Wireless Mic Rigging -- The "Right" Way


For many of our productions (far more than I would like), we end up using wireless lavilier microphones for sound reinforcement. We've always just used surgical tape (usually a piece on the neck and another by the temple) to hold the lavs in place, but I'm looking for a better way.

I know that it's possible to use a Hellerman tool and sleeves along with special mic clips (ear clips, hair clips, etc...), but I haven't had any luck in finding a place to purchase these or how they are commonly used. How do you go about handling wireless rigging for your shows? Anyone here more knowledgeable about doing it the "right" way, as surgical tape is certainly not the best way to go?
There's a bunch of methods. Some depend on the capsules your are using.
I have seen anything from really small, flesh tone headsets to the surgical tape you mention.
I have used them all too.
Headsets I don't like, they tend to move, get banged and if they're "home made" the capsule may end up pointing the wrong way.
Surgical tape as you mention works OK, but the actors seem to have a mole all the time, sweat is also a factor. I have also done this in the cheek instead of the temple, but the "mole issue" is even worse and the cable is hard to hide.
Best method I've seen and adopted after it, but requires good capsules and very carefull placement is right in the hair line (a big no-no with hats) and right above the ear. You can use hair clips as long as you take care not to cut into the wire.
I have no idea what a Hellerman tool is though :(
Thanks for your help. I've tried to go for placing them right on the hairline, but it's pretty difficult to do with surgical tape as it does not really stick well. Where do you get hairclips for wireless mics? A simple bobby pin clearly is not going to do the job.

As for a Hellerman tool, I'm refering to the tool about half way down the page at http://www.hstech.org/howto/sound/mics/head_worn_microphones.htm. The ideas on that page seem pretty good for homemade solutions, but I was looking for something a little more profesional and something that sits on the hairline or temple, not a headset-style approach (for the same reasons you mentioned). I don't have the slightest idea where to get the nessecery tools, sleeves, and clips though, and google is not being very helpful.

EDIT: We're using the Countryman B3 lavs, which are pretty small. It shoudn't be hard to attach whatever attachment mechanism I can find to them.
Hey Zach,
Here are a few posts I've posted at a couple other forums with some advice in the past, hopefully they'll be of some help to you, too!

There are three brands of medical tape we use for mounting the mics, all from 3M. My usual tape of choice is Blenderm, a matte finish tape that needs to be cut (it can be torn via a dispenser). It sticks well, blends in fairly easily, and tends to wash off easily (my actors tend to occasionally end up with tape left behind on their neck or back due to how we have to tape their mics).

Second choice is Transpore, which is textured with lots of large pores. These make it easy to tear by hand, which is a plus, but I also think it shows up more visibly from a stage than Blenderm does. A couple of my actors find that it sticks better, especially those with coarse facial hair even when "clean-shaven".

Finally, for the hardcore sweaters, there's Tegaderm. This comes in small sheets, and you cut a strip out to fit your application. It sticks like crazy to most people, although it's slightly harder to remove (can be removed by hand without any need for cleaning products, however). The one downside is that it's shiny, so you'll want to carefully powder it down (avoiding getting powder in the mic capsule).

For those who still can't get it to stick, try prepping the skin with a product from Smith & Nephew called Skin-Prep. This is a small wipe that looks like an alcohol prep pad, but it contains a polymer that forms a thin layer on the skin to both protect the skin and help the tape bond. It works great, but only use it when needed.

Finally, one trick for people who tend to really sweat the tape off, which works well both with and without the Skin-Prep, is to do a base layer of Tegaderm directly on the skin. Then, tape the mic to that using Blenderm. Since the TD is directly on the skin without the mic lifting up an edge, it's much harder for sweat to cause the tape to come up. The TD acts as a barrier between the skin and the BD.


I'm still trying to find time to put together all the pics and stuff for the rigging tutorial, but here are some further thoughts on rigging with elastic; Kassel's suggestions are a good start, but not quite there in my experience (mostly because, in addition to ear being not as good a location as forehead, when you do an ear mount you want the mic further down the face, and not right where the ear joins the head).

When I do elastic rigging, what I do is take the elastic and tie it with a clove hitch about a finger width above the base of the mic capsule, about an inch and a half from the end of the elastic cord (typically, you'll want to use white elastic and color it with LetraSet Pantone markers to match your actor's skin and/or hair as necessary).

Then, bend a small U shape in the mic cable starting at the capsule base--roughly the size of the curve from the base of your fingernail on one side of your finger around to the other side ought to do the trick. Tie the end of the elastic around the other side of the U, such that when the elastic is stretched all the way, there is still a little bit of slack in the U.

