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How should I mike actors on stage using PCC-160 mics, wireless lavalier mics, or wireless headworn mics? (9 questions and replies)

MIKING ACTORS ON STAGE
I have to mike a stage 22 feet across and 12 feet deep with a music pit directly in front. I am having trouble picking up the vocals over the musicians. I need the mics to pick up speech as well as chorus singing. I have tried hanging mics and standing mics at the front of the stage. I can't mount floor mics on the stage because it is hollow under and all you get is footsteps. 
Iain

Reply: Here are some suggestions: 

  • Ask the director to ask the musical director to have the band play more quietly because they are drowning out the actors.
  • Ask the director to ask the actors to talk and sing more loudly because they can't be heard above the pit band.
  • Use wireless lavalier mics or better yet, wireless headworn mics on the main actors. They are expensive but work great. Sometimes you can borrow mics, transmitters and receivers from a local church.
  • Make sure that the PA speakers are close to the audience and far from the microphones.
  • Try using just two hanging mics (like the Crown CM-31), as close to the actors as possible, and use a graphic equalizer or automatic feedback suppressor (Sabine or Shure) to notch out feedback frequencies. For more information, click here 

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MIKING ACTORS WITH PCC MICS ON PANELS
I'm doing the audio for a musical. I'm using six PCC-160's on 12" x 12" vertical plexiglass panels on mic stands. The stands are spread across the front at 4-foot intervals. I also have one PCC-160 on each side of the stage on a vertical music stand. I'd like to put the mics across the front on the stage floor, but they pick up foot shuffles, stomping, etc.

Does masking tape on the top of the mic boundary alter pickup? Would masking tape on the back of the mic plate deteriorate the pickup from the plexiglass panel? How can I improve the setup? 

Dave Boileau
Iqaluit, Nunavut

Reply: Masking tape on top of the mic boundary does not alter the pickup. Masking tape on the back of the mic plate does not alter the pickup if the tape is thin (less than about 1/8 inch thick). 

The PCC-160 has a front side and back side. Apparently your mics are aiming down toward the floor instead of at the actors. Can you angle the plexiglass and music stands horizontally instead, so that the mics are aiming at the actors?

Use as few mics as possible to reduce feedback. Three PCC-160's in front should be enough, unless you have stage action far to one side of the stage. Put the mics as close as possible to the actors. If possible, turn up only one mic at a time (the mic in front of the actor speaking). This gives much more gain-before-feedback and clarity than having all the mics on at once. To further improve gain before feedback, use a graphic equalizer to reduce frequencies that feed back. Better yet, use an automatic feedback suppressor such as made by Shure or Sabine.

Reconsider putting the mics on the stage floor. That's how they were designed to be used, and that's how they work best. To reduce foot noise, maybe put a thin carpet on the stage floor, attach felt or rubber on shoe bottoms, or have the actors wear rubber-soled shoes.

Putting the mics up on stands causes a phase-interference problem which can color the sound. When the mics are on stands a few feet above the stage floor, each mic picks up sound from two paths: directly from the actor's mouth, and reflected off the stage floor. That stage-floor reflection is a longer path, so it is delayed relative to the sound directly from the actor's mouth. When the direct and delayed signals combine at the microphone, this creates phase interference or acoustic comb filtering. It sounds like mild flanging, or a swooshy, filtered tonal coloration. But if the mics are on the floor, the direct and reflected sounds arrive at the mic at the same time. Then there is no phase interference, and you get a natural, hi-fi sound.

Here are some links to articles on the subject:
PCC (Phase Coherent Cardioid) (42.8K pdf format)
Crown Microphone Application Guide for Speech Sound Reinforcement: (1784K pdf format)

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MIKING ACTORS ON STAGE
I run a small American community theater.Stage dimensions: Main stage 24 feet wide, temporary side stage 14 feet wide. I would like to order hanging mics to mike the stage. We do not have the funding to purchase individual wireless mics. The mics should pick up the actors and not the noise made from our young audience members.

(1) Can you suggest crown microphones that would work for our situation?
(2) Is there any literature online that you can point me to so I can learn the differences between the different kinds of mics?
(3) Is there a difference between floor mics for recording, and floor mics for amplification? What key “tech” words am I looking for in a mic for theatrical purposes?
(4) We have several uncarpeted risers that make a lot of noise when walking and dancing (we do musicals). Will the floor mics handle all this excess noise? There is nothing under the risers except a hard wood floor.
(5) The acoustics of this room are terrible.
Paula Fairbrother, Director, Razz-Ma-Tazz Family Theater, Courseware Program Manager & Sr. Editor, Contractor, Technology Training and Services Corp. (TTSC)

Reply:
(1) Floor-mounted microphones generally work better than hanging microphones. Crown PCC-160 microphones should do the job for you. You place them on the stage floor about 1 foot from the edge of the stage. They are "dead" to sounds in the rear, and mainly pick up sounds that are in front (the actors). Use two PCC-160's on the main stage and one on the side stage. Here is a link to the Crown PCC-160 datasheet.

