Mic'ing a school musical

Discussion in 'Recording Studio' started by northernguitarguy, Apr 29, 2017.

  1. northernguitarguy

    northernguitarguy SWeAT hOg

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    ...and my job is soundguy. The teacher/director ordered 16 wireless headsets for the main student/actors and it's my job to mix them with the accompanying audio tracks (I also have to be ready with two sound FX for a number of scenes). My equipment list is:

    -gymnasium PA and speakers (plenty loud, but I have concerns about where the speakers are mounted-on the stage wall in the gym, right at the ceiling).
    -Yamaha soundboard, 16 XLR/4 line level channels
    -2 Yorkville NX55P powered speakers, to be used as onstage wedge monitors.
    -16 wireless mic-headsets

    Any suggestions on how to tackle this successfully? Thanks in advance.
     
  2. Freddy G

    Freddy G V.I.P. Member

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    Yes. This is my field. You are in for a world of headaches. My honest suggestion is to not mic them and teach them how to project. As I see more and more young actors becoming accustomed to lav mics I see the training to project diminish.

    But I know you're not going to go with that so I'll tell you what you want to hear.

    First, what kind of mics are they? You'll want to mount them on each actor either taped to the cheek (kind of where a sideburn ends at earlobe level) or the forehead, just peaking out from the forelock. The cable will run through their hair, under a wig if any, and clipped to the hair with 2 or 3 hair clips.
    Use clear medical tape (transpore) to tape the mic near the capsule onto the cheek or forehead. Also tape the cable to the back of the neck but make sure there is enough slack in the cable so they can touch their chins to their chest. Clean the skin area first with alcohol. Run the cable down their backs to a transmitter pack at the waist.

    Location of mic is experimentation, also if hats or wigs are being used that comes into play.

    Mixing...

    This is where the rubber hits the road and 16 mics is not going to be easy.
    The basic principle is this: you bring the fader up on the mixer only when there is a line. You cannot have a static mix like a bar band where the vocal mics are just up all the time. You push the fader up just before they deliver the line and out when they are done. If two actors are in close proximity to each other this is especially critical. If you have both mics open at the same time you will get an ugly effect called "comb filtering".
    I've been mixing the musical "Me and My Girl" at the Shaw and I can tell you it is like a finely choreographed dance with the faders. At the end of the show I'm exhausted because there are sections that are insanely intense...you really have to learn and memorize the lines, which faders for which actors and the orchestral mix. It's no different than playing an instrument really, actually in many ways it's more difficult because the actors don't always deliver their lines the same way or with the same timing or content. So you have to watch them and pay attention to the way they telegraph their intentions.

    I advise that you get yourself a script, and before each line mark down what fader number that mic is. I use coloured dots as well as numbers in the script....then stick the same corresponding coloured dots on the mixer at the channel faders.
    I'll post a video tomorrow of one song. It will be a camera angle of just my hands on the faders. I'll also take a vid or photo of the script and my colour dot/number scheme so you get the idea.

    Hey...think about taking a school trip to the Shaw to see the musical. I might be able to arrange some kind of seminar or backstage tour to see how we do things.
     
    Last edited: Apr 29, 2017
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  3. northernguitarguy

    northernguitarguy SWeAT hOg

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    ^^^ Thanks for the detailed response. If it were up to me, these kids would have learned how to project, but I'm not in charge of that. I initially thought that with loud kids, a couple of hanging condenser mics would be enough. That said, this is what the director wants. I think these are going to be the entry-level Shure headsets/receivers, all rented from Long and McQuade. From what I understand, the receivers will all be 'nicely' packed up in a road case.

    I'm already with you on knowing which mics to have up or not. My plan is to get a sound check off of each kid and then have them keep their transmitter packs on all show. We have already numbered all the mic'ed actors and have a spreadsheet ready for which mic should be on, scene by scene. However, instead of using the faders, my plan was to just use the individual channel on/off buttons. I'll follow along with the script, which I will place prompts when to turn on/shut off the channels. Sound good? Or will the mics be picking up too much, i.e. breathing, lip-smaking, worse-feedback if they stay on?

    Thanks for mentioning the need for the medical tape, that's something I hadn't thought of. Also, where would you suggest I place the wedge monitors? The director wants them on stands, at the corner edge of the stage. I was thinking they'd be better on the floor at the stage front, much like they would be for a band.
     
  4. Freddy G

    Freddy G V.I.P. Member

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    The problem with just using on/off buttons is twofold.
    1- if you miss the beginning of a line (when, not if) it will be glaringly obvious if the channel pops open in the middle of a word. With a fader at least you swoop up if you're late, which is not great but way better than popping on.
    2- with on/off buttons you aren't mixing! And you are going to need to mix....constant adjustments of the faders in real time....again, a static fader level doesn't work in live theatre....you're constantly riding levels. Especially since you probably won't have 16 compressors....but even if you did you can't compress a bunch of live omni mics very much before getting into trouble.

    Monitors....it depends. What are you feeding into the monitors? Just pre-recorded music for them to sing along with? If that's the case put them where the director says. You should not be putting vocal mics through the monitors if you are only playing back pre-recorded music. Put the music level just loud enough for them to sing to.

    "Or will the mics be picking up too much, i.e. breathing, lip-smaking, worse-feedback if they stay on? "
    Yes. You are dealing with omni mics, they have quite a reach. That's why you can't just leave them up. So for example if two actors are having a conversation you ride each fader...actor A speaks or sings...only fader A is up. Then when actor B speaks, fader B goes up and fader A comes down. We do this even for just one word, or a grunt.
     
