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Actor mics in monitors

Discussion in 'Sound, Music, and Intercom' started by Jon Majors, Mar 7, 2019.

  1. Jon Majors

    Jon Majors Member

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    My school is doing Les Mis and we will be micing 32 actors, using all 32 inputs on our M7. Would you put their mics in the onstage monitor mixes so that they can hear themselves/each other? Is that common practice is a musical/play? We are also doing this show with only tracks - no live orchestra. Does that change what you put into the onstage mix? Thanks for the input!
     
  2. Colin

    Colin Well-Known Member

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    No, that tends to create some feedback nightmares. Send the orchestra through, but still with care - too much and singers can't hear each other anymore and will clamor for their mics to be added to foldback, and then things fall apart.
     
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  3. Joel - Studio 52

    Joel - Studio 52 Member

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    I don't think I ever have run performers vocals through monitors at a school show. Every time I've tried, it ends up throwing them. It has a tendency to freak them out. I'm talking elementary and high school students. But in 30 years I have yet to come across an inexperienced performer that is immediately comfortable with the sound of their own voice.

    Unless there is a need to help keep performers together, ie singing a duet, I would shy away.
     
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  4. josh88

    josh88 Remarkably Tired. Premium Member Fight Leukemia

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    I've always found it slows them down. Because the slight delay from hearing themselves in their head, and then the travel back from the monitor, they end up waiting to hear their voice, putting them off the tempo. Also the mentioned feedback. Also rarely do schools have vocal foldback for their rehearsal process so adding it in later is another wrench that throws them.
     
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  5. themuzicman

    themuzicman Well-Known Member

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    I used to always say that you NEVER put vocals in monitors on a musical. I’ve now done enough to know that there are so many factors that it’s hard to tell.

    In a few Broadway musicals and tours, and another maybe 30 off-Broadway musicals I’m pretty confident in saying it’s maybe in 30% of the shows I work on. Bounce from the room is the biggest factor, the actors need some sort of feedback - for every old person yelling “I remember when actors could sing to the back of the room”, they still can but our shows are orchestrated differently now and foldback is still a useful tool if used right.

    I now do a lot of vocals in foldback, but very very programmed. My current show only sends principal vox onstage, post fade with variable send level per song so the front rows aren’t hearing the show twice — never any ensemble, it is just so our leads don’t sing themselves hoarse — it’s my job to adjust per-venue. Old vaudeville theaters have excellent bounce back to stage, but newer PAC’s have almost no natural room reverb (built for amplified PA’s) so I have to dip my toes into amplified vocal foldback to make them comfortable on stage. They know I have needs and they have needs and we have to meet in the middle so it hasn’t been so bad. I did a rehearsal where I let them have total control over onstage vocal foldback, we entered feedback city and they realized it’s as uncomfortable for them as it is for me! Useful learning for everyone!

    A musical I did last year, sit down/non-tour, we felt the room had enough natural slap back and after a week of cast asking for vocal foldback, we hung a speaker dead center on the balc, never plugged it in, and told the cast it was the foldback speaker. We never got a note about needing onstage vocal monitors, they just needed the confidence booster!

    Don’t worry, Broadway producers don’t want foldback in their rehearsal rooms either — added costs for the operator not to mention RF rental and lav purchase. Most we generally do is a QLab Rig and 2 speakers unless this producer has deep pockets or the workshop is super far along in development.
     
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  6. JD

    JD Well-Known Member

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    I would not. High school is still a learning experience and the number one thing you have to learn on stage is to project your voice.
    There are applications in the real world where that becomes necessary such as when you are fighting a powerful soundtrack or pit orchestra, but even then it's a bit of a nightmare, especially on a large stage where there may be time-lags due to monitor placement.
    One has to assume that on a high school level, you board operator will not have many years of experience as well. Handling 32 channels of live mix can be a challenge. Adding potential stage feedback issues may be beyond the available skill set.
     
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  7. Jay Ashworth

    Jay Ashworth Well-Known Member

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    If you do try that, IME, you're going to have to make sure the mutes follow the FoH mutes, and that you're using them...

    Captain Obvious, signing off!
     
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  8. NickVon

    NickVon Well-Known Member

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    depending on your room some Orchestra Fill/ or Track Playback on stage is acceptable. (In the Case of Tracks there should be something directed at them to sing a long with, but it doesn't have to be alot.) I have some side fills that I route a lead keyboard, light bass, and some kit/ or Tracks into.

    I never put Omni Lav mics, in a musical setting into Foldback/ Onstage Monitors in middle school/ high school. (I do carefully drop them into a little monitor for the MD in the pit though, and position the speaker with do diligence.)
     
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  9. TimMc

    TimMc Well-Known Member

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    In my work with touring shows still playing on Broadway.... big production numbers don't get individual vocal mics in foldback but some more intimate scenes/number might. In the Green Witch musical the numbers featuring duos tend to get *some* star mics in foldback; in the Mrs. Dictator in Argentina I don't recall any vocals in stage foldback, but that was in the tour from 15 years ago so things may be different today.

