Here is the article promised for this essay question...
Professional Body-Mic techniques, tips and tricks for Theater.
When approaching a duty as a sound person to mic up actors or dancers for a theatrical performance, there are a few things that have to be assessed by the sound person prior to the actual mic'ing of a show, to best decide how to body mic an actor(s) for a performance and decide who gets what mics and why. Best way to do this is to read the script for number of actors, view early rehearsals and make notes about actors/blocking
/movement and--often overlooked--interaction between actors while on stage
(hugs, dancing, fighting etc
), and then discuss any costuming issues/changes with wardrobe and the director for each actor so you are aware of the demands on the actor for time for quick-changes and heavy costuming issues. I will break this down in to several steps, first one being assessment:
First thing you need to do is assess the number of actors that need body mics, and compare this to your inventory of available mic's. If some actors are "atmosphere" or part of chorus' and with no main lines, they can safely be removed from need for body mic's in most situations. Other area-type mics (shotguns, PCCs, choir hanging mics) can be used to pick up
those masses. If you are involved with a music review-style show where different people will be doing solo's and multiple mic changes, you will then need to make a list of mic's and number them so actors are given specific mic's for specific parts of the show if you do not have enough mic's to do everyone. Easiest shows are straight drama's where actors stay mic'd and do not change out mic's. Additionally, you will need to check with costuming to determine what the costume will be like, what costume changes will have to be done for each actor, any wig or make-up uses for the actors, and see if there are places to mount body-packs in the costumes for quick hook-up, or if the actor will need to wear a under-costume elastic belt that will house
the body-pack. Interesting note--heavy applications of SEQUINS & metallic threads in costumes can cause interference with some RF belt packs..so be aware. I had one heavy jacket
of sequins on one show that just ate up the signal from the body pack...it can happen, tho it is rare. With the director and or choreographer you will need to discuss blocking
, and any dancing or interation that will go on between the actors. Fights on stage
can be a challenge for body mic's to eliminate any clothing noise or damage to the body pack, dancing can create a lot of sweat and loosen the adheasives you use on actors to fix mic's, hugs and close-dancing are also factors to consider when placing a mic on an actor--you don't want the mic's to "bump" or be bumped during a dance or embrace on stage
. After you have assessed these considerations, and that you need "X" number of mic's, and discussed things with director and costuming, you are ready to proceed to actually mic'ing an actor and securing it to them.
There are many different ways to affix a mic to an actor..but it will depend on the styles of mic's you have to work with. Most wireless lavalier
style mic's can be big and bulky and "barrell" in style. Then there are "Wig" mic's (squares) and micro-miniature lavaliers which are the better choice for performance use, and the most common ones you will run into in Theater. The BEST choice overall for most theater is the micro-miniature headsets...however the price of these units usually is out of the budget of most schools. Each body mic will have a body-pack transmitter--a square box the size of a deck
of cards that transmits the mic signal to your wireless reciever. Most of these bodypack
transmitters have ON/OFF switches, a LED
lite that tells you on/off or battery power
or both, removable belt clips, Battery pack / door for 9volt or AA/AAA batteries, Frequency selection switches, a GAIN
control, a mic plug--either 1/8" jack
on some of the cheaper mics, or a small screw-on pin-connector
(like a small XLR
) that has 3, 4 or 5 pins, and a whip
antenna. Some frequency's are fixed, others are selectable..but whichever style body-pack you have, they all work the same. Mic gets plugged into the body pack transmitter, and that sends the signal to the reciever which goes into your mixing board, the Bodypack
gets clipped to the actor and the mic gets attached to the actor.
Here is a list of some of the basic tools and toys you will want to have on-hand for doing body mic's in Theater:
Tape or spike tape
in black and white, (to mark
and affix parts of it secure--like on/off switches, antenna's/strain relief
, battery doors).
Electrical tape in colors (if you need to color code anything)
(to write the number of the beltpack
on the tape)
Micro-screwdriver--phillips and flat
head--used to adjust gain
on the body pack (The Audio Technica
's and some Sennheiser
's tend to have their own screw-driver built in to each bodypack
Condoms--unlubricated...usually these can be purchesed in bulk "B-quality stock
" from condom manufacturers, and can be bought in colors to match some costumes. Failing being able to purchase
them in B-stock, you can buy them in packs of 50 at the drug store..just make sure they are unlubricated. Otherwise--black or clear
is fine for theatrrical use. Color doesn't really matter on the condoms as they are not seen--they are for moisture protection. These condoms get pulled over the body-pack transmitters after you are done putting batteries in them and testing them out/checkinggain & freuqency, and the reason these are used is it provides a barrier to keep sweat and moisture out of the expensive body pack transmitter. The body-packs give off heat--and you need something that will not overheat the body-pack and will "breathe" and not be slippery when they get sweaty and bounce
out of the belt holder...which is why regular zip-lock bags or saran wrap, while they will work in a pinch, are not the best choice to use. Actor's & dancers sweat--and sweat contains salts and oils and water in a large amount--and the last thing you want is to submit your expensive electronics in the body-packs to such moisture that will eventually damage them or make your batteries corrode. I once did body-packs for a Jazzercise convention--and the body packs would have been soaked and shorted out if I didn't use condoms to protect them. Plus--since you use a new condom every show it gives the actors a sense of hygene in that they are not wearing yesterdays dried sweat.