This won't be the best, but let me try to do an ASCII until I can get the pictures up on my site:

                 /       \
                         O  <-capsule

This U loop will act as a strain relief, allowing the elastic to remain snug on the actor's head without pulling on the element or cable.

Now, hold the cable in one hand and the elastic in the other, and place it on your actor's (or, if you need to, your own) head, with the element centered on the forehead, just below the hairline. Bring the elastic and cable together at the back of the head, towards the bottom of the hairline, so that there's a little bit of tension in the elastic. Pinch to mark where the cable and elastic meet at the center (make sure it's centered, the cable won't hide as well off-center), then take it off the head and tie the elastic around the cable with a final clove hitch. If you want, you can add a half hitch on top of that to make it extra secure, although I don't find it necessary.

Trim any excess elastic beyond the two end clove hitches, and you're done. Fit it to the actor's head, sliding the clove hitch at the back of the head along the cable if necessary to adjust tension (be careful that you didn't tie this one TOO tight, or you'll pull the jacket of the cable and risk damaging the shield inside). Use a comb/pick to pull the hair back up over the elastic, and all is good.

For the finishing touches, get yourself a bit of first aid tape, as I discussed above. Have the actor tilt his head as far forward as he can, and apply a piece of tape to the cable at the base of his neck, just below the collar of the costume. This will allow enough slack for him to be able to turn his head, but keep the cable from pulling up and showing above the collar.

If needed, you can use a piece of tape above the capsule's molded strain relief (don't cover the strain relief, it's amazing what will screw up the tone of a lav, B6s are especially sensitive to tape over the strain relief in my experience) to hold it pointing towards the actor's mouth.

I've had a couple actors who were allergic to the adhesive in the tape, so what I'd do in those cases was take a piece of appropriately colored floral wire and, after a few tight wraps at the base of the strain relief, spiral it loosely around the cable for the length of the U tied in it. This will let you mold the cable and point it how you need without using tape.


Here's the quickie version of doing it with sleeves and ear clips.

You need a Hellerman tool, and packages of Hellerman sleeves (these are about 1" long rubber tubing pieces, similar to surgical tubing). The sleeves are fairly cheap, the tool is not (but boy, does it look cool!).

Then you need plastic ear clips, they're sold for use with IFB earpieces, so most major audio retailers will have them. I can't recall which company/companies make them offhand, but you'll want the nice white rounded plastic ones. I've seen metal ones, and flat plastic peach ones, and they're a lot more visible on the ear.

The clips come with a loop for holding the IFB at the end, you can snip that right off with a sharp pair of scissors or a set of dikes. Then, you'll use three of the sleeves to attach the cable to the clip, one curving along the clip where it goes over the top of the ear, then two along the back of the ear, with the last one ending right above where the clip straightens out.

You'll need to experiment with how much of the cable to leave coming off the front of the clip, it needs to be long enough that, when clipped on, the capsule can extend down to the actor's cheekbone in order to get the best sound. Then, just clip it on the ear, use a small piece of tape to hold the element in place (again, being careful to not cover the capsule or the strain relief, as either can severely alter the tone of the mic), and do the same head tilt/tape below the collar thing that I described with the elastic rigging, and you're all set.

Experiment with placement here a bit, and you'll see how even the smallest adjustment can make a HUGE difference in tone. Also note that this is a much more "middy" placement than on the forehead, so you'll have to EQ appropriately. Personally, unless necessary I would go with a forehead mount; it sounds better and is more hidden.

As long as I'm at it, the Hellerman-free approach I mentioned a while back is basically a cross between this and the floral wire bit I mentioned in the previous post. Twirl a couple tight loops of wire at the base of the strain relief, and then loosely spiral it around the length of the cable for a good 6 or more inches. Place the element on the cheekbone, with the wire/cable combo going over the top of the ear, and mold the cable/wire around the back of the ear.

You want the cable/wire wrap to end at the base of the ear, with the cable going loose down to the transmitter. The wire, however, will wrap up around the front of the ear until it meets the cable/wire at the top, where you'll twist it around a few times to lock it all together.

What you end up with is a loop shaped roughly like a backwards D, with the capsule end of the cable (wrapped loosely with the floral wire) extending off the top of the D, and the connector end of the cable hanging loose from the bottom.

The wire will help you aim the mic, and may alleviate the need for taping the mic, although you'll again want to experiment (a nice plus if it holds position on your actor without tape is that it can float off the skin, reducing chances of a sweatout).

