how to mic an elementary school play

Discussion in 'Location Recording' started by ArielZusya, Mar 27, 2015.

  1. ArielZusya

    ArielZusya Member

    As a preface, I'm not a sound pro--more like a hobbyist who is getting a bit more serious about all of this (and who loves the tech). That out of the way, my wife is an elementary school teacher. Each year they put on a play for which the first and second-graders perform a play, sing songs, and do a bit of dancing. Last year the school was in a temporary space while the new school building was built and so lousy audio was forgiven. This year they are in their new school and they've got a beautiful theater which has decent speakers and a board but no mics. For the play this year a parent brought in a handful of handheld mics and some stands. It was woefully insufficient (though it was nice of them to try).

    That gives me a year to figure out how best to mic the munchkins. I was thinking about renting equipment next year and then if we like it, purchasing for the following year. I read this thread, but it seems more focused on bigger/older kids. On the other hand the complaints on that thread about PZMs and boundary mics might not apply to little ones as they would be closer to the stage and might be picked up a bit better (or am I giving boundary and PZM mics too much credit?).

    Understanding that as deep as I'd like my pockets to be they are not without end (so in terms of PZMs and boundary mics, while AKG/Crown and Sanken may be within range, Schoeps probably isn't), what is the best way to mic the kiddos? Thanks!
  2. DonnyThompson

    DonnyThompson Distinguished Member

    How many kids will be on stage at once? Spoken word, singing, or both?
  3. paulears

    paulears Well-Known Member

    Hire some PCC160's or Bartlett's - by far the simplest system - I've tried all the systems available, and PCC boundaries have proven themselves with me. The way they work also means that rehearsal tests are very similar to the show even if unskilled performers stand in the wrong places, or mask people etc.

    Here in the UK there can't be very many professional theatres that don't have them in stock.
  4. dvdhawk

    dvdhawk Well-Known Member

    The big challenge will be gain before feedback trying to amplify small voices. The quieter Jr. High and Sr. High students can be just as bad.

    In addition to mic selection, much of that will depend on where the speakers were installed. A hanging speaker cluster almost always has a problematic low-mid lobe radiating down the back of the speaker (or speaker array).

    If you place a boundary mic at center stage, or anyplace else these lobes are prominent, you may need to take the time to ring-out the problem frequencies with EQ and hope you have something useable left. That's just as true of headset mics or anything other kind of mic you might use.

    I despise the little hanging mics and have much better luck with mics at stage level if you can hide them. Although I have no qualms using 10-20 super-discrete headworn wireless mics for main characters if necessary. The tiny headset/earset mics are generally omni-directional, so even with the capsule an inch from their mouths there's a limit to how much gain you can give them.

    I do a several shows a year with high school kids, and it is a handful keeping the sound under control from a whisper to a scream. And for the life of me, I can't get the "directors" to stop staging dialogue at the very front of the apron, or out among the audience, or coming down the aisles.

    I've got the annual elementary talent show this week, and it's doubly difficult, due to the relatively timid performers. Handhelds and wireless headsets will be the order of the day.

    Best of luck!
  5. paulears

    paulears Well-Known Member

    Yep - but the reality is that you work with what you have. A row of boundaries on a wide stage really doesn't give much lift, no matter what you do - they're just too far away, and any kind of personal miking solution for nippers is out of the question. Maybe, for once, the audience will have to be quiet, not rustle wrappers, and chat - and the lighting people might need to turn off their noisy moving head and LED lights that have the world's loudest fans in them. With amateurs, the sound mans job is very often tweaking down the backing tracks to reveal the singers, rather than turning them up!

    Those of us that do live sound regularly hate the hanging mics as dvdhawk said - they often give an illusion of being good, but just pick up the general hub-bub, feet, floor noises and clothes rustling. Some people might try them once, and think they're good, but that is rarely the case every time, and good results from overheads I put down as flukes!
  6. pcrecord

    pcrecord Don't you want the best recording like I do ? Well-Known Member

    What ever you do, I recommend you start by renting.

    Handheld mics are not the ideal to use for groups of people. They are made to be held and speak/sing in at a very close distance.
    Some Condenser mics are made to capture at better distance and those should be you aim.
    Like dvdhawk said, if it's not only to record but to reinforce the audio in the audience, you would need to be very carefull about feedbacks.
    Some had acceptable results with the Rode NT4 or an area of NT5 or if the performers stands on at the time on the same spot, a shutgun mic could be a good choice too...
  7. bouldersound

    bouldersound Real guitars are for old people. Well-Known Member

    It's going to feed back long before you can get any useful signal from the mics. The only technical solution I see as having a shot is headset mics on everyone, but other factors probably rule that out.
  8. paulears

    paulears Well-Known Member

    Shotguns are terrible as a choice! Their directional pattern is the equivalent of miking up with a torch. Shotguns are a precision tool. Video people get terrible results if they are just roughly aimed at the targets, and it's pretty much the same problem. You can hear the person who is on axis. The trouble is, if they are simply doing a sidestep or two, then this person gets replaced by the person next door. Worst still is the out of tune, but very loud person on the back row ALWAYS stand in the perfect position to be heard. You need a mix of everyone, and a shotgun with it's lobar pattern is too tight. Hypers are very similar. Many people add in extra shotguns - I myself did it for a few years a long time ago and the results were always poor, compared to boundaries. Once you get three or five shotguns across a width, blended together, you also get nasty phase sound - called comb filtering, where the patterns overlap.

    The cardioids do allow even coverage, but visually are a bit naff, but they do work. PCC Boundary mics (not the old fashioned PZMs, which have a hemispherical pickup pattern and feedback with a gnat's whisker of gain) use the stage surface as their boundary, so sound less reflective. Cardioids on even low stands get a direct path from the source, plus a bounce, which doesn't help clarity.

    Distant and widespread, quite sources are a very difficult thing to capture.
  9. pcrecord

    pcrecord Don't you want the best recording like I do ? Well-Known Member

    I only mention it if the person is at one spot (like a podium), but yeah they are not ideal..

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