Mic placement problems multiple venues

Discussion in 'Location Recording' started by Thomas W. Bethel, Nov 15, 2007.

  1. Thomas W. Bethel

    Thomas W. Bethel Well-Known Member

    Does anyone else run into these types of problems?

    1. One venue we work in has all kinds of rules regarding running microphone cables over the aisles. There are so afraid of some one tripping or someone getting hurt that they say they don't want ANY cables running from the stage to the side of the house which is where we typically record from. They also have all kinds of rules regarding where microphone stands can be placed within the hall and there is no fly gallery to fly microphones from. They have their own recording staff but they refuse to do the recording of the group saying they are already too busy.

    2. When we go out to churches with center aisles they forbid us from having a microphone stand in the aisle for fear that someone will trip over it or if there is a fire that someone will be impeded from egressing out of the hall.

    3. We have a conductor that will not have any microphones on stage with the choir that she conducts and so we always are at a disadvantage as to microphone placement. She is paranoid about having ANY microphones between her and the choir for ANY reason.

    4. Lately a lot of the churches we record in have their own "AV" crew to do the Sunday services. Mostly these people are all volunteers and know nothing about what they are doing except that this is the fader for the preacher and this is the button to turn the system on. However they can make life very difficult for us when they have all kinds of "house rules" that they make us live with. Things like not putting any gaffers tape on the marble floor because it leaves a residue or the microphone cables cannot be seen from the audience area and they will not let us use their snake or we cannot have access to the area in or around the altar since it is "sacred" ground.

    We are doing mostly choir recordings and we try very hard to work within the guidelines laid down for us but some of the perceived "problems" with microphone stand and cable locations are starting to make a difference in the way we can record the choir and in some cases have prevented us from doing a professional level job just because of all the house rules.

    In one recent case after we were all set up to do the recording the AV person came up to us and said that the minister had decided that where we had our microphones was not suitable and that we would have to have our microphones BEHIND the congregation if we were going to record the concert at all but that if we wanted HE could do the recording for us using the hanging microphones in the church.

    I never know what to say in situation like this. It would seem that we were hired to do the recording and maybe this was an affront to his mastery of the system but....this was AFTER we had set up and AFTER we had asked him if there were any house rules and when I asked him where the minister was the AV guy said "at home" so how did he know where the microphones were placed UNLESS the AV guy called him.

    I am just wondering if others on this forum are starting to run into some of these same problems or is this just a Northern Ohio "thing"
  2. JoeH

    JoeH Well-Known Member

    I can't say what's normal in Ohio, but we've occasionally run into some of those things you mention, thankfully rarely at this point.

    I have seem some pretty ugly looking things (Stands, cables, etc.) at events and wonder why they are that way, while we jump through hoops to make it look and sound right. I wonder how some of those folks (including in-house AV depts) get away with it.

    I have a couple of fail-safe rules that I've been fortunate to keep in place throughout my career in recording in sacred spaces. As a fairly educated former-altar boy & church organist myself, I know the rules (at least for the few Catholic venues we're in) and tend to over-do it in the other Christian or Jewish houses of worship. I show respect for altars, kneelers, special items that seem to be important, and steer clear of them, if at all possible. Sometimes I get responses like: "oh, that's ok, we're going to have that removed in the next renovation", or the opposite: "Do not touch that podium/pew/cross/artifact under pain of instant death and expulsion from the building!!"

    I bring rubber matts for any cable that has to cross an aisle, and/or we tape it down to the point of making it a smooth, non-trippable surface.

    For big stands in the aisle, we grab those cushy kneelers and build a little "warning track" around them, and make a white-tape "murder-scene" chalk outline around the "no-go" zone. We also put some white tape on the lower portion of the stand as well. When possible, we'll tape off a pew as well, to keep folks away from the dangerous stuff.

