I was just listening to a recording of a performance I did a few weeks back, and couldn't help but notice the ridiculously explosive P's and B's. I'd obviously like to avoid this. I can't recall ever seeing it, but do people use pop filters in a live/concert/performance setting? What is the reasoning behind using one or not using one?
I can't recall ever seeing it, but do people use pop filters in a live/concert/performance setting?
I see where you are coming from. We see all these vocalists almost eating the mic and screaming and doing things that should flood the sound with loud plosives, but they don't. And they are not using pop filters... Or are they?
In fact, they are using pop filters. Most of the well known vocal mics used for live performances have a built-in pop filter, you just can't see it because it is inside the grille.
For an example, let's see the SM58. It's no coincidence that it is one of the most (if not the most) used mic for live vocals. It has a lot of built-in stuff that helps with live vocals like shock-mount, bass rolloff, and pop filter.
Let's see another popular mic for live vocals: AKG D5
Rode implements internal pop-filters in their mics for live vocals too.
If your mic of choice doesn't have a pop filter you can get a windscreen, but be very careful, windscreens are generally designed to protect from strong winds, so they are much more thicker than your average pop filter, which means it might have a bigger impact in the tone of the voice. If you go this route, make sure you get a windscreen that is thin and/or doesn't impact the voice tone negatively.
The mic's grille can be designed to reduce plosives, like in the Audio-Technica ATM410 and other Audio-Technica models. I have no experience for this kind of anti-plosive approach, so I don't know how effective it is.
What is the reasoning behind using one or not using one?
The most effective way of dealing with plosives, by far, is the pop filter. The reasoning behind using one is having issues with high amplitude plosives. As we saw, popular professional vocal mics tend to have a built-in pop filter hidden inside the mic. If you have one of these mics, you are dealing with plosives without knowing it.
Some people find that some pop filters have a negative impact in the tone of the voice, so they might consider removing the pop filters but only if both the sound engineer and the vocalist know what they are doing. The vocalist needs flawless technique to make this work, both at singing (vocalist handling the plosives with his/her singing) and mic managing (distance from the mic and angle).
I personally think that the impact the pop filters found in live mics have in the tone of the voice is too small, small enough to be unnoticeable to most, and small enough to be drowned in the sea of other sounds of the live scenario.
In short, in my opinion, always use a mic with built-in pop filter unless you know what you are doing.
Compression works too
You can also use single band or multi band compression in the low frequencies to reduce plosives. This is less effective than the pop filters, and much more expensive and complex to implement.
This is normally done in combination with a pop filter, not as a substitute.
I was just listening to a recording of a performance I did a few weeks back, and couldn't help but notice the ridiculously explosive P's and B's.
Do you remember what mic you used? Maybe it didn't have a built-in pop filter. Maybe it did have pop filter but the plosives were amplified by other means (acoustics, equalization, speakers' frequency response).
Working in your singing technique will have a huge impact too.
In most live situations you would be using a dynamic microphone. The dynamic microphone equivalent of a pop filter is the the windscreen: http://www.sweetwater.com/store/detail/RK183WS?device=c&network=g&matchtype=&gclid=CPWZ29-ZkL8CFa9r7AodES4Apg
Most dynamic mics are built to take lots of abuse, so more nuanced considerations like pop filters are usually not taken into account. As far as I know most bands just deal with the P's and B's. It seems like a normal part of live sound to me.
Only the more expensive studio condensers and some live performance mics have good built in pop filters. Some vocalists don't have a big problems with plosives, but others like myself do. The built in pop filter on the SM58 is hardly sufficient - you can cut a piece of carbon fiber (about the size of a silver dollar), unscrew the mic grill - and push it up inside on the inside of the grill. Here is a video link: