Theater Microphone Application Guide

The choices for stage equipment, especially microphones, are numerous and in some cases, daunting to make. For a customer who only occasionally uses stage microphones, the differences in use between similar pieces can be difficult to remember. Here is a handy breakdown of common stage microphones courtesy of Zeo Brothers.

Wireless microphones are integral to modern theater productions. They allow performers free range of movement across a stage, allowing for greater interaction with other performers and with the audience. This is achieved by the microphone sending sound signals to its corresponding transmitter in a manner similar to radio. The transmitter then sends the signal to the audio consoles and then to the PA speakers. Wireless microphones come in various makes and models, each occupying a specialized audio niche.

Consider the following: Before we talk about microphones, we need to take into account various parts of a theater production.

  1. How large is the cast? Are there only a few main characters? Is production an ensemble piece? Is it a combination of the two? Knowing the cast size is critical to booking the microphones best suited to your needs and booking the correct quantity.
  2. What is the production aesthetic? Ordering the microphones for a hard rocking musical versus those for a historical drama can be like night and day. Certain microphones can look completely out of place in some settings while others fit right in with the stage props. Also take into account that certain microphones can cast a small shadow on the performer’s face and that lighting is a factor in choosing which microphones to rent.
  3. What is the direction of the production’s costume design? Is the clothing simple? Or will there be wigs, make-up, and extravagant costumes? It is a great idea to speak with the costume designer early about microphone placement, especially for performers playing lead roles. This can also alleviate budget concerns as costumes can be designed to conceal microphones and transmitter packs at the beginning of the rehearsal process instead of paying for alterations later. Additionally, the more extravagant the costume, the easier it is to conceal a body mic, but care must be taken so that the sound is not muffled by the costume.
  4. How physical is the performance? Are the performers rolling around on the stage? Are they messing up their hair or clothes for dramatic effect? Physicality plays a critical role in which microphones you chose to rent, and, in the case of lavaliers or body mics, if the microphone will remain successfully attached to the costume.

Types of Wireless Microphones

Beltpack Wireless Microphone Systems

Lavalier mics, also known as body mics, are specialized wireless microphones designed to be discreetly attached to a performer’s clothing. Speech is critical in on-stage performances, and this is even more so if the performer’s voice needs to be captured. The microphone is attached to the clothing approximately eight to twelve inches from the performer’s mouth. This ensures consistency in picking up the performer’s voice in addition to freedom of motion. A downside of lavalier microphones is the need for additional transmitters backstage.   

At Zeo Brothers, we stock 100+ units of Sennheiser Evolution series wireless systems.  We carry them in individual units, racks of 4, and racks of 8.  The racks of 4 and 8 units include antenna distribution systems for the best possible performance.  For an added upgrade, we also carry Sennheiser directional paddle antennas, for professional-level reception.  This antenna upgrade is highly recommended any time a rack of wireless is in use in city such as Philadelphia.

Headset or Earset Microphones

Headset/Earset wireless microphones are also another option. They are used in conjunction with the same belt pack wireless system shown above with the exception of the lavalier. These can be flesh-toned to blend in with the performer’s skin color. Headset microphones are ideal for vocalists as the microphone is positioned just near the performer’s mouth. Their disadvantage is the possibility of breaking up the aesthetics, especially for small productions.  

 

At Zeo Brothers, we stock several headset/earset options.

Budget level Earset: Samson SE10T (Tan color)

Professional level Earset: Countryman E6i (Black) or Countryman E6i (Tan)

Professional level Headset (more stable for dancers) Countryman Isomax (Black)

Hanging Microphones

Another common type of stage microphone is the hanging or “choir” microphone. These mics are suspended over the stage performers. They are best used for choirs or ensemble casts of multiple voices that do not move too much around the stage. The major drawback on hanging mics is their stationary nature at one point of the stage.

We stock the Shure MX202 Hanging Microphone for rental.

Floor Microphones

Hanging Microphones are often used in conjunction with a floor microphone, or PZM (pressure zone mic), which are placed on the stage edge.  These do a great job of picking up voices when an actor is facing the audience.  They are also ideal to pickup footsteps when dancing if desired, however this is also a drawback if this is not the desired result.  Another drawback is they are also very sensitive to feedback, especially due to their proximity to the main speakers from the downstate edge.

We have the Crown PCC-160, an industry-standard floor microphone available to rent.

PRO TIPS

  1.  48v Fantom Power must be turned on at the mixing console to power either Hanging or Floor microphones.
  2. When any microphone is not currently in use, mute it at the mixing console to avoid adverse effects such as feedback, or picking up unnecessary noise.
  3. The more microphones you have turned on at a time, the more likely the system is to feedback, so it is best to have as few microphones on as possible
  4. For handheld microphones, placement in relation to the performer’s mouth will depend on the performer’s experience using microphones as well as the power of their voice. Remember, consistency is key. If a performer cannot maintain vocal consistency with a handheld microphone, then a headset or attached lavalier microphone might be a better choice.
  5. Hanging microphones should only be set up after the show’s cast choreography has been set in stone. It is not easy to change the positioning of these microphones during a show, so knowing performer placement and choreography is critical for the placement of hanging microphones.
  6. Lavaliers can be easily hidden directly on top of the head within a performer’s hair or under a wig using some toupee clips. The small microphone wire can then be hidden through the costume and to the transmitter pack. Placing the microphone on top of the head has a few advantages. First, it guarantees consistency in the vocals because the mic is always the same distance from the mouth. Second, the performer will likely have fewer noise issues if the mic is places on the head because the mic is much less likely to fall off.

In the end, the best tip is to coordinate closely with all the departments in a production – audio, lighting, costume, set-design, cast, stage-management – to ensure that you know exactly which microphones you need for your theater production and for what. And after all that, watch your confidence grow!

Zeo Brothers stock a variety of stage mics for the needs of any theater production and is always available for real-time equipment advice.

Categories
Specials