    If I get static from a venue about recording equipment (and believe me, we're really serious about being minimally invasive with tech-tables, snakes, etc.), then I go to the person that hired us and let him/her sort it out with any house rules. If the house wins, and it's bad enough, we go home. (It has happened, as recently as last summer in a music hall.)

    Fortunately in most cases, if we're hired to record an event, the conductor/music director has already done his/her homework and found the hall to be usuable sonically and logistically for recording.

    A recent case in point was a bumpy ride for us: A local church hall in Center City Phila. was booked by a client for a 7:30 p.m. concert on a Friday night. We were told we had access from 5 p.m. onward, as did our client who wanted to get in there in time to set reserved seats, tune the piano, re-arrange the orchestra seating, etc.

    I got a frantic call late the night before from my client telling me the church had double-booked an event in there, and access was now restrticted to 6:30 p.m. arrival, NO EXCEPTIONs. (I Know the sextant at this place, and he's got a reputation for not suffering fools gladly. NO ONE got in a second before 6:30.) My client went bonkers, but my assistant and I discretely pre-loaded into a side access-way at 6:15, knowing we could simply chock open the side doors and get our gear in there and set up in mere minutes anyway.

    We're also NOT allowed to use any gaffer tape on any floor surface there. (Even though I showed them it's PRO tape, and not duct tape from Home Depot, which DOES leave a residue. No dice, and no tape, so our wires flop around loosely, albiet disretely out of the way along the side walls.)

    My client swears he'll never go back there again because of this snafu, but many times a good hall and good acoustic is more desirable than the BS one has to go through to make it work, so time will tell.

    Stands and cables are an unchangeable part of modern recording, even in sacred spaces. It a perfect world, it's up to the person booking the hall and hiring the professionals to make sure they are allowed to be used, but we all know that's sometimes just an ideal. I try to qualify every job before I go in, so I know what I"m facing, but there's always a surprise or two as we go along.

    We have a "Thing" here on the East coast, and perhaps it's similar to your situation: Very often, people start out angry & fighting before they even say Hello; territorial about stuff, and (not unlike dogs and birds with pecking order), want to let you know who's boss and what is and isn't allowed. I try to work around this very efficiently and cooly: When meeting for the first time, I always smile at them, ask their name, introduce myself and what we're there for, shake their hand, and then get into the rules of the house. I never beg or apologize, and I make it clear we've got a job to do as quickly and efficiently as possible without making them nuts. I try to make it clear it's not an attack on their way of doing things, and we'll be out of there as soon as the service is over.

    Most times, I've found these people to be simply beaten down (by their employers or church elders), or just tired of BS heaped on them by previous Divas and over-wrought sound engineers who have come before us. (I've heard some INCREDIBLE horror stories about mics, stands and huge recording gear of the past from these folks...) If you can understand what their fears are, and why they're trying to protect their "turf", you can sometimes win them over.

    I try to remember I'll be back at most of these places several times each season, not to mention the coming years. If I can (without being a doormat or compromising MY work), I at least make it LOOK like I'm cooperating, within their guidelines.

    And as is typical here in Philly anyway, we usually all leave as friends or amicable co-workers when the gig is done.
  3. JoeH

    JoeH Well-Known Member

    Oh, I forgot about one particularly infuriating experience a couple of years back.

    I have two very capable WOMEN on my staff who go out sometimes with me, or often on their own to handle second and third jobs. I really hate it when people think they can push them around because of their sex. (Trust me, these are the WRONG ladies to take that attitude with! ;-) )

    We were booked to record a local small ensemble in the music hall at Montgomery County Community College (Yes, I'm naming names; too bad I never got the name of the b*tch that started all the trouble!) I arrived early, set the entire rig up (this was our third time out in various different halls with this ensemble, doing the same show) and then took off for another event, leaving it all in the very capable hands of my assistant Tina.

    I soon got a phone call from her that the "manager" of the house went bonkers on her, ranting that the mic placement "wouldn't work", and they NEVER do it that way, the tall stand was in the way, and it must be moved, NOW, yada yada yada...