Elastic belt pack holders. These are usually black or white generically--or may be custom colored to fit the costume, and have a little pocket in the rear that holds the transmitter pack and extra cable and fits in the small of the back. The black ones tend to hide better in costumes. Some are made by companies and attach together using velcro--others have snaps or clips. some are made of neoprene so they breathe and flex, others are made of cloth with elextic bands in the attchment area. OR your wardrobe person can make up several of them very easily. One-size usually fits all..
alligator clips, (helpful in some costume applications)
bobby-pins, (helpful in some wig applications)
Adhesive tape for the mic--in professional use on Boradway and in theater this is typically "TOP-STICK", a tupee and wig tape, or "TEGADERM" a clear
strong adhesive tape, and MOLESKIN or NEODERM tape is also sometimes used. I've also seen two-sided sticky bunion foot
pads used--and it works. All of the above are hypo-allergenic, will withstand body heat and sweat and still stick in place. Key thing with any of the above is it is MEDICAL GRADE for use on SKIN and is safe to use. NEVER use Spirit gum--it has mineral spirits
that will eat away the rubber coating of your microphone wire
. NEVER use crazy-glue or other dangerous adheavises that are not safe for skin use.
Micro-miniature and Wig style body mic manufacturers most popular are from Shure
, Audio Technica
, DPA & Countryman.
Now that you have your kit of above tools, its time to put things together. Before you go mic'ing up an actor you will need to do a few things--first you will need to battery up the mic packs, test them and adjust the gain
if you have not done so already..secure the various doors or switches if you cannot power-lock on the pack, slip the condom on put the pack in its belt holder. A good TRICK for the mic cable is to tape a small 1"-2" loop to the top of the mic connector
at the body-pack--this acts as a strain relief
against the actor pulling the little cable against the connector
and damaging its connection. Adjust the SQUELCH
if you need to on your reciever (another little screw like the gain
screw) on the reciever. This makes sure you have a good solid signal with no interference. Check your reciever by turning OFF or muting the transmitter and making sure you have no SHHHHHHH or other signal on your reciever when the transmitter is not on. Next--adjust your gain
in the body pack and get ready to test your mic. Your goal when checking gains on your mic is that it is balanced equally to the rest of the mic's and is not too sensitive which could result in distortion
or saturation. Over-gain on the mic can make the mic break up or get distorted when the person wearing it sings or yells. You want signal that you can use and adjust pr bring up opn teh console
for level--not saturation that you cannot back down at the console
. You want to make sure you tape or power-lock the belt pack into the ON position--several times and during costume changes an actor can bump or switch
off the belt pack--this is bad as you have no control over the situation and the actor will be the last person think they did something wrong in the whole technical end of things. It will depend on your situation and your preferences and some of you may be fine with letting actors do the switches themselves--however I find it a better idea to be in charge of the sound and let the actor NOT touch the switches or forget to. As you get to work with more professionals who are used to handling their own mics, you can let actors do the switching...but for most shows--iI feel its best to be in control of the situation. Many of the newer bodypacks that have selectable frequency's and channels have a POWERLOCK ON/OFF function--check your manual
to see if the feature is present and how to do it. If not--gaff tape works well over the switch
. Make sure you put in FRESH batteries for all shows (especially double shows in one
day), and you should battery up and check them, IMO
, no more then 2 hours before showtime. Actors should do their sound check
before 1/2hr when doors open, or 1 hour to performance, but AFTER they have done full make-up and wardrobe. Heat and sweat and use will run the battery harder--so you want battery's as fresh as possible for the show.
MIC PLACEMENT: While the body pack transmitter will get worn in a mic-belt under the costume in the small of the back, or worn inside a special pocket sewn into the costume usually in the small of the back, there are other area's for body pack transmitters to be placed when situations arise. Some of the more unconventional but effective area for body pack placement are in suit jacket
inside-vest pockets. Additionally, a harness can be made to wear the pack under the armpit, or even worn as an arm-band. Additionally, some instances need another area--and a should-blade harness can be made, or a side-waistband that sits over the hip can also be done. These situations are common when evening gowns or backless dresses need to be worn as costumes and no area for a body-pack can be done in the back--so an arm-pit, side-waist band or shoulder harness can work. When actors are in wheel chairs for shows--there can be a strain put on the body-pack at the point
where the mic plug
goes into the bodypack--and it can cause damage from the bend
of being sat on or squashed. Additionally there may be uncomfortable placement in the small of the back that an actor, while fidgiting around in a chair for the duration of the show, can experience for long periods of time. So Under-arm or vest pocket areas can be a prime source solution. A note about alternate locations--make sure you powerlock or tape the on-off switch
...body-fat rolls (love handles), costume facing or other parts of the costume when a person sits can rub the top of a mic pack and switch
it off--make sure you tape it on or power-lock on.