    The Mouse's Big Kitty show had more lead vocal foldback than I've noticed in other shows - it wasn't particularly loud but tended to create a 'big' sound on stage. Lots of playback/SFX in the foldback in that show, too.

    I have a fairly dim view of vocal foldback in musical theater, partly for technical reasons but most of it is based on my artistic belief that actors should "learn their craft, practice and rehearse it." Singing is part of that craft (as is rudimentary dance) and the skills necessary to sing well, to sing with projection and diction, to sing correctly (to minimize throat damage)... all can be taught and coached. Actors - and theater in general - would be better served if we didn't have to rely on technology to deliver what the talent is insufficiently trained for. On the tech side, since all the foldback levels, input EQs, muting and unmuting, etc rely on consistency of execution, the talent has to be spot on as the show mixerperson simply doesn't have time to tweak the foldback. Then there is the management of expectations - once you start putting 1 actor in foldback you'll find that other actors now "need" to be in the mix, too. They'll say they don't sound as loud as the amplified actor and while that's possibly correct, what is certain is that now the sound on stage sounds significantly different to the actors and they really, really need to be performing in the same "sonic space" to keep their heads from exploding trying to make sense of the conflicting aural cues.

    Finally, what does the actor genuinely need to hear on stage, and how much? If the actor cannot hear him/her self over the orchestra/band, that's a music direction issue as Loudest Sound At The Mic, Wins! Putting that actor's mic in foldback will amplify the excess orchestra, too. Perhaps a little, perhaps a lot, book and score dependent, but it's gonna happen. OTOH, if having 2 actors on opposite sides of the stage need to hear each other, a little cross-stage foldback is entirely appropriate. And now that every light over the stage has motors and fans inside, the base level noise floor has come up at least 6-9dB and much of it in the spectrum where it competes with critical midrange. We amplify that, too.

    Optional Story-

    Around the turn of the century (the most recent one) there was a touring show of Dry Ice Fog, tap dancing, and possibly leprechauns. The band/orchestra was on stage and their foldback was mixed off stage left (in music concert tradition) on a hernia-inducing amount of Cadac M. Every interval and after every show the musicians would swoop down on unfortunate monitor mixerperson. Nobody was happy with anything. You'd think he stole their pot of gold or pissed in the Lucky Charms. At any rate the final indignity was that the live performance audio sources were the back up for the Otari RADAR system (except for solo vocal performances, which were live as primary). Absent a technical failure, what the audience heard was not what the musicians were hearing and fighting over. Over and over. Eventually they flew in the Sound Designer for a refresh and the confrontations seemed to abate.
     
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  10. michaelpraytor

    michaelpraytor Member

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    Around my area, one particular sound engineer usually handles all the school and community theatre musicals and he generally never places anything more than piano in the monitors. Our orchestras are also never miced - unless he deems it necessary to throw a mic on a guitar cabinet or the occasional cello.

    Although I disagree with a lot of his approach, I've appreciated that he's been flexible and ran my vocal through the monitors the couple of times I've requested it. In those situations, the orchestras were approaching the music with the very "old school" mindset that since they're not miced and they're buried down in the pit, they need to play louder than the dynamics call for on the paper. While that's an old school mindset, the orchestrations were very modern and my lead vocal part was very dynamic and intense with huge shifts in vocal registers. I was really afraid that I'd sing out of tune or ruin my voice trying to hear myself over the orchestra - so after thinking about it for a while, I figured it would be reasonable enough to ask for my vocal in the foldback. The sound engineer had no problem doing it and it really did help me out a lot!!

    (I should also mention that singing in a rock band kind of spoiled me - I got monitor mixes in every venue, so I began to expect them in every situation.)

    Nowadays when I'm working on a show, I'll put vocals in the foldbacks if it's a loud rock n' roll type of musical or if I hear someone struggling in rehearsals to hear themselves. I usually don't ask the actor ahead of time - I just do it and keep the level just loud enough to help them out and boost their confidence.

    I would by no means do it for every person or every situation and never put an entire ensemble in the monitors.
     
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  11. themuzicman

    themuzicman Well-Known Member

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    I really don't want to tangent the thread too much, but I think we have very different backgrounds and experiences and figured it would further the conversation. Yes, we can't compare Broadway to a High School, but I also tend to approach Sound Design in a "there are no hard and fast rules except physics" when designing shows. Every choice has a pro and a con and it's all about balancing those choices to deliver the best and cleanest result possible on that particular production.

    I don’t know your experiences, or what shows you’ve worked but I can personally guarantee that Come from Away, Hamilton, Dear Even Hansen, Chicago, and Waitress all have monitoring on stage. Every show has a different approach to how they handle it — and some are pretty complex to get the cleanest show possible, but they all have it.