    I was having a very busy (and tiring day), so I was in NO MOOD for this BS. I couldn't get the b*tch on the phone to explain herself, but I was headed back, loaded for bear. (NO ONE was going to push my people around and get away with it!!)

    I arrived just before anything got moved, and found my client - the conductor/music director. I explained the situation, and suggested he go deal with the insane house manager before we touched a thing. (this was NOT a school production; the hall was simply hired by my client for their own use. We were free to do ANYTHING we wanted in this case; the school/house had ZERO involvement with the event other than to rent the hall.)

    Fortunately, my client knew what we were doing for him, and knew the sound we get, when we do it properly. (It was HIS money being spent, too! Hahaha)

    I never heard another peep (nor did I ever meet) this crazy-ass house manager, and the show went on without a hitch, with the mics where we put them in the first place.

    I'm still hoping to meet her someday, if we ever go back there. We have a few things to discuss. :twisted:
  4. Cucco

    Cucco Distinguished Member

    I love these topics. I can bitch about stuff like this all day.

    Yes, I've had my fair share of encounters and altercations due to "house" rules.

    Incident 1 - A college that I record for a lot recently renovated their delapidated old piece of crap concert hall. Instead of fixing the horrible acoustics or 50 year old lighting system which is noisy as hell and right on stage right (in sight of the audience!), they put in new seats, curtains and this new floor treatment over the concrete floor (to the tune of $15K!). Well...it turns out that gaffers tape (even the real stuff) peels this stuff off of the concrete. Oops...I guess they should have told me that BEFORE I put down 50 feet of the stuff to cover my cables.

    Incident 2 - Same college, same hall...the fire marshall in this town is a JACKASS. His name is John Nunally (naming names here too!!!). He's a jackass, an idiot and an aggressive little Napolean! Despite the fact that the said concert hall has 4 exits at the front of the hall (all leading outdoors) and 6 exits at the rear of the hall with 4 aisles of 6' egress going front to back and a 12' egress between the stage and the first row of seats, he came in literally 5 minutes before a major concert event (MAJOR - sold out house...celebrity performing with the ensemble - BIG celebrity) and told us that since my mic stand was taking up 3' of the egress, he was shutting down the whole show. Fortunately we moved the stand and he agreed to not shut it down.

    At the next concert (which I didn't record) they weren't so lucky. The stage is rated for 84 persons maximum. With the lighting guy backstage, they had 85. Since the conductor refused to get rid of any of his players, they shut the holiday concert down and refunded 1250 tickets.


    The thing that REALLY gets me is more from the well-intentioned people who come over and tell you where to put your mics and mic stands because they KNOW that the best sound in the hall is at the back of the hall and that's where you should record from.

    Hmmmm....maybe that's why you hired ME!!! Because I KNOW that's not where the best sound is and you've heard my recordings and know that I get a better sound than that! Damn....I get a little worked up (and a bit cockey) at that.

    I'm with you Joe -

    If you go in with a very positive attitude and a handshake, it will often disarm the idiots right away. A lot of communication goes a LONG way too. I like to iron out these details before I get on site (especially for major recordings.) I don't like surprises.

    Also, I don't like myself or my staff being treated poorly by ignorant individuals. Often, it's as Joe says - they're on guard (aggressively so) due to the last idiot that ruined something in the hall. I often find that these are the people who get my business card in the end and get future business from in the future.

    I had another incident recently where I was recording an ensemble (who will remain nameless as another lister on the board here does their work too...though I haven't seen them around in a bit) and I put a large stand behind the conductor (in a church....at floor level). I explained to her that I was putting it there and advised her to watch out for sudden backwards movements as she'd likely get bitten by the stand.

    She advised me that she was okay with that and was used to it. Then she said..."AH...thank you! I notice you didn't spread the legs all the way out on the stand. My usual recording guy insists on spreading them all the way and I can't get around it."

