Associate Sound Designer Hyder Khalil Upgrades Show’s Sound With the Brand’s Instrument and Headworn Mics
For the past 15 years, Associate Sound Designer Hyder Khalil has been crafting the breathtaking audio that brings the long-running London stage musical “Wicked” to life. Working alongside Sound Designer Tony Meola, Khalil abides by Meola’s philosophy when miking shows: whether you’re working with instruments or cast members, get the mic in the correct place without being intrusive, and then get the sound as perfect as possible. With these goals in mind, microphones designed to provide authentic audio were the obvious choice when upgrading the theatre’s sound system.
DPA Microphones fits all of the sound needs for “Wicked,” offering numerous clear, natural and versatile mics. After initially integrating the DPA 6061 Subminiature Lavalier Microphones, the theatre added the brand’s 2011 Twin Diaphragm Cardioid, 4055 Kick Drum and 4099 Instrument Mics to its lineup. “As a whole, DPA makes things easier,” Khalil explains. “You’re not fighting against the microphones—they have such a low noise floor. Compared to our old mics, the DPAs take the sound to another level; details are getting picked up where they weren’t before. Whether you want to hear those details or not is up to you but at least instead of getting lost, we now have the option to keep them in.”
Khalil first introduced the team to the 6061s, which they slowly deployed on individual performers until the entire cast was covered. “I’ve been a fan of DPA for a long time, so I knew the sound quality side of the brand was a given,” he shares. “The main challenge we were looking to solve was aesthetics. The DPA 6061 capsules are small enough to blend into the show while also high-quality enough to bring out the details and nuances of the performers’ voices.”
The detail provided by the 6061s was crucial for Khalil, who has seen numerous casts of “Wicked” and understands the importance of the miniscule differences between each actor’s performance. “It’s not that we had bad sound before, but with DPA it was an immediately noticeable difference,” he explains. “The 6061s sound as if you’re speaking to the actors face-to-face. This also helps improve the humor of the show because you can hear the little comedic changes in the actors’ voices. These mics are just raising the bar another step that wasn’t there before.”
“Wicked” is not only known for its comedic tone, the show’s soundtrack is also popular for its dramatic, sweeping ballads and energizing pop/rock hits. To account for this broad spectrum, the band and orchestra pit rely on the equally versatile microphone solutions from DPA. “We’ve had 4099s on the violin, cello and French horn for several years, and we most recently added them to the drum kit,” Khalil shares. “We’re now also using them for the toms and added 2011s on the snare top and bottom. It’s been a real improvement. The musicians love the DPAs because they’re so small and unobtrusive while playing. Plus, the sound stays consistent between performers.
“We were also lucky enough to get one of the new 4055 Kick Drum Mics, and it has been great,” continues Khalil. “With other kick drum mics, I always found that you’re essentially carving away at them to get usable sound—which becomes more of a compromise than an artistic choice. The 4055 is the first mic I’ve come across where you can actually bring out qualities in the kick drum. The mic is very versatile and acts more like a scalpel than a broad sword, allowing you to carve out little details and be selective in your sound. It’s more of a tool than just a means to an end.”
Owing to the mics’ minimal need for EQ, the sound department consistently experiments with mic placement to improve sound. “We used to always keep the 6061s in the same place,” Khalil says. “Now, we found we can shift them up and hide them and still get the same sound quality. No matter where they end up, whether buried under a hat or rigged as an ear hanger, they sound great. Same with the 4055; we tested out a couple placements but landed on it being just outside of the drum hole.”
The “Wicked” audio team is dedicated to continually modernizing its sound system to enhance the actors’ performances. Beyond the DPA mics supplied by Sound Network, the sound department additionally relies on a DiGiCo SD7 console and a self-powered Meyer Sound PA designed by Meola and provided by Autograph Sound Recording. A TC Electronics System 6000 handles the reverbs, and various Lexicon units provide special effects throughout the show. Backstage, Sennheiser transmitters and receivers work with the DPA mics to create an excellent sound. As DPA maintains that transparent, natural audio worthy of a global favorite like “Wicked,” Khalil will continue to love and trust the brand’s solutions, saying, “given the choice, DPA would always be my go-to.”
“One of the most successful musicals of all time” (BBC News), “Wicked” is already the 12th longest-running production in West End history. Stephen Schwartz and Winnie Holzman’s award-winning musical is based on the novel by Gregory Maguire and imagines a beguiling backstory and future possibilities to the lives of L. Frank Baum’s beloved characters from “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz,” revealing the decisions and events that shape the destinies of two unlikely university friends on their journey to becoming Glinda The Good and the Wicked Witch of the West. www.WickedTheMusical.co.uk