(2) For application information, click here.

The fewer mics you use, the clearer the sound is and the less feedback you'll get. If one mic covers the entire stage effectively, stop there. If you need two or three to pick up everyone, that's okay. More floor mics or hanging mics create more feedback and muddier sound.

It's difficult to get enough loudness without wireless mics, but hopefully the suggestions in the articles will help.

(3) Floor-mounted mics should have a directional pickup pattern or polar pattern, which picks up sound mainly from in front. Some directional polar patterrns are cardioid, supercardioid, or hypercardioid. You can record a play with those mics. Floor mics for recording music often have an omnidirectional or hemispherical polar pattern: they pick up equally well in all directions. Examples are the Crown Pressure Zone Microphones or PZMs.

(4) If your stage floor is really noisy, you might be better off with a few hanging mics, such as the Crown CM-31. It has a supercardioid polar pattern. Again, use as few mics as possible.

(5) You said that the room has terrible acoustics. If it sounds very "live", with lots of reverberation and echoes, it will be hard to understand the speech no matter what mics you use. I recommend that you cover the walls if possible with absorbent material, such as moving blankets, curtains, quilts, or muslin-covered fiberglass insulation. Also, place the PA speakers as close to the audience as possible so that the audience hears more of the speakers and less of the room. You might need to get a second pair of speakers on stands and place them halfway down the room so that no one in the audience is very far from a loudspeaker.

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SHOTGUN MICS FOR STAGE MIKING
Is there such a thing as a short shotgun microphone that could be used at several positions along the edge of a stage to limit coverage to specific areas of the stage to minimize interference between multiple microphones when combining them into a mono loudspeaker system? 
Gary Sanborn

Reply: I'd recommend the AKG C568B. It's $579 list or $429 street and has very good specs -- wide, smooth response and low noise. Being a short shotgun, it has a hypercardioid pattern below 500 Hz and a shotgun lobe pattern above 500 Hz.

Since shotguns are very directional at high frequencies, you might need 5 or 6 shotguns to avoid losing high frequencies when the actor is off-axis of the closest mic. For example, an actor might be 45 degrees off axis to two shotguns when standing between them, and you lose a lot of highs in a shotgun mic at 45 degrees off axis. That's why six shotguns might be needed, so that an actor never gets very far off axis.

I'd expect three PCC-160's to have 2 to 4 dB more gain-before-feedback than six shotguns. Also, the shotguns would have a little phase interference from floor reflections but the PCC-160s would not.  

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MIKING "ROOMS" ON STAGE
I need to mike each room within a rolling onstage house in a theatre production. The sizes of the rooms range from 4'x5' to 6'x14'. Only one room will be "live" at a time. Some rooms are completely enclosed (ceiling, plexiglass windows) and some are not. I am thinking of using either one PCC 160 in each room - placed on a shelf at about head level (the floor will be loud and hollow and perhaps too far from the actors' mouths in such close proximity). Or a PZM in each room - attached to the ceiling where possible and a wall where there is no ceiling.

I understand that hanging a CM-30 or CM-31 may be useful as well. Lavaliers will not work in this situation as there are almost 20 actors moving through these spaces and the performance is extremely physical.

Which Crown mics would you recommend, and how I should place them?
Leah

Reply: The PCC-160 and PZM-6D are both great choices. If you have access to both of them, put them in one room where you mentioned, feed their signals to two mixer channels, and compare the sound of one to the other. Choose the mic that gives the best clarity and tone quality.

If you don't have access to those mics, I'd go with the PCC-160 on the shelf. Try to place the mic so it can "see" the actors' mouths; i.e., so that it is not behind the actors. Apply EQ as needed to get a natural sound.  

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MULTIPLE PERFORMERS IN AN AUDITORIUM
We have an auditorium which seats 500 people at the Kansas Union, University of Kansas. We are attempting to come up with a microphone(s) which would keep us from having to use lavalier microphones in the case of multiple performers. The auditorium typically hosts speakers, movies, and small performance groups. We recently had an improv group in with six performers. We tried a floor mic but it didn't work. Is there a mic which would allow us to mic speakers, performance groups, panel discussions etc. If so, how many mics would be required to pick up all the sound on stage? The stage in the auditorium is 14' deep and 24' wide and is half-moon shaped.
Lisa Kring, Conference Coordinator, KU Memorial Unions  

Reply: Did the floor mic not work because of feedback? If so, you might try an automatic feedback control device such as made by Sabine or Shure. Also, use a microphone with a supercardioid polar pattern (Crown PCC-160) instead of a microphone with a hemispherical polar pattern (Crown PZM series).  

Did the floor mic not work because people near the left and right sides of the stage were too far from the mic? Then you need to use two or three floor microphones (Crown PCC-160) across the front of the stage, and connect them to a mixer.  

