Wireless Mic Techniques for Production

Introduction

In “Wireless Mic Techniques for Theatrical Production” we’ll investigate commonly used methods in theater for miking actors with wireless elements. As with much of the knowledge in the theater sound community, documentation is light and information is passed from technician to technician, so consider Masque Sound’s guide just that, a guide. If you have tips, tricks, or suggestions you’d like us to test and add to our guide, drop us a line!

When competing with high volume music and sound effects in musicals and plays, vocal reinforcement can be difficult. In order to accomplish the quality and level of audio necessary, actors are often fitted with their own microphone and wireless transmitter when on stage. Keep in mind, softer performances may not require this type of mic placement and those placements will not be discussed in this series.

The ideal mic placement on an actor is one that is almost invisible, is not changed by the direction the actor faces, and sounds as clear and consistent as possible. To conceal the microphone and wire, making it almost invisible, a variety of “arts and crafts” techniques are used, including painting, dyeing, taping, and others.  In order to maintain the mic’s relative position to the actor’s mouth, the mics are mounted on their head in a variety of positions. Clarity and consistency of sound is by achieved through trial and error – the microphone will respond to variations to each actor’s voice differently.

In theater, there are a variety of mic placements, but it is generally accepted that the best sounding placement is with an omnidirectional element on the forehead, just below the hairline where vocal resonance is created from the forehead and sinus cavity.  Mic placement as low as the bridge of the nose, and as far to the left or right, directly above the eye is not uncommon. Generally, the closer to the mouth the mic is placed, the louder and closer sounding the audio is. Each actor’s mic placement is situational, with the timbre and volume of the voice dictating where the mic is placed.

At times, based on an actor’s, director’s, or wardrobe issues, placement is less than traditional.  One such placement is over the ear which relies on the actor’s cheekbone for resonance instead of the forehead/ sinus cavity. The microphone will peek out an inch or two beyond the ear canal and follow the cheekbone line. If an actor’s costume wardrobe allows, mic placement may be achieved through eyeglass, hat, and lapel mounts, among others.

Wireless mic placement could be considered an artform, and responsibility generally falls to the show’s A2, with direction from the A1 and sound designer. “Wireless Mic Techniques for Theatrical Production” aims to document the most commonly used techniques in an effort to help all theaters and artists produce the highest quality sound and shows possible. To purchase any of the equipment featured in this series, visit our webstore, and reach out to Masque Sound’s experts with questions and comments!

Over the next few weeks, we will be publishing tutorials and descriptions of these methods, so stay tuned.

Wireless Mic Techniques for Production: The Halo Rig

The Halo Rig

halo_1

The halo rig is generally used in situations where temporary, less than perfect microphone placement is acceptable, like rehearsals, workshops, and short runs. This is a one-size-fits all approach, is quick and simple to prep, and is relatively easy to conceal on an actor.

The halo rig consists of a short (approximately 8″) length of elastic tied to an omnidirectional miniature microphone.  This length is tied on one end just behind the mic element, with the other end of the elastic tied approximately 8″ down the mic wire. Positioned around the actor’s head, the elastic and the mic wire run along either side of the head, forming a “halo” and placing the microphone element in optimal position.  This is the final product of the halo rig in the optimal position (for this actor).

halo_2

One of the hazards of using the standard halo rig is that if the mic wire used is not stiff, the mic will not remain in place. When the actor inevitably rolls the elastic up or down, the microphone position changes often causing the “unicorn” position pictured below. In this less than ideal position, the mic will point out from the head, causing a different level and frequency response to the actor’s voice causing an inconsistent sound.

halo_3

One way to avoid the microphone from shifting is to wrap floral wire around the last 1 ½ inches of mic wire, directly behind the capsule. Color  the floral wire section of the rig to match the skin tone of the actor with any number of arts and crafts techniques such as paint, tape, Hellerman sleeves or surgical tubing. Floral wire adds stiffness to the microphone wire and helps to prevent shifting. If the microphone wire is too thin, the wire used may need to be less than Masque’s available 24-guage in order to make concealment easier.

halo_4

Another way to keep the mic element in place is to add another knot to the rig.  This additional knot is placed about one inch behind the front-most one, and the mic wire is bunched up to create small upside down U shape which makes the mic harder to move from the optimal position.  This rig may be more difficult to conceal, depending on the actor, but may be more reliable since it is more difficult for the mic to point in a different direction.

DuncanHalo

In the event an actor’s hair is very short on the sides, making the mic wire concealment difficult, the lark’s head knot can be used. Using a length of elastic, create a loop that is snug to the actor’s head. Using a lark’s head knot, attach the mic to the elastic halo. This solution allows similar mic placement, but the elastic may be easier to conceal on the sides than the mic wire. If the actor’s hair is suitably long on top for mic wire concealment, the mic wire can run up and over the crown of the actor’s head and be tucked into the elastic band at the rear.

halo_6

Again, the halo rig is generally well suited for temporary mic placement. Easy to prep and simple to conceal, the halo rig is often used in workshops, rehearsals, and short run situations. Next week we’ll be discussing an alternative to the halo rig, the toupee clip rig. So be sure to tune in, and as always, we welcome your comments, questions, and blog coverage requests – just submit to our team!

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