    In my mind I thought - "Well...I WANT to spread the legs as far as I can for the sake of safety, however, I know this stand is more than capable of it's load with this narrow of a spread."

    Sorry...I've strayed - a LOT.

    One problem solver Tom -

    This came to me during a recording of Faure Requiem which was preceded by a choir processional down the center aisle (4' wide - no room for a center mast mic stand).

    I took my wife's photo back drop stand (about $150 from B&H) and set one leg in one pew and one leg in the pew on the opposite side of the center aisle and put the pole across at about 8 feet in height. This allowed people to safely proceed under the mics without ever worrying about tripping.

    A simple clamp on mic hold held the mics firmly in place and I got SO many compliments from this!

    Here's the kind of product I'm talking about.
    link removed
    Every location recording guy needs one of these!


    PS -

    That dumbass fire marshall....

    I take a cooking class in town. The place recently installed a residential grade (allowed by code) gas range capable of a total of 24,000 BTUs amongst all 4 burners. According to code, they only needed a ventilation system capable of 30cfm of air movement and it could be a down-draft ventilation with carbon filters (no ducting required).

    However, this guy almost shut the business down and cited them a LOT of money until they got a COMMERCIAL grade hood rated at 2000 cfm and a fire-supression system. It cost them $10K to renovate the place to allow for ducting! jackass...
  5. BRH

    BRH Active Member

    One of the reasons I don't do that type of recording anymore. Even the person that hires you (the conductor usually) has no idea about placement.

    This should go in the worst thread.
    One time a semi famous harpsicordist came with the instrument to our school to perform a concert. Wood sounding board, not the metal Chalis harpsicord. At that time I was using Nakamichi DMP100, Like a Sony F1, hooked to BetaMax. Pre DAT.
    I had 2 U89 consecutive serial # on stands about 3 feet from instrument.
    All levels checked, 429 seat house full. 5 mins before showtime.
    The Harpsichordist "friend" came to me and said "That is NOT how you record classical music! you record it from farther away!!"" while pointing to the stage with a soft wave of the hand. I told him that I had a mike in the ceiling and would he like me to use that one instead? "Yes, that would be Much better" So I hussled and took down my U89s and turned up the fader on the famed TOA board that had the one SM57 in the ceiling and routed that to a Teac cassette deck. Spent the concert schleping my gear to the car. Afterward I handed them the casstte. "there ya go"
  6. Thomas W. Bethel

    Thomas W. Bethel Well-Known Member

    Had one similar. Piano player. Nice guy. Kept asking me to move my microphones back further. Finally was at the first row of the auditorium and he kept wanting me to 'Move back" said the piano needed room to breathe. I went back two additional rows (now I am about 25 feet from the piano in the hall) He said he guessed that was far enough and could I please record his concert from there. I did and it sounded like a recording that a student would do of his rehearsal practice or a bootleg of a piano concert. The pianist liked the recording but to me it sounded very very distant. Oh well. No accounting for taste and he was paying the bill.

    Did a recording of a Baroque ensemble in a church. The musicians were spread all over the front of the church. The church was very reverberant but not in a good way. It sounded like echo city but the conductor liked the recording. Again no accounting for taste but the conductor paid for the session.

    I did a recording in a "goat barn" in the Cleveland Metro Parks. It was originally a goat barn but had been converted into a concert venue. Another Baroque Ensemble. Not my equipment not my microphone placement I was just hired to push the record button and watch the levels. The person who set up the equipment thought that the room would be full and did not want to have a "tight sound of the instruments" Not too many people showed up and the recording was bathed in reverb and echo but I got paid.

    The operative phrase here is getting PAID. I can only do what the client wants me to do and then it is up to them to decide if what they requested is really what they wanted.

  7. Boswell

    Boswell Moderator Distinguished Member

    I once got booked to do a recording gig in a particular church. They didn't want to pay my usual location rate because they said I could use the equipment already installed in the venue. I made a recce and saw their completely unsuitable gear, but, to be fair, it was nicely installed in a locked glass-fronted rack cabinet.

