Broadway has become legendary for its high-level production of theatrical performances. How do Broadway performances (and other professional theatre performances) sound good? It all starts with microphones!
Are Microphones Used On Broadway And In Other Theatres? Yes, microphones are used on Broadway and in professional theatre as well as many amateur theatres. A Broadway show will often use over $100,000 worth of mics for both sound reinforcement and off-stage production and cues. These mics include lavaliers, headsets, overheads, PZMs, among many others.
Let’s talk about the microphones used in theatre productions in more detail in the article.
Microphones On Broadway And Other Professional Theatres
So we know that professional theatre productions utilize microphones. Let’s now discuss how they use microphones.
Microphones play a major role in providing clean, concise audio for theatre shows. The sound is a critical part of a performance and requires excellent miking techniques to be world-class like on Broadway.
The microphones used in theatre can be divided into 4 main categories:
The most important microphones in a theatrical performance are the body mics. These wireless microphones are attached to the actors and provide a consistent close-miked pickup of the actors wherever they may be on stage.
Body mics are better known as lavalier microphones.
What is a lavalier microphone? A lavalier mic is a tiny clip-on mic designed for hands-free operation in film, theatre, and other visual media. Lav mics typically have tiny electret capsules and thin cabling, making them easily concealable. They often connect wirelessly to a mixer/recorder via a wireless transmitter.
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With wireless body mics, every actor can be close-miked.
Close-miking each actor provides a clean and consistent capture of their voice. It also gives the live mixing engineer great flexibility. Being able to adjust with relative levels of the actors while muting those actors who are off-stage adds tremendous value to the production.
Body mics are easily concealable on an actor. Common hiding spots include:
- Inside the collar or shirt.
- Sewn into the costume elsewhere.
- Underneath the brim of a hat (so long as the hat is not removed during the performance).
- In the hair (with the cable running down the back).
- Against the skin near the face.
In large professional theatre productions, you can be sure that each actor has a body mic clipped, taped, glued, or sewn somewhere on their person.
For more information on lavalier microphones, check out my article How And Where To Attach A Lavalier/Lapel Microphone.
The wireless transmitters are also quite small in modern times and are easily concealable on a performer.
The wireless connection is obviously needed in order for the actors to move freely on stage and backstage.
For my recommendations on body mics, check out my article Best Lavalier Microphones For Actors.
In musicals, the body mics may not need to be concealed. In this case, headset microphones are often considered a better choice.
Headset mics are more easily positioned in an ideal spot (right in from of the performer’s mouth). This rids of the risk of body movements or clothing scratching affecting the mic signal.
In the case of headsets, they are still connected wirelessly to the mixer via a wireless transmitter/receiver system.
For more information on wireless microphones, check out my article How Do Wireless Microphones Work?
Stage mics can be separate into two types: floor mics and overhead mics.
Floor mics are the stationary boundary microphones (PZMs) that are positioned near the footlights and in other areas on the stage floor.
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Overhead mics are hidden in the set above the actors’ heads.
Stage mics are sometimes used in professional theatre performances, but they are nowhere near as consistent or useful as the aforementioned body mics.
For my recommendations on boundary microphones, check out my article Best Boundary Microphones.
Broadway just wouldn’t be the same without the pit musicians.
In large theatre productions, there is often a live band that performs along with the actors. This band performs in what is known as “the pit.”
The pit, as the name would suggest, is beneath the stage. It may be in the same open space as the stage and seating, but more often is underneath the stage in a separate room.
Either way, this band needs sound reinforcement so that it may be mixed effectively with the rest of the production. Once again, we have a need for microphones!
The types and number of mics depend largely on the instruments in the band. The pit band would be miked as if it was performing in a live studio environment.
For a list of my instrument-specific microphone recommendations, check out my Recommended Microphones And Accessories page.
Technical Crew Mics
There is a lot going on behind the scenes before, during, and after a large theatrical performance.
The technical crew needs microphones for its communication systems.
The use of microphones, through simple walky-talkies to interruptible foldback systems, are needed to ensure the technical side of things runs smoothly.
This helps everyone to hit their cues and execute a show the audience will love.
Live sound technician work is one of the gigs featured in My New Microphone’s article 52 Ways To Make Money In The Audio Industry.
Microphones In Amateur Theatres
So perhaps you’d like to put on a show of your own but don’t have the millions of dollars to invest in sound equipment. Should you use microphones in your theatre performances?
In smaller theatres, sound reinforcement is not necessarily needed so long as the actors project their voices toward the audience. This is done all the time in school plays and variety shows.
However, if you’re on a budget and natural projection isn’t cutting it, a few microphones may very well improve your productions.
As discussed, it’s always ideal to close-mic the actors. However, wireless lavalier mic systems are expensive and so smaller venues often do not have the budget.
In that case, the best bet is to use stage mics positioned in key locations on the stage. Place these mics (whether floor or overhead) in spots where dialogue happens regularly. You may even need to change stage direction so that the actors spend more time in these miked areas.
When using stage mics, be weary of gain-before-feedback. If the actors are too far from a microphone and you decide to boost the gain of that microphone, there is a chance that the mic will feedback with the sound system. This will do more harm than good for your production!
For more information on microphone feedback, check out my article 12 Methods To Prevent & Eliminate Microphone/Audio Feedback.
Typically smaller venues will not have a dedicated pit area. Use your discretion if there is an accompanying band. Remember, too, that a live band will likely be much louder than the voices of actors.
As for mics for a technical crew, walky-talkies are relatively inexpensive but can cause unwanted noise. In smaller setups, mics may not even be necessary if visual cues in the backstage can be effectively signalled.
So if you’re on a budget, stage mics are the way to go. However, be aware of their limitations and plan their placement and performance accordingly.
When were microphones first used in theatre? Foot mics (boundary microphones placed near the footlights) have been used in theatre since the early 1950s. Body mics (lavalier microphones attached to actors) were introduced in 1964 on the Broadway show “Funny Girl.”
Are microphones used in opera? Microphones are not typically used in opera, though in some larger venues they may be required. Opera singers are trained to project their voices at high levels and opera houses are generally designed to allow the singers’ voices to project to the back of the room.