Microphones Hearing Elementary Students

cfreeman91

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Sep 28, 2018
Location
Georgia
Hey Y'all!

First post, long time reader!

I teach Elementary Drama, and we are preparing for our school musical. This is our 4th production, and every year we have trouble hearing students at one point or another. We have 8 wireless microphones that we will absolutely be using for the show, but there is just no way that every actor that speaks can be mic'd. We also have 4 overhead 'choir' mics, but in my experience, they have been very unhelpful, mostly just picking up noise.

My students try, but having an 8 year old that projects is more of an anomaly than it is the standard. We are also in a gymatorium that has massively tall ceilings and concrete walls. We have a pretty nice stage that is not your typical elementary stage. It is 24' wide (at the proscenium) and 16' deep. (5' in front of the proscenium, 11' behind).

I have tried putting some SM58s (or similar handheld vocal microphones) in the front of the stage to try to get some more/better coverage to no avail. I wasn't really surprised, but thought I could give it a shot.

I've recently been given some advice that some small diaphragm condenser microphones might do the trick. I was suggested a myriad of options within my budget. I have no experience with mics like this. It seems to me that they are mostly used for studio recording, or for mic'ing drums or other instruments, maybe for recording a choir.

Rather than suggestions on actual mics, I'm wondering if anyone has experience using them for a production in the way I intend to, which is at the front of the stage, and the pros/cons for this usage. Maybe this isn't the route I need to go, but I don't know either way. Your help would be greatly appreciated!

For a bonus thought experiment... What would happen if I took the practically useless choir mics and used them in the front of the stage?
 

Calc

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Jan 26, 2004
Location
Mid-Michigan
The best advice: Find someone who can come take a look at the space. There are so many variables with sound that the best you can get online will be recommendations, not guaranteed solutions.

I'll second Bill's note- issues in cafagymatoriums are usually caused by the room design. If you can sort out the room as a whole mics will work better wherever you use them.

Are there areas of the stage that are better or worse? Choir mics will only do so much, but they should get you some gain. I wouldn't put them up front like you're thinking with the small-diameter condensers, though.

In my experience, small-diameter condensers do a great job of picking up choirs and choruses, but are near-useless for lines/solos from someone who can't project. If the action is centered around a few areas, what about a couple of shotgun mics?
 

StradivariusBone

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I'm married to an elementary music teacher who does musicals with her kids and what you're describing is what I typically deal with. If you haven't already, tuning whatever system you've got so that you can get the maximum gain before the mics feed back from your bodypacks and choir mics is a good first step. Gyms are notoriously reverberant and as such you're going to deal with a lot of excess noise being picked up.

With the choir mics overhead you will pick up a lot of costume and movement noise. If you have a quick kid at the console, I usually throw overheads on a submaster so they can pull them down when kids are moving and bump them up when they are parked and singing, etc.

The main problem with the elementary "Broadway" is that they really want every kid to be heard individually. That requires a lot of mics and someone competent enough to handle a lot of mics. I've been mixing audio for over 20 years and running a kids show with more than a dozen bodypacks on an analog board still gives me heartburn. My best solution to that is to mic the kids with the most dialog/solos til you run out of bodypacks. EQ those mics as best as you can and really train the kids to be loud. Then using whatever else try to place mics where kids can easily be blocked near them. 58's are worthless to pick up a group singing or a kid speaking from more than a foot back. But a couple of 58's on stands placed in key spots can make a kid with an important line come out- if the kid knows the blocking and speaks directly into the mic. That's a lot less noticeable than having them pass the mic or screeching feedback by cranking a dynamic cardiod to 11. Also, the parents will forgive A LOT if they can hear Johnny say something funny at the right moment.

I've messed with condensers for this setup and they tend to work great if there's ensemble groups that are relatively static in motion. Again, placement is key and EQ them to the max possible gain. I usually put these on a submaster as well, that way you can edge them as close to the max as possible and still have a quick handle to pull back down when they are changing scenes or you get feedback. Bodypacks are good on a submaster too since you can then pull on that a bit if they also feedback.

If you're going to try the mic from the front thing a good set of directional condenser mics could work. Try to avoid placing them downstage of your main PA. I'd be interested in trying some shotgun mics personally. That's something I've heard about, but never had the chance to play with, but the super-directionality of the mic might help out?

The best experience you'll get will require a skilled operator that is making constant adjustments and compensating to block out movement noise, feedback, and can follow the book to bring out important dialog. This is not a set-it-and-forget-it scenario. A decent sound op will make a bad room and clunky system sound alright. Or at least better than it did lol
 

BillConnerFASTC

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Jan 30, 2010
Location
Clayton NY 13624
And just to clarify, can you not hear them or are they not intelligible? I've walked into a lot of situations where the complaint was performers could not be heard and in actuality there was plenty of sound, just unintelligible. I've also been in spaces where you could hear a 6 year old clearly at the back of a room without amplification. And competing with background noise is never going to be a win. The best you can hope for in a noisy room is not last place.
 

cfreeman91

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Sep 28, 2018
Location
Georgia
I suspect you should be looking at the room acoustics first, and sound system second. How well are adults heard inthis room?
I can be heard, but then again, I'm loud. Most of the time we use a microphone, especially with an audience.


Are there areas of the stage that are better or worse? Choir mics will only do so much, but they should get you some gain. I wouldn't put them up front like you're thinking with the small-diameter condensers, though.

In my experience, small-diameter condensers do a great job of picking up choirs and choruses, but are near-useless for lines/solos from someone who can't project. If the action is centered around a few areas, what about a couple of shotgun mics?
Maybe I over exaggerate with my dislike of choir mics....
On that note, I make sure that my students are loud, I encourage them to see if they can make their voice echo off the back wall. I've thought about shotgun mics, but talked myself out of it.

With the choir mics overhead you will pick up a lot of costume and movement noise. If you have a quick kid at the console, I usually throw overheads on a submaster so they can pull them down when kids are moving and bump them up when they are parked and singing, etc.
I do this currently. Well, basically. I have the most ridiculous setup ever... but it works!

58's are worthless to pick up a group singing or a kid speaking from more than a foot back. But a couple of 58's on stands placed in key spots can make a kid with an important line come out- if the kid knows the blocking and speaks directly into the mic. That's a lot less noticeable than having them pass the mic or screeching feedback by cranking a dynamic cardiod to 11. Also, the parents will forgive A LOT if they can hear Johnny say something funny at the right moment.
That's definitely the last resort option. Parents definitely are forgiving, but I'm really stubborn. (eventually, they'll get less forgiving of not being able to hear though. So maybe I just need to give in!)

I've messed with condensers for this setup and they tend to work great if there's ensemble groups that are relatively static in motion. Again, placement is key and EQ them to the max possible gain.
Obviously (as we've discovered) the 58's don't do diddly squat. I'm mostly worried about the individual lines that some students might have. If the kid faces the mic and projects to the best of their ability, would they be heard?[/QUOTE]


Indeed, crappy acoustics -- of the sort that gymnatoriums are prone to -- aren't going to help you any in the 'gain before feedback' department... but once you tame those a bit, you might look at PZM or PCC mics on the front of the deck; I've had excellent luck with Crown PCC-160's, though they're getting a bit hard to find.
I've thought about boundary mics as well, but am nervous of their pickup of foot traffic, or not picking up anything at all. Thoughts?

Sorry for the massively long post. Thanks for everyone's help!
 

StradivariusBone

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Space Coast, FL
If the kid faces the mic and projects to the best of their ability, would they be heard?
[/QUOTE]

At that point, it depends on your room and your system and the kid. I dealt with this last night with a church rock band. Loud drummer, lead singer in a song with a low key. I had her cranked and couldn't hear anything over the rest of the band. Next song, new key, perfect mix (albeit loud). If the kid doesn't project, nothing will fix that. But at the same time if you can't get any gain before you get feedback you're also sunk.