If any of this is unclear, just e-mail me and I'll come back and try to clarify whatever I can! :eek:)

--Andy, who spent much of last year on the road rigging wireless mics for The Full Monty, and now has it easy using a headset for Sesame Street Live: Elmo's Coloring Book :eek:)
Thank you very much for your help. That certainly makes things clearer.

I'm having a really hard time locating sources for a Hellerman tool, sleeves, and ear loops. http://www.alphasoundandlighting.com/audioproducts19.95orless.html has loops at $8 a piece, but since we need to outfit 8 cast members I would love to go for something cheaper if anyone has a source. More importantly, I can't find anyone that sells hellerman tools and sleeves. It would be a huge help to me (and I'm sure others on this site as well) if anyone knew where I could find these.
What I mean with hair pins are those flat ones that look somewhat like a cockroach. I'm trying to find a pic, but its hard
For Hellerman tools and sleeves, try any of the major rental/sales houses who cater to theatre...One Dream Sound, PRG Audio, Sound Associates, and Masque Sound being the four major players (for the record, at the time I'm editing this, I work at One Dream).

For ear loops, the same sources should be able to help, otherwise check into audio suppliers who do more broadcast related stuff, since they're really made for IFB receivers for on-camera talent. Try BSW at www.bswusa.com, or Full Compass (fullcompass.com).

Iñaki, if you haven't surmised it from my other post, since I didn't explicitly answer it, a Hellerman tool is a three-pronged gadget that allows you to slide a small rubber tube over the prongs. When you squeeze the handles (like a pair of pliers), the prongs spread apart, stretching the tubing, and allowing you to place to tubing around something else. It's a much preferred alternative to shrink tubing, since it's quicker and you don't risk melting the cable.

As for hiding the cable and element, as much as it may not be an option for a high school that already owns a collection of mics, that's why they make various colors of mic elements/cables other than black :eek:) On the last tour, we only used black ones when we ran out of everything else, we used cocoa and tan colored elements for most everybody, based on skin tone, and then colored the cables with Letraset Pantone markers to match hair where the cable went through the hair (other brands of markers don't hold up to sweat nearly as well as these do--trust me, I've tried, and had the fun of trying to find a substitute for a perfect match I'd found in another brand that turned from brown to grey over a week or so when sweat hit it).


P.S.-Do you mean hair pins, or bobby pins? There's a difference, and that used to always get me in trouble with the wardrobe/hair and makeup folks when I'd ask for the wrong thing in a hurry ;o) Both have their uses for rigging mics, of course.

P.P.S.-The one other method I don't believe I mentioned in the earlier post is using wig clips. These are small clips that have teeth (not unlike combs) and are slightly curved. When you bend them one way, the teeth flare out and can be easily combed into hair, then you bend them the other way and they bite down on the hair. They're sewn into wigs to clip them onto hair.

Take a clip, appropriately colored, and a matching piece of elastic. Thread the elastic through the two holes in the clip and tie it into a loop around the clip, not too tight, but not loose (ie, it should be able to stretch a little bit, but should be snug). Flip the bottom side of the loop around the clip so that both strands are on the top of the clip, and thread the mic cable through the elastic, spiraling it around the elastic twice.

Two of these on a cable, one near the front of the head and one at the back holds a mic in quite securely; just tape it in front like you would with the elastic loop rig, and you're good to go.

On Monty, the majority of the men were on either wig clips or elastic loops, with one who had a shaved head on an ear clip. The women all wore theirs under their wigs (except for the one who didn't have a wig, who used wig clips in her hair), using various combinations of elastic loops, wig clips, and hair pins as they felt comfortable with.
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Thanks, I did see the Hellerman tool in the link provided above. Looks like a medical tool....a scary one that is.
As for pins...no, not bobby pins. What I'm referring to (and they may be things only found back home in Argentina, but I doubt it) are metallic, oval discs that have a cutout in the center. There is a tab in the center which is lifted and the hair is put in it and then the tension of the metal makes it work like a spring ans shuts down on the hair.
I can't seem to find a picture of them though..I asked my girlfriend to scan me one but she couldn't find any in her room.
That sounds similar in concept (although not quite the same) to a wig clip, which I just found the following picture of:

Andy_Leviss said:
... and then colored the cables with Letraset Pantone markers to match hair where the cable went through the hair (other brands of markers don't hold up to sweat nearly as well as these do--trust me, I've tried, and had the fun of trying to find a substitute for a perfect match I'd found in another brand that turned from brown to grey over a week or so when sweat hit it).


