Skip to main content

We are about to do Les Mis School's Edition and I have the lovely job of doing the sound.
However, looking for some advice.

This is the Orchestra... all single instrumentalists unless stated.
Keys 1
Keys 2
Acoustic/Electric Guitar
Bass Guitar
Violin 1
Violin 2 x2
Viola x 2
Oboe/Cor Anglais
Horn 1
Horn 2
Trumpet 1
Trumpet 2
2 x Timpani
Sax (Sax is also doing percussion)
Assorted Percussion - Bell tree, tam tam, sleigh bells, windchimes, triangle, tambourine

First conundrum is the small amount of space.
The show is being performed in Traverse, with the audience on raked seating up from ground level.
The orchestra is being hidden at ground level underneath staging. The space is 14m long, and 2m wide, except at the centre 2m where it extends forward to 4m and 2m either side of that where it extends to 3m.
Hope you can picture that.

I am using a soundcraft 32channel analog mixer with 6 aux outs
And have a Yamaha 01V as well.

I also need to accomodate 16 radio mics, A stereo sound effects feed, and 4 channels of mics which will pick up the chorus.

The first time I compiled my mic list I ran out of channels and microphones!
My only loom has only 16 sends, and I need at least 1 of the returns for vocal foldback for the conductor.
I could of course run single cables as well.

So... my conundrum is how to mic this orchestra, as I really can't mic them individually.
I need to get a good feed, as believe the staging will deaden the sound somewhat and also for continuity of sound.

Additionally, I need to home 16 radio mics
I have some padded noticeboards which I am going to use to try and contain the drum and percussion section from the audience as some of them will be sitting right next to them.

So. any thoughts?


RemyRAD Sat, 01/26/2013 - 17:08

You've got an impossibly tall order to fill here. All is not lost. All is not easy.

First question, 16 radio microphones? Why? Do you understand anything about today's RF conundrum? This ain't Radio Shack we're talking about here. Don't even think of it.

In what application is this? Is this a church performance? Is this an actual auditorium? Your entire orchestra is in a little box downstairs, underneath the stage and not in a pit? What? And what kind of microphones do you think you are going to be using? Microphones that are not the 16 radio RF microphones? Is this a high school show?

You'll plug those 16 radio microphones into that 01 V. How close are the receivers going to be to the performers with the wireless microphones? Don't believe for a minute the specification of 300 feet. And your loom is referred to as your snake. Of which 16 are designed to go from the stage to the mixer. It can also be back fed with the mixer feeding stuff down to the stage box. And you will be running into ground loops without XLR reverse barrels and ground lifters.

While you've given us the way out of this production, and what professional capacity is the demographics of this particular production? Mommies and daddies? Raucous teenagers? Well mannered God-fearin' folk? How close is the drum set to a choir? What kind of microphones do you have that aren't radio RF microphones? Who's can be handling the RF microphones while you are engineering? Have you done this before? There's a lot of stuff going on here. You might need to rent an additional XLR microphone snake? I don't think you want to be running individual cables all over hell and back? Somebody's going to trip. One's going to get cut or mangled. So if they can afford 16 radio microphones they can afford to rent another 16 input snake. Let's get real here. You can't be expected to do this without any kind of a budget. What's the budget? What part of the world are you in? What sound companies are in your area?

It's called preproduction. Precisely why people have preproduction meetings before these gargantuan events. Some things take a lot of money and/or extra hands to accomplish. Sound companies have the guys mixing and the guys plugging in the microphones at this stage and then the guys that are doing the monitor mixing with the separate monitor mixer. And you are the chief cook and bottle washer with all the right stuff but not enough of the right stuff. And what to do for something that's nearly impossible? You have to have a production plan. You don't have a plan because there is no right answers.

While you're console has 6 auxiliary sends, which is good, but also most likely has direct outputs of each one of those 32 inputs? And where necessary, those can be used individually such as for a queue speaker of one particular microphone for the conductor per se. The mixer also has other subgroup outputs other than just left and right. Most likely it has 4-8 subgroup outputs that can also be used to feed the different places you need this sound to go such as amplifiers which are connected to speakers wherever they happen to be. Some of which may also need external equalizers for different acoustical areas and to help prevent feedback. And this is why industrial sound companies install stuff. And you are asking where do I plug it in? As you can tell, there is no easy plan other than your own. And we can always accomplish the impossible because it's not possible. Sometimes it requires a lot more money and equipment and personnel and a plan.