I've thought about boundary mics as well, but am nervous of their pickup of foot traffic, or not picking up anything at all. Thoughts?
I use PZMs every so often. They never seem to do much for drama unless you're standing directly over them. They are also very expensive and very easy to step on. I'd take an ugly dynamic on a stick over a floor mic in that circumstance. At least if the 58 gets knocked over it's only going to dent the floor.

And I second what Bill said, I love a good distraction from work! Happy to share experience as this group here has given me more than I could ever repay.
 

macsound

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Jun 15, 2018
Location
San Francisco, CA
I love the Shure DFR for this purpose. It has 10 1/10th octave notch filters that are automatically enabled when it hears feedback during a preshow tuning session and then stay cut out once the device is locked.
I usually put it inline in a restaurant-turned-conference room that has in ceiling speakers or other annoying space and I'm doing a set-and-forget with a couple lavs and a podium mic.
What's so great about EQ like this is because the cuts are so small and the first frequencies to ring are resonant frequencies of the room, which are usually the annoying frequencies that take someone who should be audible and make them understandable.
 

venuetech

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FMEng

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I've been the sound victim, er, make that sound technician for more Sunday school plays than I care to admit. On the bright side, there's a lot to be learned from doing them.

There is no magic microphone type that will solve this. The two biggest factors are the strength of the sound source (the kid's voices) and the distance between the source and the mic. The laws of physics rule here. The inverse square law says we lose 6 dB of sound level each time the distance doubles. Basically, if the kids are not projecting they need to be within a couple of feet of a mic. There's no substitute for that. You will have to work on blocking and mic placement to make this work.

Another factor is the number of open microphones. You lose 3 dB of gain before feedback every time you double the number of open mics. When you have a number of stage mics, you can't leave them all full up at once. It is good practice to lower the faders 10-20 dB on the mics that aren't being used at any given moment. That'll allow you more gain on the mic you need. Set and forget doesn't work in this situation. An operator at the controls can make or break this.
 
Last edited:

cfreeman91

Member
Joined
Sep 28, 2018
Location
Georgia
Hey everyone! After much thought based on y'all's input, I think I am going to go for 2 pairs of Samson C02's.
My thought process is thus:
1) They will be better for this use than dynamic mics
2) I can use them for choral and instrumental performances
3) They aren't too expensive, so assuming they do better than the dynamics I have, I'm getting my money's worth.

I am still going to work off the assumption that nothing will work, and of course, my students will still learn the importance of projection.

Thanks for your help! I will update after the performance so if anyone is looking they can get my opinion!
 

Rod Reilly

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Apr 21, 2017
Location
New Jersey
  • You could rent extra wireless! If you have the channels on your mixer that will give the best results. (Tooting my own horn a little)
  • Shotguns is the next best if the choir mics are not working - they don't sound as natrural but ... at least they capture otherwise difficult to hear voices.
  • With your Choir mics , are they in the best position for your blocking - move them or change the blocking. Can they be lowered so they are closer to the kids?.
  • PZMs will normally work better than pencil condensers as the floor acts as a collector providing some additional gain. Footfalls are not an issue but stepping on them can be. - both from a noise and damage perspective (though most are pretty rugged)
  • When all else fails having un-miked kids say their lines into a stand mic/ or a low hanging/choir mic is NOT the worst thing in the world. Parents are more interest in hearing their child than judging their acting ability.
 

Ben Stiegler

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Aug 3, 2017
Location
Sf Bay Area
Hang on a sec. plz post pix of your situation. Show us
Stage view facing out into the house
House view facing the stage
Position of speakers
View of ceiling
Close up of your console or model number
Any outboard processing eqpt
Mic positions of overheads including the angle

Next estimate the RT60 by clapping your hands once or dropping a book to get a sense of how long it takes to die away
Finally get a free spl meter app and measure the bs kground sound level in th3 room to 7nderstsnd air handling noise, etc.
Bonus for a screenshot of a spectrum analyzer app showing the distribution of background sound by 1/3 octaves.



Then we can talk

I will say I’ve had the best luck with Crown PCCs ... I ran k-8 school tech for 9 years and 2 of those downstage at the 1/3 and 2/3 mark at the stage lip, with LF rolled off at about 100 he and highs rolled off above say 10k worked wonders for ensemble drama.