Hi Andy,

I run sound at a community theatre, and we tend to run 18 channels of B3 head-mounted lavs for musicals. And they're rentals, so have to be returned in good shape after the run.

In general I love the B3s, but have a constant battle getting a reliable head mount that will stay in place without killing the actor. :wink:

I currently use 22-gauge cloth-covered white floral wire around the ear to mount any B3s that can't be placed at the hair line. The floral wire works pretty well, but isn't all that durable and needs to be replaced several times during the run of a show (3 weeks). So I like the Hellerman approach, but wonder how tough it is to remove the B3 from a Hellermaned ear loop when we have to send the B3s back to the rental shop.

Same question on the Letraset Pantone markers ... we use flesh-colored B3s, and I'd like to color the cable where it goes through the hair. But can the colored cable be cleaned back to its original color at the end of a run?

Theatre Cedar Rapids
Cedar Rapids, IA
Hey Dave,
As for the Hellerman sleeves, they're a piece of cake to remove afterwards. Just get yourself a tiny pair of medical scissors, and very carefully cut the sleeve right off. It's soft rubber, so it cuts easily, just be careful to watch where the tips of the scissors blade that you put inside the tube goes, so you don't nick the cable itself (hence why I suggest the tiny medical scissors).

As for the markers, I'm not sure offhand, since I never had to clean them off. I imagine something will clean them, although I don't know for sure what, and can't guarantee that the same solvent wouldn't be a very bad thing for the cable. I do know that rubbing alcohol doesn't do much for cleaning them, though.
Thanks again for all your help. I sold the director on $170 worth of gear, so I hope it works. It's all (except for the Hellerman sleeves) reusable though, so it should last us for a while.

For everyone's general reference, here's the prices I got from Masque Audio, this stuff is really hard to track down online:

Hellerman Tool--Fixed Prong Version--55.00
Interchangeable Prong Version--78.73
Hellerman Sleeves (bag of 100)-2.0mm-6.00
Hair Clips--(S,M,L)-- 1.75/each
Ear Loops--Plastic covered Metal or Nylon--7.80/each

In case you were wondering how much this stuff is, now you know...

Also, anyone have any recomendations on metal or nylon ear clips?
You want Telex's AEF3 nylon earloop, which you can buy from Full Compass at http://fullcompass.com/Products/pages/SKU--9624/index.html

They also make a plastic-covered metal version, which I haven't used. The nylon ones are easy to cut, lightweight, and hold on pretty well when the cable is appropriately taped. Metal's moldable, which the nylon isn't, but the white color hides nicely (better, due both to color and shape, than the "flesh" toned ones I've tried).

As noted above, you'll want to take a sharp pair of scissors or a pair of diagonal cutters and snip the actual loop off (the ear loops are made to hold IFB speakers for broadcasters).

I see people talking about 170 bucks worth of suspension equipment and hellerman tools to hook up countryman b3s and stuff. I thought I'd add in a cheaper method that works for us.

there's a wire type known as memory wire (same stuff that's used in teeth braces). it's available fairly cheap from craft/hobby shops. about 7 bucks will buy you enough material to build 15+ ear to ear headset types or more single ear types. you're looking for beading (as in neclace beads) memory wire (neclace sized rings), typically a silver/chrome finish. this is far stronger than flower wire and holds its shape through light bending and such. the wire's fairly thin and can be shaped with a pair of needle nose pliers. use a good pair of cutters cuz it's stainless steel and will eat weak wire cutters. I would also recommend a simple hotglue gun to coat the ends of the wire to prevent hair getting stuck or sharp edges from sticking out.

the shape you're going for is very close to those around-the-back headphones made these days for pretty cheap. suspends over the ears, around the back of the neck. I like to use heatshrink (gently) to attach the mic element to the wire once the shape is completed. you also should add a slight curl/twist in the wire at the top of one ear that can be pinched closed (gently) to prevent the cable from sliding around too much and straining the mic head if it slips that far. heatshrink the b3 cable back to the center of the memory wire (back of the head) and let it drop.

automatic strain relief provided by the memory wire headset, tape optional, stayed on to a guy who was literally jumping backwards and landing on his back, handspringing up and doing it again. very lightweight.

only thing i noticed about the design is past about 3-4 hours I've heard some mild discomfort on actors because it pinches at the ears a little bit (needs to in order to stay on well without tape) (note: that's 4 hours continous wear. show length seems fine and most actors appreciate being able to take them off for short breaks.) I've used these with hoods, hats, wigs, and full costume changes. if they're fitted well to the actor's necks/ears, they don't generally affect the changes or costume fits.

