A biographer of Frank Sinatra once commented that for singers like Sinatra, their instrument is the microphone. We tend to think of microphones as ideal transducers, picking up sound faithfully. But like most electronic components, microphones are imperfect. They have a varying frequency response. They pick up popping noises when we say words like “popcorn” that are normally lost to someone listening live.
[Cheddar] has an interesting video (see below) that covers how performers like Sinatra, Bing Crosby, and Billie Holiday learned to use the microphone to their advantage. They suggest that the microphone changed the way humans sing, and they are right.
Early recordings were mechanical affairs on wax cylinders or disks. This meant people had to all but scream into a horn to collect enough sound to move the recording needle. The invention of the microphone allowed singers to perform more naturally, but as the video shows, the best and most enduring singers learned to use the microphone to their advantage.
The video overlooks another key component, though, the sound engineer, who often would adjust things to get the best sound possible. If you are wondering who “Rudy Valet” is, we think they meant Rudy Vallée.