After you have the belt pack on the actor, your next thing is to figure out where on the head you need to place the mic. After running the cable up the persons back, you will want to secure it at the base
of the neck right where the spine of the back is. A piece of tegaderm or topstick works well for this. Leave yourself enough head-turning room on the cable. If youare new to doing this--place your mic first in its place, and then run the cable on the side or top of the head to the back of the neck where you can secure it--have the actor turn their head and twist so there is no snag. Clip any excess into the wig or hairline with some adheasive tape or bobby pin
. Placement of the mic can be in one
of several places given your situation and the type of mic you have. Most of the wig and microminiature mic's are omni-directional, and some are round while others are flat
squares with a small "dot" opening. Whichever you decide or have to use, each one of them can go in any of the following positions: Over the ear / sideburn area, On the Temple, At the Center of the forehead at the hairline, on the side of the cheekbone, or just behind the ear on the lobe of the head. Any of these positions works very well and are fairly standard areas, but you willfind that some wig mic's (the flat
square ones) will work better in the "vibration places" like the ear, temple, and behind the ear areas. Most common areas that many use overall tho are the forehead, temple, and over-the-ear / sideburn area for mic'ing. Attaching the mic via TEGADERM or TOP-STICK is simple as affixing the mic cable, about 1 inch just below the mic element
, to the tape and to the actor. 1/2" strip of the adheasive is usually enough. You can let the mic then stick out forward so it is not directly in contact with the body. Obviously the close to the mouth you can get the mic the better..but sometimes aesthetics and looks of the actor is more important to the director. Excellent sound quality can be achieved with these mic's in these locations, but the key to getting good sound out of them lies in the gain
sensitivity you set the body pack for, and the actor projecting their lines. Positioning the mics on the head so far from the mouth seems ineffective but it is not so--the head is in essence a giant water-ball that resonates when we speak. While the sound comes from out mouths--the entire head and skull act as a speaker
, and resonate our sounds just as well as our mouths do--suffecient enough for today's mics to work very well in those positions. Our mouths and noses (yep noses--air comes out of them too) just act as a focus point
to direct the bulk of the sound out in a direction. Find this a bit
hard to understand--plug your ears and talk--you can still "hear" yourself thru
the vibrations in your head...now close your mouth and hum..you still make sounds--then pinch your nose--sound goes away. Open your mouth or unpinch your nose---and sound comes back. Placement of these mic's on these area's is best. You don't wish to put mic's in clothes due to clothing noise. Of the other areas, Cheekbone position works but is the least favorable place due to aesthetics and sweat, and behind the ear is next least favorable because head-turns will be most extreme for vocal clarity drop-outs at this position. When dealing with wigs--the mic goes on the head on the forehead area or temple area, and cable is attached to the hairnet or with bobby-pins, and the mic sticks out on the forhead or temple area just under the wig. When using 1/2 bald caps--place the mic on the side by the temple or ear where the hair is. When using full bald-caps, the mic placement will go either under the bald-cap and stick out at the forehead, or over the ear in front of the ear by the sideburn area. When using flat-square wig mics on wigs, you will notice that one side has an opening "dot" and the other side is closed--the "dot" is the mic-element...preference for this is when on the forhead that the mic "dot" face
down flat-outward over the face
if it sticks out--or if it must sit flat
you should face
the dot outward with the blank side against the head, however when using this style of mic on an over-the-ear area, you want the "dot" facing outward towards the front of the face
as best as possible. Excess cable on the mic can be stuffed into the beltpocket, the condom, or into the costume. I don't reccomend coiling up and taping the excess together--it just makes for one larger bulky thing that can irritate or get caught on something. Stuff excess by the beltpack
Microminiature headsets which are used on most tours and broadway shows are expensive but give the best sound as the mic is thin, can be cosmetically made up to match the make up on the actor, and essentially become invisible to the audience. Getting some directors and wardrobe director novices past the idea of a headset
mic--since most of their ideas of headsets are that of Madonna or Brittney Spears big honkin rock & roll headset
mic's, is difficult...but if you can convince them and have the budget--it will make your sound-duties a ton easier and the overall quality much much better. Theatrical headset
mic's are of much smaller less-visable designs and better quality then the popular rock and roll
big & bulky headsets worn by pop stars.