    You're overlooking that modern musicals are so much different than their predecessors even 20 years ago. From orchestration to execution so much has changed. Take a musical like Spiderman or Natasha Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812 -- how do you keep the entire ensemble in time and key without monitoring while they are thrown about the room? Take the 360 degree spatial element out of it -- Hamilton, how do you get those crazy pitch-perfect harmonies while the theater is at 110dB and the actors are all over the place? American Psycho was the same way -- you just can't make the show happen without monitoring due to orchestration and execution. So much has changed in musical theater, and we can't be ignorant of that fact - and saying that Talent isn't what it used to be is a super lazy excuse for not trying to meet the talent in the middle. I work with powerhouse actors and singers on my current show who have been at this longer than I've been alive I and they know they can do the thing without technology, but damn if the technology used properly and executed well doesn't make them feel safe and in the end helps them deliver the best show they possibly can.

    Walking it back a little, a fair number of older Broadway stars now request monitor desks when they sing just so they don't strain themselves too much -- they don't have to prove anything to the world but still make the ask. They are up there in age and know their limits and know that at modern sound levels with modern PA's there is no need to kill themselves pushing to the back wall. Not to mention the ever increasing number of shows that have talent crossover from other entertainment disciplines -- are you going to tell Sara Bareilles that she can't have vocal foldback when she stars in Waitress? There are so many reasons why Foldback is becoming an ever-increasing reality we have to deal with, and I don't see the musical theater world shifting away any time soon (or switching off Omni lavs anytime soon either). The last Broadway play I had a hand in designing, we ended up adding vocal foldback about three weeks into previews because one of our actors kept shouting himself hoarse trying to project to the back wall to punch the funny moments. It transferred from a smaller venue to a 1,500 seat house and it threw the company off because the tricks to elicit audience response in the smaller theater didn't translate as cleanly to the larger house. The vocal foldback actually kept them quieter on stage which helped the overall sound design of the show a ton as the content was presented at a more reasonable and natural speaking level and in the end we got a much more intimate show that the audience responded to much better just by cracking some Vox onstage so they had a sense of self.


    I find the leads will drive that discussion and it's up to the sound designer to mediate between actor needs and sound design needs -- sound design is as much about politics as it is about sound.

    Edit: I should say, my absolute ideal is just some piano, bass, high hat, and snare...all the elements so they can keep rhythm and pitch.
     
    Last edited: Mar 14, 2019
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  12. TimMc

    TimMc Well-Known Member

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    I think I qualified the examples I used. I haven't attended or worked Hamilton, Evan Hanson or most of the current (and not touring) shows. The last Broadway show I saw on Broadway was in 2008.

    Yes, things have changed. I recall the conversations involving IsoMax mics in RENT. Headset mics on actors? Foldback? UNTHINKABLE at the time.

    Juke box musicals are different, too.

    As we're talking about school performances, though (and having been a performing arts education major), I think we do a disservice to students by not training them with skills that are portable, rather than relying on hit-or-miss technology and techs in school. We can expose them to technology as needed or as dictated by the book/score/director/audience expectations.

    In productions we've heard of, yes the contracted lead performers can have great influence over things like foldback (and less important stuff as well). I've noticed that audio still gets the least respect of all the crafts (we're the new kids, I guess) when it comes to balancing the needs and wants of the various departments (hence my comment about music direction - what can we do when the director will not instruct the M.D. to bring down the orchestra in underscores, just amplify the noise, not please anyone, and get a negative job review?). Toss is the actor's desires and things get sticky, fast. I'm only advocating the training of actors to lessen the desire for *inappropriate* foldback.
     
  13. Aaron Becker

    Aaron Becker Well-Known Member

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    @TimMc
    Completely off topic, are they just using traditional side fills or is there something creative buried in the floor too with open-style grating?
     
  14. TimMc

    TimMc Well-Known Member

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    No audio in the automation deck that I recall, but the show design has been revised at least once. I didn't work the show the second time they played here but they'd cut 2 trucks of stuff from the tour. I recall Meyer UPA on/in the lighting tower booms in the wings.
     
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  15. Lynnchesque

    Lynnchesque Member

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    It just so happens that that show is at my house at the moment; I'll try to take a peek before it flies out the door on sunday.
     
  16. macsound

    macsound Well-Known Member

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    Something else that I don't think anyone has mentioned is Line Arrays.
    In a theatre I've worked in over the years has dramatically changed with line arrays replacing the plethora of point source speakers that were spraying sound all over the place.
    In the past, you could clearly hear all the orchestra and singers from backstage, onstage, in the pit and the catwalks.
    Now with the line array, there are onstage monitors in the wings, cue monitors backstage and in the pit and a wired in monitor in the followspot booth that was previously able to be fed from a hanging 57.
     

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