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Old July 25th, 2011, 05:33 PM   #1
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Front of stage mic?

I need a mic to go at the front of the stage for plays when the actors are not individually mic'd.
Would stereo or mono be a better choise? and does any one have a favorite they like to use that will pick up vocals across a stage well? (plugging into a recorder, or running XLR back to one cam)

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Old July 25th, 2011, 06:17 PM   #2
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Re: Front of stage mic?

Ben,

The mic you imagine does not exist.

Mics sit in one location and when a sound wave hits them - they turn it into a tiny, tiny electrical current that amplifiers make larger to store on a recorder or send to the PA system.

The problem is that the original sound follows the principals of physics. Particularly the part of physics described by the "inverse square principal" - which dictates that as distance increases between the sound source and the microphone - the sound drops in strength in a fashion that follows inverse square math.

On stage. a mic at point X (middle front of the stage) that is 1 foot from the mouth of the KID A speaking puts out a signal strength that we'll call "ideal"

Kid B - 10 feet away to one side (10 times the original distance) - speaking every bit as loud as KID A is generating a mic signal that is 100 times quieter. Kid C who is fifteen feet away from the mic, will generate a signal nearly 225 times quieter!

The kind and type of mic doesn't matter in this basic, simplified but very real world situation. Sounds falls off VERY fast over distance - so a single mic covering a large physical area is doomed to generate lousy results.

And worse, if you simply put up a few mics and greatly boost their signals to compensate for distance - stuff like footsteps, clothing rustle, audience sounds and even the hum of the air conditioning equipment rapidly get annoyingly loud.

It's a can't win situation.

On broadway - with unlimited funds, they put a mic on each and every performer.

For school stage work, you typically hang as many overhead wide coverage mics as you can - and hope for the best.

That's just how this stuff works.
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Old July 25th, 2011, 06:37 PM   #3
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Re: Front of stage mic?

I like to use a Crown PZM mic. They work really well for me because it a small very intimate play house. I combine this with a good shotgun mic and it does the trick.
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Old July 25th, 2011, 07:23 PM   #4
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Re: Front of stage mic?

I do not disagree with Bill's comments. I particularly agree that a single recording device (be it a stereo mic or a device like a Zoom H1) will not work very well in picking up performers on the edges of the pick-up pattern and in the back of the stage. One of the biggest problems I've seen is clipping on the actors standing front and center while others on the sides and back may fade to inaudibility or being garbled.

You asked about a stereo mic or other single device. I would avoid that unless the program is all blocked for the middle of the stage. Otherwise, the pick-up patterns for a single device is just too narrow. It will be problematic for all the reasons Bill pointed out. While some stereo recording devices (say, zoom H1 or H4) are shorter and therefore have a wider pattern, the mics are too small and the distances are often too great to avoid the problems.

Second, you do not necessarily need to hang mics, but I have found that was be a good way way to mic some small stage productions that I have shot. There were a number of production last Christmas where I was able to run some high test fishing line above the stage platform in an other wise open room. I had my two UHF omni-lavaliers plus some older VHF lavaliers that I was able to borrow, and it worked reasonably well for both amplifying the performers for the hall as well as providing a stage feed to the cameras. (I also got interesting on-video commentary from some of the younger performers who did not realize they were chatting under a mic.) This set-up certainly can be vulnerable to noise from lighting ballasts, HVAC, and all the things that Bill mentioned. Especially the paper-shuffling-coughers in the front row seats next to the screaming babies who always seem to be front and center in these kinds of events. The audio was not PBS broadcast quality but was quite acceptable for the DVDs being made for friends and family of the performers.

Third, where I have an actual stage, I would suggest using at least two mics. I've had pretty good luck I've with using a crossed pair of AT877 shotguns mics on stands in front of the stage. That is, the stands are on the floor in front of the stage, not positioned on the stage itself. I have use this in a several of our local theater venues. (Think a theater with seating for 250) Basically, I cross the AT877 shotguns low and in front of the stage with the XLR cables going to a locked down cam that I've positioned for full wide from stage left or right. Angled across the stage, this combination picks up about the middle 60% of the stage. These are stages where it is simply not feasible for me to hang any mikes over the stage.

For some of the larger productions on those stages -- where performers may be speaking from all parts of the stage --- I've put the shotguns at the front outside corners of the stage aimed at the opposite stage rear corner. Front and center, I've put my two wireless lavaliers on an improvised "t" bar on a mic stand. These get fed to another camera. It is easiest to run everything in mono, but I have, in editing, split each channel into separate tracks, and fiddled a bit with panning to fabricate a stereo image. Again, not PBS production quality, but good enough for the friends and family buying DVDs of the performances. By positioning the mics on stands and keeping them off the stage, I limit the amount of thumping from footsteps. The operative word is "limit" not "eliminate."

Are these things "best practices?" Of course not. When I speak of "success," I am talking about recording community theater productions, school stage productions, and similar kinds of events. I am talking about making the best of what you have to hand. I am not talking about optimum recording ability --- largely pointless in these situations for reasons like unmitigable HVAC noise and etc. as Bill pointed out.
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Old July 26th, 2011, 06:31 AM   #5
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Re: Front of stage mic?

I've had pretty good results using 3 Crown PZMs taped to the front edge of the stage. While footfall can be a bit of an issue, particularly with a large cast and lots of dance or movement, overall I have been quite pleased. I've also used my shotguns, similarly to how Jay deploys his with pretty good results. I'm running all the mics into a 6 channel field mixer and when using the shotguns, I have to really pay attention to the levels.