    So I didn't bother to ask for the key and took my own gear instead. It turned out to be a decent recording. The next day I got so much grief from the church warden about changing all the settings on their equipment and leaving it in an unusable state. I was never to use it again, understood? Since then, I often hold up and wonder at my magic fingers that can operate through plate glass.
  8. Keith_K

    Keith_K Guest

    That's a cool idea! Sort of a portable flying rig.
  9. HansAm

    HansAm Active Member

    This just confirms that you gotta be polite and FIRM from the first second. If you show weakness they will have a stab at you :D

    Personally I'm anti religious so don't have to worry about church recordings. The Metal-people i record usually don't make much of a fuzz ower anything.

    I'm so greatfull for that.
  10. Thomas W. Bethel

    Thomas W. Bethel Well-Known Member

    We have a fire marshal in this town that would make a crazy person look sane. He is a religious zealot when it comes to egress and he has stopped more than one concert because the students were sitting in the aisles or because someone had microphone or speaker cords going across the main aisles even though they were taped down or covered with a rubber mat. He is always "just stopping in" and that is when he catches these "major problems" his quote not mine.

    Recently he came in and stopped a concert in mid piece and made everyone exit the hall while he did a survey of the hall and the setup of the recording equipment. He did not wait for the end of the piece but just came in and announced that he was shutting down the concert. What a dweeb. Not a nice person. If you ask him what can be done in advance he will not tell you but later will say "well if you asked me......"

    I always try and do a recon of the hall and meet with the people that will be there when we are doing the recording just to get the lay of the land and what, if any, problems we will face the day of the concert. I try and be as nice as I can. (sometimes they don't make it easy.) but I put on my big :D button and go for it. I always go in with a smile and handshake and try to be as understanding of their needs as I expect them to be of mine.

    I too use the "scenic backdrop supports" for the center aisle microphone but sometimes the people in the church get upset and say we are "unbeautifying" their church by using it. I think for a concert it is NOT a sanctuary and it becomes a concert hall for the couple of hours that the concert is being given. So the idea of "unbeautifying" their "church" is a bit of a stretch since this audience is not a congregation attending a religious service. I have the least problems with the Catholic churches and the most problems with the new evangelical churches with big AV staffs and lots of "experts" trying to second guess us.

    85% of all the churches we work in are staffed with GREAT people who go the extra mile to make sure we have full access and all of our needs are met. The other 15% are in the minority and I have over the years just learned to deal with them.
  11. BRH

    BRH Active Member

    That's a bit rude. Should've just cited you and used some judgement.
    What kind of concert? Fill on rock with drinks?
    or classical Spring Concert?
  12. Thomas W. Bethel

    Thomas W. Bethel Well-Known Member

    Classical - student performance -Junior Rectial.
  13. David French

    David French Well-Known Member

    Me too! Me too!

    I was once told to place my mics 16 feet away because someone's instrument's low note had a 16 foot wavelength.

    I was once told to place my mics behind the last row of chairs because the mic stand was 'ugly' and spoiled the elegance of the tuba ensemble.

    Damn.. Can't think of any more right now. I know there are others.

    Tom, pics. :)
  14. Thomas W. Bethel

    Thomas W. Bethel Well-Known Member

    Boy you would have been in real trouble if he had been playing the organ with some 32 foot non resultant pipes. You would have had to have your mikes outside the hall. People are funny and they read to much information on line that is given by people that have no business giving advice.