also, you're probably worried about the chrome showing. the wire's thin enough that at 10+ feet you have know what to look for to find it when shaped correctly and hidden at the base of a hair line, otherwise you can always coat it in whatever heatshrink/paint you like.

if actors complain it's pinching around the tops of the ears (cable is really thin), add a layer of heatshrink and adjust the headset's fit slightly.

these start to look a bit "worn" after about a month of use, but still very useable. and materials put it at around or under 1$ per headset so, throwing them away isn't too big a deal just cut off the heat shrink and build a new one. I also build an adjustable neck size version when i don't know how big the people I'm going to be dealing with are and need to prep them in advance.

shoot me an email or something if anyone's got questions or wants to get more details!
memory wire -- great idea :)

The design I built a couple of times is a direct copy of the DPA 4066 ... boom the mic under the ear rather than over -- maybe a subjective opinion, but I think it looks better than over the ear.

Also, check out Tool-Dip or Liquid Electrical Tape, which you can literally paint onto the wire to pad the cut ends and the over the ear hook. Plus, this stuff doesn't slide so it should hang on better.

And please post a pic of your headset if youcan (I didn't take pics of the ones I made in the past :|

Thanks. John
Been a few years gone by now .. wow, seven years? .. for a run of Man Of La Mancha in college I tried the over-the-ear thing as an experiment; that show was a longer-hair show, so I was able to put stupid huge ugly capsules just at their sideburns, worked surprisingly well. Good audio, not a huge eyesore. Would've been better if they were Mke2s, but back then we took what we could get.

Used bobby-pins to hold them in place to the hair. Somehow it worked.
the ear to ear design i have is based off of dpa's headset as well. heehehehe.. interestingly, it attaches reasonably well to countryman e6s as well to give full wrap around head coverage when it just won't stay. (we had an actress with ears so small there was no way to hang the e6 off them once. memory wire was thin enough, and held on to her head enough to work)
thanks for the tip on the liquid e-tape, I'll have to try that. part of the benefit of the shrink wrap is being able to hold the wire on and be able to get it off the headset without too much hassle cuz tape can get very ugly very fast. but coating the memory wire with that stuff sounds like its worth looking in to. kept them small file size so we don't destroy anyone's connections. pictures are reasonably big i think tho.

this is the single ear and multi ear design i use built with memory wire available at any beading/crafts shop like Michael's. this particular brand is "Bead-a-lon" i believe. neclace shaped loops. 1 package for around 7 bucks, builds 15 full headsets, and a lot more of the 1-ear type. holds shape that its bent to, and can be gently bent without destroying the prebent shape. great stuff.

mounted on ear loop at top for mic line.

the 1 ear rig, bend lower bits around to match people's ears. that one is just large enough to fit on me (as you see in first picture)

tried a "head on" shot so you could see the loop. camera can't focus on it tho. sorry :(

this is the ear to ear version that i build. this one's adjustable to fit most people (hence the double wires at the back. they slide past each other to extend the space around the neck)

hope that helps. the adjustable wrap arounds take about an hour or so to build due to all the small detail bends, but the single ear pieces are just a few minutes worth and they hold for months through all kinds of abuse.
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I'll second all the stuff that Andy already threw out there... building mic rigs have developed into quite an art for the Broadway engineer.

My two cents worth:
1- Ditch the plastic ear clips. More often than not, they don't fit as well as a piece of bent bailing wire will. Buy a spool of wire at the hardware store for a few bucks and play around with different rigs for differently-shaped ears... some stores will call it "hanging wire" in the plumbing section. The rigs hold up pretty well... I have a couple dozen that have been in use since March.

2- If the investment in a hellerman tool is too much for your organization, try picking up some heat-shrink and use it in the same way. I've had luck with some 3:1 shrink (so it would fit over the mic head) on wire rigs. Be careful to keep the heat away from the mic element when you are shrinking.

3- Colors. I haven't found anything yet that will return a mic cable back to it's natural beige color. So if you are renting, keep the markers in the drawer. Otherwise, I'll second the Pantone markers. I've had good luck matching skin and hair tones with a set of these markers. In many cases, a simple black sharpie will go a long way as well.
I just thought I would add my thoughts about this. From my experience with it all, I have always preferred Countryman headsets. Now, I know that a lot of headsets move and can be difficult to work with, but these are quite stable. If you have a small budget, however, these would NOT be the way to go. Check them out for more details on color and pricing.

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