Sound f/x Gate vocals for theater?

hemismith

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Sep 18, 2010
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Utah
I'm doing a kids stage production this week, with a few area mics and a few lavaliers. I'm wondering if I should apply a gate to any of the mics. Most of what I read says not to gate vocals, but that's in reference to bands. Normally I just try to keep the mics down that aren't being used, but it's easy to miss a queue when you're not familiar with the show. My thought here is that I might be able to keep the mics up if they are gated. But finding the right threshold might be tough since some performers are quiet. I've heard an expander is a better way to go than a gate, but the equipment I'll be using doesn't have that option.

Maybe my best option is just to leave the faders halfway up when they aren't being used.
 

josh88

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I don't follow a hard rule. I normally won't but sometimes just barely turning it on can be useful just to shut the gate if the person is waiting in the wings with their mic open for whatever reason. I've also used it sometimes with kids to stomp errant whispers off stage as they run off or when they are rushing to make an entrance they missed.

So they definitely can have a place, but for me at least its a handful of specific circumstances.
 

Colin

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Eastern Massachusetts
I agree it's an only-as-necessary tactic, and for fixing sorts of side-problems rather than as a replacement for mixing line by line (and if that's not possible to do reliably then you may be better off just doing area mics close enough for good GBF and letting it be). I think generally if you have a gate set slow enough to sound natural with nuanced theatrical vocals then there's a strong chance your fingers can keep up as well even if you don't know the show well, and the ears/brain/fingers combo is way more flexible on the fly than a gate. Gates can open when somebody coughs, or trips and whispers an "oh [email protected]%#" but a finger attached to brain and ears may make a better decision. Yes, if you're worried about making a pickup then keep the fader lower but not all the way out so you're faster on the up.
 

hemismith

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Sep 18, 2010
Location
Utah
Thanks, yes, I was also hoping it could keep errant off-stage sound out if I wasn't quick enough to turn them down, but a cough or any normal speech would make it through anyway. I guess I'll just do it manually. Thanks again.
 

EdSavoie

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Oct 19, 2016
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Windsor, ON, Canada
It was a life safer when i recently volunteered with a community youth theatre group.

The lovely venue is cursed with tiny wings, so a fair bit of noise is generated from people trying to squeeze around eachother.

My gates were set pretty aggressively to catch most little whispers and such, but i dialed them in so that they did always open when needed.
 

nomuse

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Oct 10, 2010
Location
San Franscisco Bay Area
My experience -- most of it at a 400-seater with full wings and grade-school casts -- was that on average the sounds you didn't want from the talent were louder than the sounds you did. I mixed from script and memory and a little by eyeball, but on shows with a lot of costume changes and backstage crosses I let the meters lead. If the signal was low but relatively steady then that was a kid singing a chorus part. If it was spiky that was a costume change, and if was loud and jumpy they were either over-doing it on their cabbaging (in which case they were fine without a mic) or they were having a conversation back in the cross-over. Consistently loud, of course, is dressing room and you never want that.

(This was one of those organizations that loved the concept of off-stage chorus, as in, every actor in the place would sing to thicken the on-stage sound. Of course half of them were getting a costume change or in the cross-over tunnel for half the number, and half of the remainder couldn't hear the monitor, couldn't see the conductor, and hadn't studied the part anyhow because they weren't on stage for it. So...a lot of time on PFL figuring out what I could actually use and then memorize that for the next performance.)
 

hemismith

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Sep 18, 2010
Location
Utah
Thank you both. Kind of funny but all too true. I'll play with things tonight during dress rehearsal but I suspect I may abandon it all and just do it the old fashioned manual way.
 

TimMc

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Feb 15, 2017
My experience with gates has been that I spend too much time fiddling with them in the show - to keep them closed or open, as may be appropriate. If I'm having to manipulate physical controls beyond faders and "GO" buttons, that task is a distraction to the word by word, line by line mixing.

And they don't usually work well. The last thing you want is a gate that chops up dialog and makes the actor sound like he/she/they have a speech impediment.
 
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josh88

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The last thing you want is a gate that chops up dialog and makes the actor sound like he/she/they have a speech impediment.
Unless you're going for that cell phone dropping a call effect that you need once in 10,000 shows. Then its perfect.
 

John Scrip

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Apr 9, 2019
Location
Chicago area
I barely ever use gates - But I nearly always use *some level* of expansion. It's not to avoid flubs though - Just to keep the background sound to a minimum. If there are 20 bodypacks on stage and a "moment of silence" is happening, 6dB or so of expansion is a life saver. Same with bands. I might gate some toms or what not, but I'll nearly always have an expander set to open fully above an instrument mic's "resting" state. Amp hiss, that little buzz from the bassist when he's not playing, the BGV mics - I don't need them all fired up when the vocalist is introducing the next piece. Nice and slow (600-2kms), 6-12dB depending on the source. It's like bringing some faders down temporarily.
 

TimMc

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Feb 15, 2017
I barely ever use gates - But I nearly always use *some level* of expansion. It's not to avoid flubs though - Just to keep the background sound to a minimum. If there are 20 bodypacks on stage and a "moment of silence" is happening, 6dB or so of expansion is a life saver. Same with bands. I might gate some toms or what not, but I'll nearly always have an expander set to open fully above an instrument mic's "resting" state. Amp hiss, that little buzz from the bassist when he's not playing, the BGV mics - I don't need them all fired up when the vocalist is introducing the next piece. Nice and slow (600-2kms), 6-12dB depending on the source. It's like bringing some faders down temporarily.
Stages have gotten louder with moving stuff and lights with internal fans, and auditorium HVAC noise abatement is expensive so often one of the first things cut when costs exceed estimates. 6dB of downward expansion - to keep the noisy stage stuff out of the PA and give you a better shot at more SPL in the 'quiet scenes' to get over the HVAC noise floor - is a nice thing to have.

Downward expansion discussion gets far fewer electrons than gates; perhaps it's time for the Expander Renaissance?
 

hemismith

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Sep 18, 2010
Location
Utah
Thanks. Yeah, an expander would be more useful than a gate for this, but the mixer I was using didn't have it (first gen Presonus 16.4.2). I ended up just focusing on the show, as levels were all over the place. Had a few off-stage noises make it through when the director told me to bring up a mic too soon, but all in all it went ok.