    I did a classical concert one time and the harpsichordist told me where I had to place my microphone to pick up the harpsichord. Now I have about 30 Oberlin Baroque Ensemble recordings on CD and records to my credit I fully understand how to record the harpsichord and make is sound GREAT. He never asked what kind of microphone I was using, what its pickup pattern was nor anything about the microphone. I asked him where he had gotten his information from and he told me that it was an interview with Tom Bethel about his Baroque recording technique. I did not have the heart to tell him that I was Tom Bethel but I did as he "suggested" and it came out fine. After the concert I told him my name and his jaw hit the stage floor. Oh well. :wink:

    There was an organ professor who shall remain nameless but he was always complaining that we were not really capturing his playing and he had taken it upon himself to figure out the best placement for the organ recording microphones after doing much experimentation with his own Sony microphones and a tape deck. He had his student assistant climb up a ladder with the microphones and the organ professor had on a pair of earphones and he told the student to move the microphones up and down until he found just the right spot. He called me into the concert hall and showed me where he wanted the microphones placed. So at his next concert I put a ladder in the middle of the stage and used a couple of clamp on brackets to place the microphones EXACTLY where he had told me to place them. He came into the hall and was upset that there was a ladder in the middle of the stage for his concert and came down and started swearing at me. I told him that I was just doing as he wanted and that if he wanted me to I could replace the ladder with some tall microphone stands but that I could not guarantee that they would be in exactly the same places he had shown me. He stormed off. I went and took down the ladder and put up some tall microphone stands and approximated the placement. The next day he was at my office saying that I did not capture the organ the way he wanted it. This went on for a period of time and he finally got the dean involved and I was told to do things the way he wanted no matter what so the next concert up went the ladder. I tried to explain to him that his $29.00 omni Sony microphones were not the same as my Neumann's but he just never understood. Later I was asked to do a whole album of organ works and it received critical acclaim in the press and I used what I always used and everything came out sounding GREAT! So it wasn't me after all but his expectations that were messed up. GO FIGURE :?
  15. David French

    David French Well-Known Member

    Great stories... love the 'Tom Bethel' one. I'd also love to hear anything you have to say about harpsichord... recording those things is a bitch.
  16. aracu

    aracu Active Member

    An honerable mention goes to the very important newspaper
    photographer, who asks to have the main pair moved for the sake of the photos, then proceeds to take 50 loud snapping photos during the
    chamber music concert, all to get one boring photo for an article.
  17. Cucco

    Cucco Distinguished Member


    I did a concert about 7 years ago of a concert band (going nameless of course). The band hired a photographer to come in and shoot some promo photos. Instead of ruining ALL the work I had put into proper placement and height, I decided since I had plenty of room between the first row of chairs and the lip of the stage, I would lay my stands down so that I could just prop them back up in less than 60 seconds if necessary.

    So...while my Schoeps (4 in total) are laying on the ground in mic clips attached to stands, the conductors bratty-ass children came RUNNING into the hall and proceeded to STEP on one of the mics. Another one of the children came over and started smacking one saying "HELLO....IS THIS ON?!!"

    Then, of course the photographer wasn't curteous enough to turn off the sound effects on his piece of sh*t digital camera (no manual shutter - just a EVF handheld digital that beeped with every picture!!!!!)

  18. Thomas W. Bethel

    Thomas W. Bethel Well-Known Member

    Yes we had a photographer hold up an entire dress rehearsal (we were recording both audio and video of the dress) this summer. He was suppose to be in at 10 am and we had to have all of our microphones out the picture (pun intended) and he never showed until 11:00 am and they wanted to start at 11 so we had to scramble to get our stuff up and working in a couple of minutes after he finished the photography.


    He said he had gotten the wrong time from his administrative assistant (really his wife) and that is why he was 1 hour late. Not a good way to run a railroad (or a photography business).

    This was a children's play and trying to keep all those kids on stage for an hour without them going crazy was amusing. We were charging a daily rate so it really did not matter to us.
  19. hughesmr

    hughesmr Guest

    B oy, that is some story!
    O rganists can be temperamental!
    E xpect the unexpected, huh?

  20. Thomas W. Bethel

    Thomas W. Bethel Well-Known Member

    No actually his initials are HT. It sounds like you might know about this. I laughed myself silly reading your reply. Thanks for making my day.
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