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  5. northernguitarguy

    northernguitarguy SWeAT hOg

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    Awesome, Freddy! I may be emailing you on Monday when we put this mess together!

    P.S. Thanks for suggesting the school trip to Niagara/Shaw and the offer for some special Freddy G treatment. I'll have to look into the schedule and when it can happen, but it would be a great trip.
     
  6. northernguitarguy

    northernguitarguy SWeAT hOg

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    One more question...I'll be using a Yamaha MG 24/14FX mixer. Do you recommend experimenting with the FX, i.e. reverb?
     
  7. Freddy G

    Freddy G V.I.P. Member

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    Sure, just go easy on it as a general rule of thumb. In my opinion it's OK for a real heartfelt ballad or maybe a special effect (like yelling down a well etc) but dry clarity is your friend...especially in a school gym where audio is....ahem....horrible! :run:
     
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  8. northernguitarguy

    northernguitarguy SWeAT hOg

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    Thanks, Freddy. Once again, you give me greta advice.
     
  9. Freddy G

    Freddy G V.I.P. Member

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    Cheers! BTW....greta is probably my most frequent typo as well!
     
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  10. Freddy G

    Freddy G V.I.P. Member

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    Hey NGG,

    So I filmed a mix of one number.
    A little background info....there are 25 radio mics on actors. The fader pack you see is arranged in virtual groups. Each scene in the play (the big green dot on the right side of the page is the "GO" for the new scene) arranges different groups of mics to each fader depending on what we need and how to best manage it. The 5 faders on the right are orchestra subgroups (brass, strings, reeds etc.) You can see corresponding coloured dots above the faders and on the page.

    Check it out on full screen!

     
  11. yeti

    yeti Senior Member

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    Gee, Freddy, that video makes me sweat just watching it. I have worked on quite a few musical productions during my early years and have never seen anyone follow the action with such precision, which is great....but I'm not sure it's something anyone can do on his first gig.
    So my suggestion would be to employ an approach usually used for unscripted talking heads television, especially if it involves sound reinforcement. It is critical find out how much gain before feedback one has with one mic open and then to only have the equivalent gain of one open mic @ nominal level, or 2 mics to nominal - 3dB or whatnot, the same idea employed by Dugan style automated mixing (I'm a huge fan of those), however many pics you open up, the summing gain should be equivalent or close to 1 mic's worth of gain, but at the same time you could have the unused mics under at say -9 dB or -12 dB and bring them up as needed, becoming the main mic (s) respectively. That way, instead of staring at a script (not for the novice who might also be dealing with other responsibilities, maybe wearing an intercom with cues flying) and employing the entire range of the faders he could just follow along from memory and visual cues plus occasional glances at the script to see what's coming up, who's got the first cue after a break in the vocals, etc. Listeners will undoubtedly hear the occasional missed cue but it will come up not from total silence but from the "under" level, which, when combined with the acoustic sound from the singer will be within acceptable tolerances, assuming that we're talking "sound reinforcement" levels vs a Rock'n'Roll type mix. The main thing to avoid is feedback and phasing so I'd concentrate on avoiding those and just following (actually, trying to stay slightly ahead of) the action. either way, it's a demanding challenge when 16 mins are involved.
    Or rent a Yamaha (or other) console available with Dugan style automating, those things are amazing. have you ever used one where physical action is involved? that would be my only concern, that external mechanical noises (movement, breaths, etc.)creep into the circuit.
    Anyway, just thinking out loud about the best approach for someone who doesn't do this every day.
     
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  12. northernguitarguy

    northernguitarguy SWeAT hOg

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    Yeah, there's no way I could do all of that. We had a rough dress rehearsal last night, but we worked out many bugs. We managed to come up with plan to go along with the script, so that the mics can be turned on/off when not in use. We have our first performance for an audience today, I'll be back to let you know how it goes.

    Thanks so much for all the input!
     
  13. John Scrip

    John Scrip Senior Member

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    And *THIS* is why I think "sound guy" is far and away the most difficult (and most under-appreciated) job in live theatre.

    Been there / done that. And lighting design, board-op, stage manager, etc., etc., etc.

    I'll volunteer to do any other *two* jobs simultaneously.

    Did a video once of a wonderful vocalist on a solo piece -- riding that single fader over around a 15-20dB range throughout the song to make it sound like she didn't have a mic on. "Oh, I thought you just hit mute buttons" or "oh, you should just use a compressor..." Riiiiight...

    Personally, from the look of your video, you put even more heart into it than I do on a good day. People have no idea what kind of "rehearsal" the sound guy goes through to do a performance like that. Nice job. :yesway:

    And to the uninitiated - That's *just faders* -- Now deal with someone who isn't putting out how they normally do (or double-casts). Or someone whose mic is malfunctioning -- Or missed a swap -- Or needs EQ -- Or starts feeding back -- or trying to get the stage manager to swap out a defective pack or battery -- all while trying to read *and* control 25-ish faders, line after line after line. And when you miss one (and it happens), half the crowd turns around and wonders why you're even getting paid.

    And that doesn't even include the pit!!!

    Sorry -- Occasional rant. [/rant] Much respect.
     
    Last edited: May 3, 2017
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  14. Howard2k

    Howard2k Premium Member

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    :hyper: That's unreal!
     
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