What a Sound Expert Wants You to Know About Head Mics

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Photo Source: “Hamilton” Courtesy Disney+

“Is this thing on?” That’s the now-clichéd and oft-parodied phrase used in entertainment to depict a soundcheck for a live event. But the reality of it involves a whole different set of variables, especially when using head mics. We asked freelance sound engineer Andy Leviss, the co-host of ProSoundWeb’s “Signal to Noise” podcast, for simple rules when using head mics, as well some do’s and don’ts. (Hint: Watch out for those toilets.)

Rule #1: Forget that you’re wearing a microphone.

“Just because you’re wearing a mic doesn’t mean you can pull back or not project. If your voice sounds thin, the audio team can’t magically make your voice sound full again. What we can do, though, is help make your performance translate to a big room and extend your dynamic range to help make your performance bigger, both literally and figuratively.”

Rule #2: Don’t forget that the microphone you’re wearing can be a hot mic.

“You have a very expensive piece of equipment on. Don’t step on it, drop it in the toilet, or run a comb through your hair forgetting there’s a mic clipped into it. If your choreography is either making the mic uncomfortable or risking damage to the transmitter or the mic itself, tell us and we’ll work with you and our friends in the wardrobe department to find a solution—as long as we know about it!” 

Rule #3: Don’t sweat it! (Or if you do, let the sound techs know.)

“If you’re prone to sweating a lot onstage, give us a heads up. We can help you if we know it’s an issue, and we won’t judge, but if you ‘sweat out’ a mic onstage, there’s often not a whole lot we can do until you get back offstage. I had one ensemble swing on a Broadway show I worked on for years who danced his ass off through most of the show and sweated like nobody’s business. If he was on that show, the A2’s [assistant audio engineer] track became way busier, because their job was to meet him in the wings as soon as he came offstage, mop his forehead with a cotton square, and hit the microphone with a carefully aimed blast of compressed air to make sure no sweat was in it. By the end of the show, they were besties.”

Rule #4: Collaboration and communication are key.

Please listen to the audio team about where they need the mic to be, and be collaborative about it. A lot of actors—especially in regional theaters—have either learned the one way the designer they first worked with wanted a mic [or] have decided for themselves that a mic feels or looks better in a certain place. They often will just move the microphone without talking to the sound team about it. If you have an issue with something, we’re almost all open to the conversation and to explain why we need you to try a mic in a certain position or dressed a certain way. If you wouldn’t just change your costume or hair or modify a prop without that designer OKing it, why would you change your microphone position? That said, please do speak up if something is really making you uncomfortable or not working for your costume or hair—we want everybody to have the tools to do their job and look and sound their best onstage!”

Andy Leviss has worked on Broadway productions of “To Kill a Mockingbird,” “Lackawanna Blues,” “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical,” and “Pippin” among many others. He also served as the front-of-house mixer for the first six months of shows at NYC’s Perelman Performing Arts Center in the Financial District.

Jason Clark
Jason Clark (he/him) has over 25 years in the entertainment and media industry covering film, television, and theater. He comes to Backstage from TheWrap, where he’s worked as an awards reporter since 2021. He also has bylines in Entertainment Weekly, TV Guide, Vulture, the Village Voice, AllMovie, and Slant Magazine, among many others. He received his Bachelor of Fine Arts in cinema studies from New York University.
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