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Church Sound: Guidelines For Using Lavalier & Headset Microphones

Some simple but effective ways to avoid disasters

By Gary Zandstra October 14, 2013

When I first started my work in the church, lavalier microphones were considerably larger, and headset mics were non-existent.

In my youth, our church still used a “around the neck” dynamic mic for “portable” applications where the pastor/presenter wanted to be hands-free and/or move around. It was an Electro-Voice 649a and it measured almost 3/4 of an inch around and approximately 4 inches long.

This mic was so big that a neck coil (think necklace) was needed to hold it in place. I remember on more than one occasion the pastor “clotheslining” himself as he walked away from the raised pulpit area without removing the mic.

Today most lavalier mics are condensers, and are available in a much smaller footprint than the that 649a, but even with the advancement in design and technology, there are still things to look out for when using a lavalier mic or headset mic.

Do You Recognize This?
The most common issues I see with lavalier mics are pick-up pattern and mic placement. Naturally, these go hand in hand. 

It’s absolutely crucial to have an understanding of polar patterns. Many times I’ve witnessed a cardioid lavalier mic placed with the pick-up pattern pointing sideways. Obviously, this produces less-than-optimum results.

I’ve also seen mics so completely “hidden”—attached inside a collar, behind a button area, or behind a tie—that it’s impossible to capture a quality signal due to the severe obstruction. The problem is then compounded when the mic continually makes noise as it rubs against the clothing.

Headset mics help solve these problems but can also introduce additional potential for extraneous noises. For example, they can be placed too close to the mouth or right against the cheek. Particularly if the person has a beard or other facial hair, the noise created when the mic rubs against it can be very obnoxious.

With both headworn and lavalier models, it’s also very important to make sure the mic is out of the wind path of the mouth. Popping p’s and that “windstorm” sound occur when the turbulence from the wind created as a person speaks hits the diaphragm of the microphone.

My guidelines for headset and lavalier mics:

• Find out what people speaking are going to be doing, as well as their mannerisms, and so on. This info helps in determining what pick-up pattern will work best.

I once used a cardioid mic on a pastor who spent 90 percent of the time talking with his head turned all the way to the left or all the way to the right. When he would look straight ahead (thus entering the pickup pattern), the level would jump so high that I could see people react to the radical difference.

• Get the mic as close as possible/practical without getting in the way of the airflow of the person speaking.

•  Secure the microphone to keep it from moving, thus eliminating annoying rubbing sounds, and also to keep it from falling off! (I’ve seen it happen more than once.)

The best way to secure a lav mic is to use the clip it’s supplied with. Also, Hollywood (flesh-colored) tape is a great way to further secure a mic if you have someone who is going to move around a lot.

•  Put as little of the mic as possible through the monitors on the stage. This helps with gain before feedback and any potential surprises if the person roams around the stage.

•  Make the person as comfortable as possible while still placing the mic where it needs to be placed.  When I “wire up” a pastor or presenter, I always take the time to assure them that their mic will only be turned on during the time they’re speaking. 

I also seek feedback from them on how the mic feels, and have them move around like they’ll be doing when they[re presenting. 

Yes, these guidelines are rather simple, but they’ve helped save me from disasters that I’ve (unfortunately) witnessed on Sunday morning!

 
Gary Zandstra is a professional AV systems integrator with Parkway Electric and has been involved with sound at his church for more than 30 years.


About Gary

Gary Zandstra
Gary Zandstra

Consultant, Dan Vos Construction, Writer for Worship Facilities and ProSoundWeb
   
Gary Zandstra has worked in church production and as an AV systems integrator for more than 35 years. He’s also contributed numerous articles to ProSoundWeb over the past decade.
http://garyzandstra.com

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