07/01/19

Why miniature microphones are key to a successful theatre performance

What do professionals working within the theater and /or live performance think about miniature microphones? A Q&A session with Jim van Bergen, Sound Designer, Production Sound Engineer, Mixer


1. What qualities does a mic need to have in order to function well in your daily work?

A mic must sound good, be consistent and be durable. From DPA, I'm expecting absolute sonic neutrality and consistency in durable manufacturing from the products, so I can use them on live productions where failure is not an option.

 

2. What is the environment like during a performance?

It’s constantly changing! When touring, you go from cold to hot environments, from entirely dry to total humidity in a few hours. In addition, even when working on the same studio or theater stage daily, the mic may see similar response when it sits in a dry lock-up until going on to a sweaty actor for several hours. We work very quickly, on shows that need absolute top quality and reliability.

 

3. What is important to you when you are choosing a mic for your production?

When I am choosing a mic to work with, I need the sound to be accurate and consistent and the products to be both durable and flexible. More and more shows are using headsets (or 'boom' mics with a lavalier on the end of small wire, near the mouth) and those rigs require even more customization to fit an actor's head, be colored to match their skin tone, and take some serious punishment. Capsule design and sonic signature is tantamount, but after that it's about ergonomics of the housing, mounting and wire, paintability, replaceable caps (with customizable EQ curves) and the ability to last under some challenging environments, whether it's a really loud stage volume, difficult weather or rough handing by a musician or performer. At the end of the day, I need the sound to be perfect, no matter what! There are no second chances in live production.

4. Have you ever had a microphone malfunction in the middle of a show? What did you do? How troublesome is it if that happens?

Of course! Fortunately, with our pre-show check, it doesn't happen often, but we do LIVE shows, and things go wrong! If talent never comes off-stage, we try to get them to wear a spare mic already – my currently operating shows all have double-mic rigs on the leads.

For performers who aren't double-miked, we keep specialized kits nearby – tissues to dab sweat off actors, compressed air to blow out an element, a pre-built spare mic rig and transmitter ready to be swapped should we lose a microphone or transmitter. You prepare for the worst and you discuss with the deck audio how to make the swap as fast and seamless as possible.

 

5. How important is it for you that the mics you use can withstand sweat, makeup and the rough handling they get during a busy show?

It is very important that the mics can withstand a lot. We use many different types of tricks but we really put the mics through hell. They are going to get makeup and sweat on them, as well as rough handling- so we do everything we can to protect them. We work with the manufacturers to understand what the environment can be like. You can't prevent everything that happens in a live show but you can design a system and operational procedures to maximize lifespan, god maintenance and fast replacement when anything isn't at 100%. So the artists always sound their very best and the audience gets the best sound possible.
 

About Jim van Bergen

Jim van Bergen works on theater productions, television broadcasts, concerts and corporate industrials. His clients include Big Apple Circus, Blue Man Group, Metropolitan Opera, NY Philharmonic, His Holiness Pope John Paul II and Martha Graham Dance Company. He’s designed sound for more than two dozen productions for Little Orchestra Society at Lincoln Center and over 200 original designs including All in the Timing, Bunny Bunny, Cambodia Agonistes, and Nunsense as well as the Broadway revival of True West, tours of ART, It Ain’t Nothing but the Blues and The Harlem Nutcracker.

His sound designs have toured five continents and his live television broadcast work has been viewed by tens of millions on networks such as ABC, CBS, FOX, A&E, Lifetime, PBS, ESPN, MTV and VH1. Drama Desk Nomination for Lypsinka! A Day in the Life and Tony Nomination (Producer) for The Scottsboro Boys.

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