (must get everything done before the birth) mean that I am getting so much done at the moment.

Work projects, household projects, other people’s household projects, writing, recording, knitting baby blankets… you name it, I’m knocking it out of the park.

In addition to this, as I’m finishing existing projects I’m not starting any new ones (well, not work ones, anyway…) so my diary is looking clearer every day. I am eagerly looking forward to the day when I can delete everything entirely and legitimately concentrate on nothing but motherhood for a few months.

 

“Last chance saloon”

Not that I imagine that parenthood will be the end of all life and fun as we know it (quite the opposite, I hope and expect) but right now I am making the most of being able to go to the opera, museum exhibits and other cultural events without Baby Bignell screaming the place down.

My creative juices are flowing wildly, so I am soaking myself in culture and hoping some of it comes out in my own creative projects!

Body image

Pregnancy has become a normal state of being for me now, and I’m just reaching the stage where it’s less ambiguous to other people (I’ve lost count of the number of people I have caught looking at me quizzically, clearly thinking “is she? isn’t she?”)

It’s not that I forget I’m pregnant, exactly, but spending the day dressed in well-cut maternity clothes and with a mind often focussed on other things it surprises me at the end of the day when I undress the bump and look at it full-on in the mirror. I love my new shape – looking at my bump now almost makes me sad I won’t be pregnant for much longer.

There’s something very satisfying about having all these new curves (and not having to worry about body fat – pregnancy is the one time in life when you are forbidden to diet!) Looking at my body and knowing it’s doing what it is naturally designed to do – create and bring forth life – is very fulfilling when I take the time to reflect on it. I’m reminded of the times when, as a child, I would look in the mirror and poke my belly out to imagine what it would look like when i became pregnant. Now that day is here, and it really is magical.

So vocally, what is going on at this stage of pregnancy?

A problem for many women during the second trimester is pelvic pain, as the uterus expands more rapidly and requires the rest of the pelvis and abdomen to stretch and re-arrange itself. If this is a problem for you, try these tips:

  1. Lie on your left side on the floor, with a pillow supporting your head. Your lower leg should be straight and your upper leg bent at the knee at a right angle. Place a pillow or two in between your knees so that your hips are straight.
  2. Do your normal vocal workouts in this position, and notice which muscles want to get involved to “help” you make the sounds. This is important – you only need to engage the muscles inside the larynx in order to make vocal sounds, and any muscular tension elsewhere in your body (legs, abs, chest, neck, etc) should be much more obvious to you in this relaxed position.
  3. Actively relax those areas which want to tense up. You can choose any typical relaxation technique to do this. A popular technique is to tense the muscle for 5 seconds and then release it.
  4. Try your vocal workout again, asking your body to relax. Notice what differences occur in your body as a result of the relaxation and ‘re-setting’ process.

In this way you can not just “survive” the singing commitments you need to undertake while you’re struggling with aches and pains, but you can actually use your pelvic pain (or other aches and pains) to help you make valuable progress.

When you’re feeling 100% you’re less likely to notice tension in your body when you sing. When you’re in pain, you need your body to be as relaxed as possible, so you will be more aware of tension when it arises. However you’re feeling, extrinsic muscle tension will get in the way of healthy vocal progress.

Turn this challenge into an opportunity and watch what happens in your voice. Tell us by leaving your comment below.

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