Shotguns and PZMs for the Stage?
August 17, 2006 9:19 PM   Subscribe

Say I was producing outdoor theatre. (I am.) And let's say that I wanted to mic my performances. (I do.) How best to do it, I wonder.

The best option would be individual lav mics for all involved, but we are a new company with little budget and I've yet to see a wireless lav mic solution that would be effective and fall within our limited price range.

And so, I would like to mic the space itself for the sake of my actors being heard and possibly for archival recording, though the recording is way secondary. Now, if I set up two shotgun mics pointed vaguely at the space and two or three PZMs either on setpieces or arranged on surfaces at the footlights, would it work? And if it would, what make or model of either would be recommended? I see the Audio Technica ATR55 available all over eBay, but that model might be sorely lacking.

So tell me ... what would you do?
posted by grabbingsand to Media & Arts (10 answers total)
I'd be careful about phasing, is what I'd do. But yeah; you're probably on the right track.

My personal opinion is buy your PZM's from Crown; hundredths of a millimeter matter. But I'm sometimes a brand queen...
posted by baylink at 9:40 PM on August 17, 2006

This is a difficult situation, to be sure. Can you tell me more about the venue itself? Is it a covered stage, or open air? What are the ambient sound levels like? How large is the stage? I'm a technical director of a theatre and I would have to say that I have never participated in an outdoor production that used area or boundary mics to any great affect. Lavaliers are defintely the way to go (if cost were not an issue of course) but the limited coverage that PZM's, PCC's and condenser microphones would give you in an outdoor application doesn't seem like a suitable option. Not to mention the effect it would have on your production as you would have to block your actors to speak to the microphones coverage. Mind you, I am much more familiar with audio applications in my nice quiet theatre so I may be over analyzing the situation or underestimating the current technology in boundary mic's. Any additional information would be welcome though.
posted by Isosceles at 9:46 PM on August 17, 2006

I have done most of my sound work in a small music club and with small budget tv and indie movie productions. I can speak to the ATR55s from person experiance and can will say they are CRAP. Indoors they are horribly noisy and shrill. Nothing directional about it. The only time I tried that mic outdoors it was terribly ineffective. These are not good live mics at all.

This doesn't help answer your question... but steer away from that junk mic.

The one thing I can suggest is finding a local sound equipment rental and try to work with them at first. Ask for discounts in exchange for being a sponsorship of the show etc. If you do more then just a program you can add them to fliers/posters/ads. Good luck!!
posted by elvissa at 11:39 PM on August 17, 2006

opps... that was my fiances profile. Oh well...
posted by elvissa at 11:40 PM on August 17, 2006

Can you tell me more about the venue itself? Is it a covered stage, or open air? What are the ambient sound levels like? How large is the stage?

Open air. Very. Basically, we take over the backyard of a historical home. There are two blockish porches, one on either side. Entrances and exits are from either side, one of which has a garden. If my descriptions are a bit too vague, the photos in our rehearsal gallery might help.

In our last production (and likely this one as well), we left the grass under our feet as a stage. It is a good-looking space and it works for the most part, but too much wind, thicker humidity or even a momentary failure to cheat out can leave an actor's voice eaten by the house and lost to the audience.
posted by grabbingsand at 3:15 AM on August 18, 2006

You might want to look at floor mics.
posted by StickyCarpet at 6:19 AM on August 18, 2006

PCC (which seem to generally work better than PZM) are a mixed blessing. (I've used the Crown PCC-160 fairly extensively (indoors and out) and recommend them).

First off, you definitely need to mount them to a board or a setpiece or something. Effectively, you're making whatever you mount them to the effective microphone; if they're on grass, they're useless.

Second, you need to make sure they won't get hit by wind. I'd also recommend having some sort of high-pass filter on those channels to prevent footsteps, etc.

Third, you absolutely need to make sure that the actors realized that the microphones are NOT in lieu of proper projection of their voices. This is a key point; I've worked with too many actors who see a microphone and start whispering.

In college, I did sound design for Into the Woods outdoors on a limited budget, so let me know if you need other advice.
posted by JMOZ at 7:27 AM on August 18, 2006

Any opinions pro or con on the Crown PCC-170SW in particular?
posted by grabbingsand at 7:48 AM on August 18, 2006

Nevermind. That one looks like a conference call mic.

Carry on with the quality information. Thank you.
posted by grabbingsand at 7:52 AM on August 18, 2006

You can rent audio equipment. It turns out that for most purposes, this is much cheaper than buying. Video companies use it as a loss leader for their higher-margin video equipment rentals.

Example (I've never done business with), with an Atlanta office:

Additionally, these places generally have extremely skilled audio professionals who have Seen It All Before, and delight in telling you exactly what you need and the problems you're going to face. Usually these guys are bored out of their skulls wiring SM58s for conventions, so the chance to use their brains on something intriguing makes them spasm with audio nerd delight.
posted by felix at 9:54 AM on August 18, 2006

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