A single pair of microphones over that orchestra sounds like a school production. Junior high school. And 16 radio microphones without a radio microphone operator will mean that nothing will work properly, guaranteed. 16 different channels that won't be interfered with ain't easy to find these here days. Or that are actually legal to use at all? You wouldn't want to keep an ambulance from saving someone's life would you for a poorly planned production? Would you? I hope not? In fact I myself was called in at the last moment after doing NBC-TV's Nightly News for a special television production for Howard University Hospital or something like that? They had 16 radio RF microphones (when it was far easier to manage than it is today with a new FCC rulings) and he was a specialist. He was to give me a single feed of these 16 closely balanced radio microphones. The idiot was actually the assistant. The main guy was out with the flu. The audio guide showed up, vomited, passed out and was taken to the hospital. All of those radio microphones were all on the same channel!!! OMG! What an incredible, all horrible, completely screwed up, screwup that was by a guy that specialized in working with that many radio RF microphones that were all on at the same time. And I'm helpless behind the console in the video truck unable to do a thing about it. And that's because a job like that can't be done by a single person. And even when you have to people if they don't understand radio microphones, that's what you're going to get, a whole lot of nothing. Won't make you look good either.

You've got lots on your plate. Better pass it around.
Mx. Remy Ann David

audioangel Tue, 01/29/2013 - 05:40

We have used 16 Radio mics in our space before, with little issue. I didn't really want to go above 12, and I'm sure I'll run into problems. But thanks for the advice. It would be more helpful to me if you told me what I can do and not what I can't, my question wasn't about the Radio Mics, actually. I also understand the concept of Pre-Production, but the people I work with are terrible at making decisions too far in advance. I have been handed this job at a rather late stage at the same time as I am about open another production.

We are a Secondary School (High School) in the UK and we strive to have the highest Production Value's that are within our means. I have worked both in Theatre, Recording Studios & Broadcast. I have never come across this challenge before, as most musicals are staged in a Proscenium arch theatre, with an orchestra pit and not in Traverse with the orchestra sat next to a large absorbent wall, underneath 2m high staging. The orchestra are on the same level as the actors, although at times the actors use the staging the orchestra are hidden underneath. I have neither done sound for a completely sung through musical.

Basically what I should have asked was, I don't have enough channels to mic the orchestra individually and I want to utilise the 01V for dynamics and effects (otherwise I'd just run the radio mics through he 01V, do what I want with the Orchestra, and not have bothered anyone with the question.)

What I want to achieve is to support the sound that is already in the space, not increase the volume.

My current plan (for the orchestra) to mic everything individually (or in the rare case of where there are two instruments on a part, use a condenser to pick them both up.)
Then mic the brass section with a stereo pair, having put them together in one section.
I've then worked out how I can mic the percussion section with 5 microphones.

I was really hoping someone may have had an awkward orchestra to mic before and had a cunning solution.

Boswell Tue, 01/29/2013 - 08:15

Yes, I've done my fair share of awkward microphone positioning and associated choice of what to use. I can tell you that when it comes to tight placements, I often go for dynamic mics over condensers to give me more control over bleed and spill. A dynamic can cover two of most instruments at a time, so you don't need to think every performer needs his or her own mic.

I don't think you said whether this was just for sound reinforcement during performance or whether it was for recording as well. It makes a difference in that you often do not need to mic things like the drum kit unless you are recording. You would need pre-fader outputs for a multitrack recorder (2x HD24s?), which places constraints on how your signals are routed and into what gear.

I'm assuming you have the radio mic receivers in a rack next to the mixing station. You need to have the 16 outputs from the receivers feeding line-level inputs on a main mixing surface, as these will be needing constant attention and adjustment as the action progresses. You may feel the need for a separate vocal mix person operating this console. The Yamaha 01V (I'm taking it this not an 01V96) could make a stab at handling this function, as it has 16 analog inputs, but only 14 faders, as the top 4 inputs are assumed to be stereo pairs. You could overcome this by working out in advance whether you had two pairs of miked performers who were never on-stage together, and putting them on channels 13/14 and 15/16, panned centrally and using the muting buttons on their receivers. This would bring a single (mono) or a pair (stereo) lines into the main desk as a vocal sub-group, leaving you 30 channels to cover the orchestra and other sound effects.

If you are resticted to 16 sends in your snake, that puts a limit on the number of orchestral mics, assuming the effects can be generated local to the mix station. I think you are going to find that positioning the orchestral mics is going to be the biggest headache, particularly if sight-line or other visual constraints come into play. It's no good placing a condenser mic at a violinist's knee level pointing upwards when the stage performers are just behind and higher up.

Perhaps you could come back with some more information about whether it's feasible for the radio mics to be separately mixed, and hence the snake is available for orchestral use, maybe with a couple of channels of boundary mics at the front of the stage for reinforcement of the chorus.

Good luck!

RemyRAD Tue, 01/29/2013 - 08:39

Boswell and I are both thinking and expressing the same things. Those 16 radio microphones should be handled as a separate entity unto themselves. Also including a separate operator just for that function. And this person will develop a mono or stereo mix to feed only one or two inputs on your 32 input console.

Boswell also brings up a good point and one that I live by, since the majority of what I do is all live, on location recordings and broadcasts. And that is the use of simple and inexpensive $100 each US, SHURE SM-57/58's. You don't want condenser microphones for this type of production. They pick up too much other junk you don't want, won't be able to control and will ruin your overall sound. They provide a much more greater ability of control than any condenser microphone can offer, regardless of price. And they will not compromise the quality of your recording. You haven't lived until you've made a recording with nothing but 57/58's. Damn the condenser microphones... full steam ahead! Not that the head will like being steamed all that much but ya know... it's OK for corned beef.

Cheap microphones don't make bad recordings. Cheap engineers do.
Mx. Remy Ann David

rmburrow Tue, 01/29/2013 - 18:07

RemyRAD...You nailed it with your statement about cheap microphones and cheap engineers. This to me sounds like a Shure job with the SM-57's. It came to my attention a while back that an argument in a radio station production room turned into a fight and someone got hit over the head with a SM-57. The SM-57 still worked while someone went to the Audioangel, there's your mic for that job....Audioangel, let's hope the participants in the show have some respect for the equipment...

This job sounds like a tall order for anyone and hopefully the return (or satisfaction) for the effort is worth it. Hopefully you can set up and secure your equipment and get presets during rehearsal(s) rather than have to "wing it"...A lot of these school shows wind up being done "on the fly" due to last minute changes or Murphy's Law sets in. Use the dynamics...that will hopefully keep Murphy away from the mic channels...don't waste your time with the condenser mic for this job...good luck..

audioangel Wed, 01/30/2013 - 04:51

Thanks for all your thoughts so far, very helpful.
It is a big show I think pretty much pushing the boundaries of what we can do in house (understatement).

I do have a second engineer, but it is a student (they're doing it as part of their technical theatre course) - i will prob take the radio mic reigns myself though, because if something goes wrong, I will most likely know what to do. It's an 01V96 that we have, and my initial instinct was to put all the radios through that, but I'm sure I'll want to use some of the onboard stuff for the orchestra. We have some outboard gear, but it's mostly behringer, which apart from being noisy, I have never had the time or patience to get the hang of using, maybe it's time! I'd have to dig it out to tell you the exact equipment we have for that. Or maybe I should just leave the orchestra be?

We're having a sitzprobe next week, and that's when sound is setting up. I was planning to use a range of dynamics - mostly sm58's & 7's, but i was wary of using them, for instance to pick up a section i.e. brass and to do drum overheads. I totally get the spill issue, and I want to cut down on it, but I have never used them for instance as a stereo pair.

It is mostly for sound reinforcement, but I am planning to recording the main outputs every night (i'm never gonna get round to mixing a multichannel performance) We also need to send sound for the video. I may at a later date decide to record a performance using my Zoom H4N mics, but I will have to see closer to the time, once I know what's coming out of my desk.

