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Updated: Sep 11, 2020

In another compelling delve into the day to day world of Audio industry blather, John reacts to something he saw on social media...

I was reading a Facebook thread the other day that happened to be talking about the Shure SM58 microphone. Ok, ok, I know - before you start, no I don’t spend my life reading about gear. It just popped up. I can’t remember what prompted me to look - I think it was about it being more than 50 years me.

Anyway this thread was a platform for ‘those-in-the-know’ giving it the big one about how it’s not that much cop compared to this that and the other, and about how the less well-informed are just using it ‘cos of its name and how they’re stuck in the past, and they’re Luddites and they know nothing about tech, blah, blah and thrice, blah.

I didn’t join in the thread. Arguing on Facebook threads is about as profitable a way to spend your time as counting flies around a horses tail in summer, so doing it about a microphone would be, well...worse...I suppose. I did read it all, though. The oozing of smugness, the private knowledge of the audio cognoscenti and the rolling of superior eyes at the sad, bovine stupidity of the crowd - it was all there.

Rather than join in and waste my time, I thought I’d say something here. I’m just a bit older than the SM58, you see, so I’ve seen and used my share of them over these last 40 years. I’d estimate that more than 95% of those gigs have seen my ever-ageing chops thrust up closely to an SM58.

Two memories sprang to mind as the thread went on. About eight or nine years ago, I was doing a gig up North. It was an acoustic trio, playing at an awards night in a medium-sized hall with a rake of seats. The main band had finished and gone for dinner and the three of us were left with the engineer to run a quick soundcheck. I knew from the get-go that he was having problems. I also knew that he knew that I knew he was having trouble nailing it. It was a very live room. I also knew that the doubtless cutting-edge microphone wasn’t cutting it for my big gob. So I told him. And he told me what a very expensive mic it was and how he’d just finished using it on tour with some famous female singer. I asked him if he had an SM58 in his box and he flinched and sighed and said OK. He was still shaking his head as he plugged it in. When I started singing, a photographer who’d been sitting quietly on the front row watching proceedings, looked at me and smiled a big wide grin. He was clearly astonished at the difference. We did the gig, I thanked the engineer for doing a good job (he apparently did a great job) and he was magnanimous enough to concede that for me, for my voice, my delivery, my exhalation of air, from my lungs, my tunes, the SM58 had done the job.

Last year in Milton Keynes, at an excellent venue, with a full six-piece band, I could tell that a similar thing was happening. I gave a chance to the microphone I’d been given and then, after not enjoying the monitoring and being advised by a colleague that it wasn’t too good out front, I asked the same question. This time the engineer just picked one straight out of his case and said it was no sweat, let’s give it a go. And lo - everything in the room was right.

Maybe this is all down to the fact that by using an SM58 all my gigging life, it has conditioned my voice AND my psyche AND the perceptions of others, to believe that it works, when really an alternative would showcase my thrashed old Welsh pipes in a far better way. Maybe it would, but I’ve yet to find or be able to afford it. Without doubt there are amazing pieces of hardware (and software) out there that can lift the voices of angels but there’s a technical and economic advantage to the near one-size-fits-all practicality of the SM58. Therein lies the answer to its endurance...

Yes, any number of Michelin-starred sauces probably taste better than HP, Lamborghinis go faster than Volvo estates, Stan Collymore was more skilful than Roy Keane and tigers are bigger than domestic cats but ask yourself why HP sells more, Volvo estates sell more, Roy Keane won more and domestic cats aren’t an endangered species?

Before you start...that was a rhetorical question. This isn’t Facebook...😎

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