I shot a little bit of a production of DOUBT to promote the production for a small equity theatre. The venue was small enough that the actors were not mic'd but not so small that I could get away with shotguns on the cameras at the back of the house. I used the PZMs and they were very effective. I'll post a sample later today.
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Old July 26th, 2011, 10:48 AM   #6
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Re: Front of stage mic?

I agree it's not the best course of action, but when I do have to mic the front of the stage I'll use an AT4021 on a stand (sometimes in a pencil-mic-style shockmount), and always with at least a foam windscreen.
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Old July 26th, 2011, 11:18 AM   #7
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Re: Front of stage mic?

I too agree with Bill but since that isn't what you asked, I'll suggest that barrier mics will work better than PZMs and yes I would suggest more than one, each going into a discrete record channel so you don't have phase cancellation and bring up the best mic in post at any given time.

Oh... and you may STILL have phase cancellation if two people are speaking at the same time if the distances between mics and performers don't "add up"...

If hanging mics, make sure to watch out for lighting cable crossing with your XLR cables. Dimmer packs on lighting grids (especially "old school" dimmers on tungsten instruments) are NOTORIOUS for contributing RF noise, even in balanced cable runs...
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Old July 26th, 2011, 05:55 PM   #8
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Re: Front of stage mic?

Thanks everybody, Great info!......... Jay I don't see an AT877 when I search B&H?, maybe discontinued?

Ben
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Old July 26th, 2011, 06:48 PM   #9
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Re: Front of stage mic?

I just shot a theater play, here are the results of
1. On camera stereo mic to capture the audience reaction
2. Bartlett stage mic in front of stage to pick up ensemble and orchestra
3. Wireless mic on talent (Dorothy)

‪Wizard of Oz (Ending)‬‏ - YouTube

First half of the video is on camera mic only, to get the audience. When Dorothy sings, it's the wireless only. When the rest of the cast sings, the Bartlett picks up the entire ensemble and orchestra. The Bartlett TM-125HP is similar in design to a Crown PZM, but supposedly smaller, cheaper, and higher performance. You can see the Bartlett in between those two shotguns at the front of the stage (those shotguns were theater mics, not mine) look how small, flat, and inconspicuous it is! I tested the Bartlett against a Sony shotgun, and the Bartlett was much cleaner sounding. I'm very happy with the Bartlett, will pick up another for stereo recording.

http://www.bartlettmics.com/tm125hp.html
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Old July 27th, 2011, 08:14 AM   #10
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Re: Front of stage mic?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Shaun Roemich View Post
I'll suggest that barrier mics will work better than PZMs
By "barrier" mics, do you mean the same as "boundary" mics? And if so, how is that different from a PZM? I thought PZM was just Crown's trademark name for a boundary mic.

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Old July 27th, 2011, 10:47 AM   #11
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Re: Front of stage mic?

"I thought PZM was just Crown's trademark name for a boundary mic."
It is.
I guess EV just uses the term "barrier" instead of "boundary".
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Old July 30th, 2011, 04:44 PM   #12
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Re: Front of stage mic?

I've shot a few plays, both musical and non-musical. I use 4 mics (actually 3 - 1 stereo and 2 mono), however if I could only use one, it would be a stereo, set at the front center lip of the stage, pointed towards the heads of the actors.

I use and live my Rode NT-4 right in the center. It picked up a good portion of the center of the stage. But there is often a lot going on at the sides too. So I have either the Rode NT3 (not NTG-3) on the sides, or possibly the NT5 (or55), which has the same capsule as the NT-4.

Because stage managers are usually babies that need to control everything, they usually want the mics invisible. That's why they are at the lip of the stage, or a few inches higher. And I put black felt in them to hide them. I don't like that most rode mics are silver.

Anyway, with my 4 mic array (or 3 mic if you count stereo as one) I have found I capture the stage fairly well. I'm sure there are better placements, but in reality all I've been aloud to do is put stuff right in front of the stage.
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Old August 1st, 2011, 08:52 PM   #13
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Re: Front of stage mic?

PZM = (Pressure Zone Microphone)

That Bartlett looks like a Crown PCC160 knock off, which is an excellent choice for stage mic-ing. so more than likely very similar performance characteristics.
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Old August 1st, 2011, 09:12 PM   #14
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Re: Front of stage mic?

Best way I've found to use PZMs is mounted to music stands in front of the stage (not on it) angled a bit towards the actors. I have seen a plexiglass mic stand adapter that the PZMs attach to as well...can't remember where though. They might have been custom made. Keeping the PZMs off the stage eliminates footsteps.

Still not a complete solution but it can help supplement others.

I've been lucky enough to work with groups that mic every actor. Still need a very good sound person to get it right.
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Old August 2nd, 2011, 12:02 PM   #15
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Re: Front of stage mic?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Gerry Gallegos View Post
PZM = (Pressure Zone Microphone)

That Bartlett looks like a Crown PCC160 knock off, which is an excellent choice for stage mic-ing. so more than likely very similar performance characteristics.
As I recall, Bruce Bartlett worked for Crown for quite a while, so I would suspect Bartlett's mic would have similar attributes of the Crown PCC160.
FWIW, I used to use a pair of Crown PCC160s on grand pianos in a 'closed lid' situations. Always sounded pretty nice and the isolation was a bonus.
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