TIPS: When mic'ing for fight scenes, you need to make sure no cables are loose or will be pulled, and that the beltpack
holder is below the waistband and secured. Instruct the actors where the mic's are--so they can choreograph their grabs and moves away from this. If an actor is going to get slammed onto his back--and the beltpack
, you may want to consider an under-arm holster. When actors will close dance or embrace, remember that most people hug or embrace to the right side of the body and face--make sure your mic is the opposite side to avoid bumps or picking up the other persons lines and breath sounds. If its opposite--make sure you know this.
PRE-Production stuff for mic'ing and so forth..
When You are in charge of your actors and discussing things as mic's and so on, as the sound person in charge you must set your rules forward so mic's do not get mistreated, and so things do not go wrong. If you are going to allow the actors to control their mic's being on or off--you must let them know your expectations and their responsibilities, and you must let them know your responsibilities. If you are going to let actor's put the mic's on after you teach them--this must be conveyed as well. A good thing to do is to give actors an introduction
to microphones during one of the rehearsal times. Tell them the do's and don't, explain why the mic goes in a certain area on the head, why the belt pack is wrapped ina condom and taped, where you will set out mic's and expect to have them returned to you and so forth. Set this up with your SM to discuss mic's and so forth with the actors for 15-20 minutes or more between rehearsals. Discuss the dangers of make up and how mic's should and should not be treated. Discuss how you will mute
them when off stage
, or how you will allow them to turn mic's on and off if that is what you prefer. Show the actors the mic's, how they work, and the adheasives used--Tegaderm or Topstick or whatever you prefer..and reassure them that it is hypoallergenic and safe and will not be an irritant to their skin--get this out of the way first or you will get a few who complain regardless. If you are going to show each actor how to mic themselves--do so globally at first for that meeting, and then again individually in pre-production rehearsal, so they get used to doing it and ask questions they may feel stupid about asking in a group. Otherwise set up some kind of schedule and allow 3 minutes max per actor for micing at a specific time before show. Usually--I can mic an actor in under 1 minute...practice makes perfect. Sometimes you can give the actor the mic element
and cable so they can go to wardrobe and have it to put on after they are done--and when they come out to Sound Check
they can get their belt pack all ready to go...IOW, beltpacks can be plugged in later....or you can just keep everything together--it all depends on how you wish to run things. Some sound folks will set their body mic's out and allow the actors to take them when they are ready. Post a sign when mic's are ready or set up a table and lay
them out with number when you are done with setting them up--each actor should have their own numbered mic and know which number is theirs. Actors should be shown and told to turn in their mic's at the end of the show at the same spot they pick them up at, and before they go to get out of costume. A good way to keep body mic's in order is to use a shoe-tree...one of those hanging pieces of fabric with 10-12 pockets that you can buy for $3 at Walmart. Each body pack, belt and mic can be assembled with condom etc
and put in the belt pack and go into an individual shoe pocket with the actors name or number on it. This can then be hung outside dresssingrooms or greenrooms.
When trying to determine mic scheduling--who gets what mics and who has to change out mic's, do your primary actors first or the actors who have the most lines first as getting permanent mic's, and then rotate the rest. Thus you have the least amount of mic's being swapped out between scenes.
Hopefully this little bit
of info will help you expand your knowledge of body mic styles and techniques, and help you apply them in your situations to a more professional result. Hope you found this article of interest and benefit to your learning. questions and comments are always welcome...
P.S. Now to the bonus question--while you wish to mic up an actor after they are out of make up and wardrobe, the main reason for this has to do with the damage that can be done to mic's by make up and other cosmetics. Additionally--you can find the bestposition and locations for mic's seeing the full costume. While Mic cables are easily applied make-up to blend them, however the mic elements are very sensitive and should not be treated with make-up to blend. Most cosmetics use fats and oils that can clog mic elements, but Hair-spray is the WORSE thing in the world for a mic to have happen to it. It is very common for untrained wardrobe folks to spray an actor with hairspray after they have been mic'ed up. The hairspray gets into the mic element
and stiffens it up and kills it. Once this happens the mic element
is trash...and nothing you do will fix it except replace it. As the sound person for the show it is up to you to discuss the dangers of this with the wardrobe persons AND the actors--as many actors do apply their own make up and hair sprays. Be warned...and make sure actors know the reasons and mic up after wardrobe and make up. I saw an entire show of mic's once (9 mics in all) get destroyed on opening
nite because a wardrobe person sprayed the actors down with hairspray after they got mic'ed--in spite of the instructions both she and the actors were given...the mic's immediately failed, the show could not replace the mic's over that weekend, and the wardrobe person lost her job after being yelled at by the sound man for violating his instructions, and by the director for costing the show a HUGE sum of money to replace those mic's and ruining the opening weekend, and the SM chewed out the cast for allowing it to happen.