Ben
 
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Itasca IL
Hey Y'all!

First post, long time reader!

I teach Elementary Drama, and we are preparing for our school musical. This is our 4th production, and every year we have trouble hearing students at one point or another. We have 8 wireless microphones that we will absolutely be using for the show, but there is just no way that every actor that speaks can be mic'd. We also have 4 overhead 'choir' mics, but in my experience, they have been very unhelpful, mostly just picking up noise.

My students try, but having an 8 year old that projects is more of an anomaly than it is the standard. We are also in a gymatorium that has massively tall ceilings and concrete walls. We have a pretty nice stage that is not your typical elementary stage. It is 24' wide (at the proscenium) and 16' deep. (5' in front of the proscenium, 11' behind).

I have tried putting some SM58s (or similar handheld vocal microphones) in the front of the stage to try to get some more/better coverage to no avail. I wasn't really surprised, but thought I could give it a shot.

I've recently been given some advice that some small diaphragm condenser microphones might do the trick. I was suggested a myriad of options within my budget. I have no experience with mics like this. It seems to me that they are mostly used for studio recording, or for mic'ing drums or other instruments, maybe for recording a choir.

Rather than suggestions on actual mics, I'm wondering if anyone has experience using them for a production in the way I intend to, which is at the front of the stage, and the pros/cons for this usage. Maybe this isn't the route I need to go, but I don't know either way. Your help would be greatly appreciated!

For a bonus thought experiment... What would happen if I took the practically useless choir mics and used them in the front of the stage?
I would consider renting mics and receivers. How long is your run? Just one weekend?
 

cfreeman91

Member
Joined
Sep 28, 2018
Location
Georgia
I would consider renting mics and receivers. How long is your run? Just one weekend?
That's definitely an option. We currently have 8 wireless body mics, so we are pretty good in most situations, it is just here and there that we will need the extra coverage for some lines.

However, I like the ability to be able to use the condenser mics in other situations for our school as well, and the funds that I'm intending on using cannot be used for rentals.
 

cfreeman91

Member
Joined
Sep 28, 2018
Location
Georgia
Hang on a sec. plz post pix of your situation. Show us
Stage view facing out into the house
House view facing the stage
Position of speakers
View of ceiling
Close up of your console or model number
Any outboard processing eqpt
Mic positions of overheads including the angle

Next estimate the RT60 by clapping your hands once or dropping a book to get a sense of how long it takes to die away
Finally get a free spl meter app and measure the bs kground sound level in th3 room to 7nderstsnd air handling noise, etc.
Bonus for a screenshot of a spectrum analyzer app showing the distribution of background sound by 1/3 octaves.



Then we can talk

I will say I’ve had the best luck with Crown PCCs ... I ran k-8 school tech for 9 years and 2 of those downstage at the 1/3 and 2/3 mark at the stage lip, with LF rolled off at about 100 he and highs rolled off above say 10k worked wonders for ensemble drama.

Ben
I'm sure that would be helpful, but I was just looking for some advice from people who might've used small-diaphragm condensers before in this situation. Our sound system (including the room) really could use a large overhaul- but is pretty much out of the question from a cost/benefit perspective of my district.
Thanks for your input though! In another situation I would definitely try to supply a whole lot more information!
 

FMEng

Well-Known Member
Fight Leukemia
Joined
Mar 31, 2008
Location
Tacoma, WA
Hey everyone! After much thought based on y'all's input, I think I am going to go for 2 pairs of Samson C02's.
My thought process is thus:
1) They will be better for this use than dynamic mics
2) I can use them for choral and instrumental performances
3) They aren't too expensive, so assuming they do better than the dynamics I have, I'm getting my money's worth.
Save your money. I doubt you'll find any appreciable difference in performance between a CO2 and any other cardioid mic. Condenser or dynamic makes no difference here. If you already have SM58s, use them and they'll work as well as anything. More important than anything else is getting the kid's mouth close to the mic.