The rough and unpredictable nature of live theatre wreaks havoc on wireless microphones. Audio technology continues to get smaller and less visually intrusive to the audience, but the movement of actors puts a strain on the delicate cables and connectors. Sweat seeps into sensitive electronic components. Equipment will break. However, with the proper precautions taken, the lifespan of wireless systems can be significantly extended. Here are 5 ways to keep your wireless mics operating smoothly in live theatrical productions.
Secure the Cap
Countryman Associates, a prominent lavaliere manufacturer, includes protective caps on their microphone elements. These caps serve two purposes. First, they can alter the frequency response of the microphone. Second, they provide protection for the element and can be replaced if necessary.
Unfortunately, they also have a tendency to fall off during performances, or after the performance, while the actor is removing the microphone system. This issue is most prevalent with actors who mount microphones under a wig. While the cap is missing, the mic element is at high risk of damage. The caps are also surprisingly expensive to replace. Much of this problem can be avoided though, by spreading a coat of quick dry clear nail polish around the base of the cap. The nail polish acts like a glue that will hold the cap in place during a performance but is easy enough to remove when maintenance is required. Be careful to avoid the mesh in the cap while applying the nail polish. Clogging the mesh will change the frequency response of the microphone, or render the cap useless entirely.
A Side Note
If the microphone cap becomes clogged with makeup or salt deposits from sweat, they can be cleaned using an ultrasonic jewelry cleaner. These devices are relatively inexpensive and can save the theatre company hundreds of dollars in replacement costs for microphone caps.
Add Extra Strain Relief
One of the easiest places to damage a microphone is at the connector. While a strain relief is built into factory connectors, it is insufficient when placed in a demanding environment. In order to compensate for the demands of a theatrical performance, you should put additional strain relief into the cable. This is typically done by pulling the cable down from the connector and taping a loop of cable to the back of the microphone with a piece of gaffers tape. This makes a change in the angle of the cable, thus providing an additional layer of relief before tension is put directly onto the connector. Taping the cable in this way also helps keep the connector properly plugged in (more on this later).
Take Up the Slack
While taping the strain relief, it is a good idea to reduce the slack in the microphone cable. This is dependent on the height of the actor, the position of the transmitter on the body, and the final position of the microphone element. For example, an ear mounted microphone will require less cable length than if the microphone were mounted over the head. While some slack is necessary to accommodate for the movement of the body, too much loose cable can result in snags during quick changes. Coil up the slack cable, then tape it to the back of the transmitter over the strain relief to keep it out of the way.
Keep the Cable Close to the Body
Building off the concept of taking up the slack, keeping the microphone cable close to the body will prevent accidents from occurring during quick changes. While not always possible, it is best if the cable is run underneath a layer of the clothing that is never removed during the performance, such as an undershirt. I once had an actor catch his Countryman B6 microphone cable on a shirt button in the middle of a quick change. When he pulled the shirt off with the mic cable still attached, a good 3-4 inches of the cable casing had been stripped. If the microphone cable had been routed beneath his undershirt or at least taped to the undershirt, the theatre company would have saved about $300 in replacement costs.
Tighten the Connectors with Pliers
This tip is for microphone transmitters with a 3.5mm connector and locking screw (common to transmitters like the Sennheiser G2, G3, and G4 series.) In my experience with these units, hand tightening the locking screw is not enough to keep the connector from coming loose mid-performance. Even with regular maintenance, this connector still finds a way to come loose—and the result is ugly. Loud pops through the sound system are a telltale sign of this issue, and even a bent connector if it manages to come free entirely. Fortunately, this is an easy problem to fix.
First, tighten the locking screw by hand. Then, with a pair of needle nose pliers, grip the ring and tighten it just beyond what you were able to accomplish by hand. Do not go overboard with it. Tightening the connector in this manner has made all the difference for me, and these transmitters now regularly make it through a 10 week run without needing to be re-tightened. As an added bonus, taping the cable strain relief as described in Tip #2 further stabilizes the connector.
At my live theatre venue, my work is performed without the assistance of an A2 position. As such, the stability of my microphone systems is critical to the success of a production. These techniques have been developed, tested, and proven over time—and get me through 8 shows a week, 52 weeks out of the year. Please consider following these 5 tips to improve microphone stability in your productions.
For information on how to repair damaged mic cables, please read my article: