Boundaries & Old School
Small mics aren’t the only models that can be suspended over stages. Over the years we’ve flown handhelds like Shure SM57s or Audix OM2s over stages when that’s all we had at hand. If possible, select dark-colored mics so they blend into the background, and make sure the XLR connectors on the cables will lock to the mics so they won’t fall when suspended.
Another approach is using handheld mics as floor mics for theater. While boundary options like Crown PCC 160s are typically used across the front of a stage for main or backup applications, many venues (schools in particular) don’t have a budget for them.
When substituting handhelds in these applications, a key is getting the mics as low to the stage as possible without actually laying on it, because they pick up too much vibration and shoe noise. Put the mics on stands that are placed on the floor or that are located in the orchestra pit in front of the stage, with the front end of the mics just above the stage deck in an effort to get the diaphragms as close to the stage (boundary) as possible. Don’t use “ball” mics if at all possible because they increase the distance between the diaphragm and the floor.
On occasion vintage mics come in handy as well; for example, a theater setting calling for period-looking mics as props or working props, like the scene in Evita where the star performer stands behind several mics singing “Don’t Cry For Me Argentina.” If actual working vintage models aren’t available or are cost-prohibitive, acquire non-working models and replace the “guts” with small lavs.
I’ve done this several times, attaching the lav inside, either clipping it on a support structure or stringing rubber bands inside and making an isolation shock mount. Then I can either wire up the lav to the original connector or page the lav’s cable through a vent or grill hole and conceal it from the audience. In addition, many companies (i.e., Shure, CAD Audio, Heil Sound, MXL, Cascade, and others) now offer cool vintage-looking mics with “innards” that provide modern performance with a retro vibe.
I’ve also had inquiries from customers about distinctive mics, not necessarily vintage but ones that look a bit different from the typical models. Some distinctive choices include the copper-colored enCORE 200 from Blue Microphones, the Pearl Series from Violet Design, and eclectic models from Ear Trumpet Labs that have a “steam punk” vibe.
Sometimes color is a big issue. I recently worked with a Barbara Streisand impressionist who insisted that her mic had to be all white to match her outfit. Another client wanted the stage mics to match the company logo color, and some charity clients want emcees with mics in a color that identifies with the charitable cause, like pink for breast cancer fundraisers.
Previously, options were limited to shipping the stripped mic body to a powder coating company or spray-painting the mic in-house. Now, however, several manufacturers offer custom finishes direct from the factory, so with some lead time almost any color can be acquired. There are also temporary slip-on covers offered in a variety of colors and patterns, and even made of beads or crystals.
Now & The Future
Table mics, common at corporate events, can also present challenges. Because they’re all usually “hot” during meetings, they can pick up distracting table noise. A simple trick is isolating their desk stands from tables with computer mouse pads. Place the smooth side down so presenters can easily slide mics toward them if they want to speak or push them away.
Also note that measurement mics can do more than measure. While many live mics have a bump or notch somewhere in their frequency range that gives them a characteristic sonic signature, measurement mics are made to be as flat as possible. So while they usually make poor live handheld vocal mics, I’ve found them to be excellent in recording applications and also in omnidirectional situations such as ambiance miking for in-ear monitors.
Finally, the future is networking. Dante has taken pro audio by storm and manufacturers are designing mics that interface directly into networks. Audio-Technica’s ATND971 boundary wired mic transmits audio and control data together over Dante, as well as the ATND8677 that allows Dante to be used with any phantom-powered condenser gooseneck mic with a 3-pin XLRM-type output.