Can you hear me?

These days it seems even the humble school play is miked with radio mics and headsets. It is not only musical that is being radio miked,but a lot of the times it is just a humble play in a small venue. Have the audience lost their ability to hear? Are people getting lazy and using the easy way out? Why are more and more straight productions  using the radio mic instead of getting the cast to project their voice.  In the good old days performers could be heard over an orchestra, or if it was a straight play they could be heard easily at the back of the auditorium. It seems to me that performers are not being taught the basics of their craft, which is voice projection. I would have thought that this was one of the more important tools of a performers toolkit. Even in schools where drama, music etc is taught as a main subject there does not seem to be much emphasis on the concept of voice projection. Now if this is taught properly not only will you be heard but when you do use your voice there is less chance of you damaging it. There are plenty of people around who have done some pretty serious damage to their vocal chords because they have not been trained properly to use their voice. In fact there are cases of aerobic instructors who even with the assistance of a radio mic, still scream and have consequently damage their vocal chords beyond repair.

Now there are many factors that influence people to use a radio mic set up on their performers. The obvious one is that they are worried that the performer will not be heard. This is where vocal training is important. Now if there is not enough time for that, well a mic might be useful.  The one thing that I have noticed when you mic up a performer who is quiet and has had no vocal training is that they seem to speak even quieter, as they believe the mic is going to take care of the volume factor. Well sorry folks but you still need to project when using a microphone. Projecting is going to make the audio guy really happy as he has less work to do.

The voice is a very important instrument and it does need to be taken care of. You do need to have your voice trained if you are going to use it effectively. If you teach drama, or direct etc you should make sure that your cast can use their voices effectively and without damaging it. In fact under the OHS regulations you may need to make sure that the voice of your performers are looked after and that sufficient training has been given to make sure that the voice is less likely to be damaged. You are asking a lot of your performers so you need to make sure that they are up to the task and have the necessary skills. So getting the voice trained is really important, no matter what age the performer. Directors, drama teachers etc need to devote some time to making sure that their performers are doing vocal exercises and looking after their voices.

So do you always need to use radio mics for shows, well in my mind no. Voice training first and then supplement the voice with a mic. The mic is not a substitute for bad voice training.

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5 thoughts on “Can you hear me?

  1. Can’t agree with you more. I witness the exact same thing in the corporate world. I regularly “lav” up a presenter and then spend 45 minutes fader chasing them because the more they hear their own voice, the quieter they speak.
    Speak to the room people! The more you project, the more you are felt. Doesn’t matter if it’s a PowerPoint presentation on the reproductive organs of earthworms or The Tragedy of Macbeth, you’ll want to connect!

  2. Check out some old film clips of musicals or plays – there’s a reason they are always facing out. They literally turn downstage to deliver every line. Audio technology has allowed actors to deliver a much more realistic performance, and has allowed plays to be heard in venues that were not designed with perfect acoustics.

    I also reject the premise that in the “golden days” you could hear every word in the balcony with an orchestra under it, and without the orchestra, actor’s resorted to yelling to be heard. Time and time again on productions that have less than enough mics I’ve seen music directors say “so and so lead actor has such a powerful voice, they won’t need a mic, give it to someone else” and each time the mic ends up back on the lead, because they are in a converted warehouse that Ethel Merman herself would have trouble getting over the sound of a reverberating orchestra in.

    Wireless microphones have also freed composers to create different styles of music, and allowed orchestras to be amplified, so we can hear the music as it was supposed to sound, not muffled in a pit.

    Yes, vocal training is important, but there’s not some rash of bad acting happening, there’s an explosion in the quantity and quality of performing arts.

  3. What I realized was, unless the mic is pretty close to my mouth, sometimes, the mic still doesn’t pick up my voice very well unless I have a little bit of projection. Certain level of voice projection is still required even if there are microphones. Besides, the emotions tend to come out better if the voice comes out. At least that’s the way it is for me.

  4. I recently toured with ‘Waiting for Godot’. In every city we had two new child actors. And every one of them asked if they were going to be miked. These were kids who had theatrical training of some kind, and yet the concept of using their voices properly was never taught to them. When I took them front of house during rehearsals, and showed them Sir Ian and Roger doing their thing, they were amazed! They quickly learned it was possible to be heard in a 1200 seat theatre without shouting!

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