What I'd like to achieve is a sound, that doesn't amplify(apart from the soloists), but supports, and enhances what is already there. I also have a thing about continuity of sound, hence why I like everything mic'ed where possible, even if I only put a little bit in the mix, so everything sounds like it's coming from the same place.

Also aware that the audience will hear the orchestra coming from only one side, and I'd like the fill out the sound, on the other side.

Boswell Wed, 01/30/2013 - 05:45

With an 01V96 and not an 01V, you have 16 mono inputs and 16 faders, so you can feed your radio mics in and have fader + mute control of each without any need to press stereo channels into service. Easy. Apart from conventional effects for each of the 16 channels (HPF, some EQ, maybe a limiter), I would leave the contribution of the 01V96 at that, and just send a mono feed to the main mixer to appear in mono in the PA. It's going to involve external converters and considerable complication to use the other channels in the 01V96 for EQ, effects or dynamics on the orchestra mics; the EQ on the Soundcraft is much more musical than the standard Yamaha EQ, and you should not need effects or dynamics for the orchestra channels.

The SM57/58s are right for this work, and even the SM7 with care and if the Soundcraft has enough gain for it. I think I would also try to get hold of some Shure Beta 57As for miking the brass and maybe the upper-end percussion, as the Beta series has an extra half-octave of response over the standard SMs, and a tighter pattern (supercardioid).

There's nothing odd about using a pair of dynamics as overheads on a drum kit, but if you really can get the mics up to conventional overhead height, it is an instance where I would consider SDCs, despite the need to keep spill and bleed to a minimum. As overheads, the mics will be pointing downwards, and so if you have a pair with a tight pattern (I have a pair of MBHOs which I use for this type of application), they can give good, controlled results in conditions such as this.

You have thrown in for the first time that the orchestra may be placed off to one side. This type of situation is always going to create problems for the front half of the audience who will get direct sound. I would not try to place the PA image off-centre to the opposite side in an attempt to balance things up - that would just confuse the rear half of the audience who get mainly the PA sound.

audioangel Thu, 02/14/2013 - 00:21

We are now in full swing of our run with 2 shows more.
So here's what I ended up doing, as with many of these types of shows, there are last minute additions.

I went with your suggestions of using the 01V for the radio mics, I am very glad I did! It has worked mostly very well, the biggest issue I have is that some of the radio mics change between several company members who have very varied vocal ability, and volume. Nobody so quiet it's causing any issues.

My first major issue was that my sound check plans were stomped all over by a director in panic mode which meant the last run with the cast before the dress took place on the day I was setting up the orchestra, and the radio mics hadn't arrived :(. So whilst I was trying to set up the pit, I had the MD constantly changing his mind about the layout whilst conducting the rehearsal (luckily he's a very good friend, and I can put up with it!) and three inexperienced students to help me, so by the time the orchestra arrived for the sitz probe only two thirds of the mics had been actually set up (we also had stands, lights, and power to setup) as well as additional FOH foldback and setting up the desks.
Anyway - what i ended up doing for the orchestra...

I used as many SM58's and 7's that we had or could borrow.
Violins - 2 x SM58's
Viola - SM57
Cello - AKG C414
Double Bass (got added at the last minute) - AKG C414
Cor Anglais/Oboe - SM58
Flute - SM58
Clarinet - SM58
Brass Section - 2 x Samson C1's
Drums - 2 x C1000 overheads + D112 Kick
Percussion - 2 x SM57's on the timps and a pair of NT5's over the xylophone/glocks/congas/gong area.

Three nights in and I'm not happy with the orchestra mix still.
It's really difficult, to weigh up, the only time I'm really able to spend anytime mixing, is during the big solos, but then it's really exposed and not all the instruments get played. I was really annoyed I couldn't do a full mix of the orchestra during their rehearsal (some of the players were also missing). The MD and I have learned that in a show like this, you really need to fight for some dedicated time! Well, two more shows to get it right....
Also if I had any more mics, I'd prob end up micing the amps of the instruments I've DI'd, they're not mixing amazingly with the rest of the orchestra unsurprisingly.

Oh I didn't get a proper technical script either.... and the script I have doesn't include some additions.... and in some parts they've divided up the lines between more singers, some people only sing half a line. It's been an eyes down show!

Oh and radio mics that mysteriously switch themselves off....hmmmmm.