If feedback is still a problem, you need to use several mics, with each mic a few inches from its user. One single microphone usually cannot cover the whole stage effectively. In professional stage productions, each actor is given a lavalier mic with a transmitter and a receiver (about $400 per person).  

Group discussions usually require one mic per person (a wireless lavalier mic or a Crown PCC-170 table-mounted microphone). A person speaking at a lectern could be picked up with a Crown LM-201 or LM-300A lectern microphone, or with a wireless lavalier mic.  

If lavalier mics are unacceptable, you could use several stand-mounted mics (Crown CM-200A), each about 3 to 8 inches from its user. The actors would need to stay in front of their mics instead of moving around. Again, you'd connect all these microphones to a mixer.  

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PREVENTING FEEDBACK
We do amateur drama productions on a stage in a large old dance hall with less-than-great acoustics. We bought two PCC-160 boundary mics and feedback is a problem. We use two Soundsphere speakers. No other mics are plugged in. Mics are about 20 feet from the closest speaker. Any suggestions? 
Ginny Edwards

Reply: To reduce feedback, you need directional speakers. Each speaker should have a 12" or 15" woofer and a horn tweeter. Soundspheres radiate sound in all directions, including at the microphones, and this causes feedback.

Here's a link to several tips on miking a stage and reducing feedback: 
Crown Microphone Application Guide for Speech Sound Reinforcement
(1.74 MB pdf file)
You can download that and view it with the free Adobe Acrobat Reader. 

You might be up against the laws of physics. It might not be possible to get adequate gain before feedback if the room acoustics are very live or reverberant, especially with microphones far from the actors. Most stage productions are done with small wireless lavalier mics clipped onto the actors. Each main actor has a wireless transmitter and receiver. This gets expensive, but it provides excellent gain before feedback.

Some other suggestions: 

  • Try using just one PCC-160 in the center of the stage, or turn up just one mic at a time in front of the actor who is speaking.
  • Put the mics as close as possible to the actors.
  • Ask the actors to project their voices.
  • Put the speakers on stands as close the audience as possible, and as far from the mics as possible.
  • Use a 1/3rd octave graphic equalizer to remove frequencies that feed back. You can get up to 6 to 10 dB more gain before feedback this way. Better yet, use an automatic feedback suppressor, such as made by Sabine or Shure. It will automatically find and remove feedback frequencies. Some low-cost units from other manufacturers do not work as well. Either a graphic equalizer or an automatic feedback suppressor is always necessary with floor mics.

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OMNI OR CARDIOID HEADWORN MICS?
I am considering purchasing up to 8 beltpack radio mic systems for use in live sound reinforcement in a theatrical environment (speech and vocal). It is likely that the mics themselves will be attached to the performers' heads just in front of the ear.

I'm unsure of whether I should go for cardioid or omnidirectional mics. Whilst I understand the directional nature of cardioid mics which would suggest their unsuitability for this application I am also concerned that omni's will cause feedback. Which would be more suitable?
Jon Smith

Reply: Most theater sound people are using omnidirectional headworn mics. Since the mics are relatively close to the mouth, feedback appears not to be a serious problem. Omni's have less handling noise than cardioids.

To get the best gain before feedback and sound quality, you might consider using a headworn mic that places the mic at the side of the mouth. Or place a standard mini mic near the side of the mouth, and tape the cable to the cheek. Try Hy-tape, 3M Nexcare waterproof bandages, or Band-aid Water-Block Plus bandages. They are available online or in the first-aid section of pharmacies.

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DISCONTINUED PZMs FOR THEATER USE
I just took over management of a theatre and found 3 PZM mics model 30-GPB. I know this is an old model, but I'm assuming the mics are fine. I just can't get them to work. I've tried using phantom power (from a powered board as well as with a stand alone phantom power supply), but no dice. Is there something else I need to get these to work? I'm assuming any kind of interface made specifically for this model is discontinued by now. What could I use instead? Help!
Joshua Iley
3am Productions

Reply: The following link shows a circuit that powers older PZMs. Please click here.

Phantom power should be turned OFF at your mixer for the mic inputs that the PZM-powering circuit feeds into. The mic gets its power from the 9-volt battery, not from phantom power.

Because PZM's have an omnidirectional polar pattern (actually hemispherical on a surface), they tend to feed back in sound reinforcement applications. However, they work great for recording.

If you want to amplify the voices of actors on the stage, I recommend using two or three Crown PCC-160 microphones. The PCC-160 is the industry-standard stage-floor mic on Broadway. It has a half-supercardioid polar pattern, so it reduces feedback. You would also need wireless lavalier or headworn mics for the main actors.

You can make the PZM-30GPB directional at mid-to-high frequencies by mounting the mic in a "corner" made of clear Plexiglass or Lexan, as shown in the attached file pzm_corner.jpg. Unscrew the mic holder from the plate, and mount the nose of the mic holder into the corner. For more information, please see the document, Crown Boundary Microphone Application Guide.