As a camera operator, you may find yourself needing to place a lavalier microphone on talent, especially shooting “one-man-band” docs, interviews or corporate productions. If you’re new to lav placement, it can be a very tricky thing—the wrong position can make audio sound thin or become distorted by background noise, and the rustling of your subject's body or clothing can leak into the track. Maybe all four.
While this article won't detail the "how-to's" in correctly placing a microphone–there are just far too many possibilities to tackle–we did talk with Local 695 production sound mixer Will Schulz to outline a basic approach to wiring talent:
- Be clear with the talent about what you’re going to do and why you’re doing it.
- Keep good eye contact.
- Remain calm and confident.
- Warm hands are better than cold ones.
- Moving the lavalier closer or further from the talent’s mouth will impact the tonal quality and frequency response.
- It's good etiquette to ask if everything feels alright after micing your talent; after all, they are wearing a piece of equipment they may not be accustomed to. Sometimes a wire or transmitter could be pinching or rubbing against their skin that may distract them from their performance.
- If possible, always hire a professional sound person.
Hiding the mic
While lavaliers can be placed in many different areas, like inside a wig, hats, helmets, lined between fabric, used as plant mics, or one of my favorites–sewn into the hair of Chewbacca’s mask like they did in the latest Star Wars films–for the purpose of this article, we will focus on center chest.
One of the first things to consider when placing a lavalier is if it needs to be hidden or not. If exposed, it will traditionally make things easier as you can use lavalier clips, vampire clips, rubber mounts or other tape-based mounts to secure the microphone. Schulz also recommends, if weather conditions are windy, you may need to apply a windscreen to your mic to prevent wind noise. And when using a tie-clip mount, a windscreen can provide extra protection from plosives, or stops in speech.
Since a dress shirt is rigged differently than a loose t-shirt, you’ll want to choose the mount that fits your needs. Traditionally, lav clips are used for jackets and ties while vampire clips are used for t-shirts.
Placing the mic capsule over the talent's sternum will give you a nice balance of close proximity and natural sound reproduction.
When lavaliers need to be hidden, it can get a little tricky. You may find yourself passing the cable wire under shirts and dresses or through tight-fitting clothing. If wiring a woman who may be uncomfortable with a male micing her, you can ask her to step off set, and then ask a female crew member to help, or you can ask the talent to run the cable herself.
As a general rule, placing the mic capsule over the talent's sternum will give you a nice balance of close proximity and natural sound reproduction. Another consideration is that cotton and wools fabrics are less prone to clothing noise, while silk and synthetic materials tend to make more noise.
There are several tutorials out there to guide you through microphone placement using tape-based mounts (e.g. the “triangle”), so if you’re interested in learning IzzyVideo offers 7 ways. Justin Brown offers another.
While strictly using tape is a very cheap alternative, if you don’t have the time (or the patience) to create the mounts, what can you do? There are several accessories used by sound mixers that can help speed up and perfect the process. Here are just a few that are worth considering:
Rycote Stickies, Undercovers & Overcovers
Besides tape, these Rycote accessories are probably the most widely used because of their versatility and speed. Stickies are basically oval-shaped stickers that can be placed on the talent. The design allows the microphone to be placed on the pad where you can apply an Overcover for windy applications or an Undercover when hiding the microphone underneath a shirt. When removed, they won’t leave any residue on the fabric.
Moleskin was made to protect our feet, but the soft and pliable material can be used to to place a microphone beneath clothing. The material can be cut into any shape and has a peelable, sticky backing, making it easy to mount and remove. It comes in multiple colors too.
A must in every sound mixer's bag, this extremely tacky tape works well on clothing and directly on the skin. Transpore tape is essentially a medical tape that won’t hurt the talent during removal. If you're applying it to the skin, make sure it's dry first. Also, a piece of transpore tape a few inches away from the microphone element can provide tension relief if you're talent is moving around considerably.
This clear, double-sided tape is very stick and comes in a variety of sizes. You shouldn’t place it directly on a hairy chest, and while it’s more used in conjunction with other products, like the aforementioned Rycote products or Abetek’s Button-Down Mount, it can also help pin down loose clothing or a wire.
Yes, we’re talking about that can of spray you see in your mom’s laundry room. In dry winter weather, static electricity can build-up leaking into your track. Try using a little Static Guard on the talent's shoes as well as the clothing to reduce the friction between the fabrics that can cause static electricity.
Abetek Button-Down Mount
Available for Sanken COS-11D, Countryman B6 and DPA 4060 lavaliers, the Abetek Button-Down Mount is perfect for noisy fabrics as it separates the head of the microphone away from the fabric. By using double-sided tape, you can mount it directly onto the talent's wardrobe. It’s made from a strong and flexible thermoplastic elastomers (TPE) material and comes in black or white.
Lav-Bullet / Lav-Rod
Sound Guys Solutions have come up with two quick ways to transfer the lavalier wire through clothing. The Lav-Bullet acts like a weight, allowing the wire to pass through wardrobe. Instead of fishing around for a cumbersome wire, the Lav-Bullet uses gravity to drop it to the ground. The Lav-Rod is a very thin carbon fiber rod that aids wiring talent wearing extremely tight clothing. It comes in various lengths, but the standard 42” cut covers talent up to 6’ tall.
If you use Rode lavaliers like the smartLav, you might want to consider grabbing Rode’s invisiLAV. The functionality of the invisiLAV is very similar to Rycote products and the Abetek Button-Down mount. It’s made from medical-friendly material so it can be mounted directly on the skin and there are two mounting points if you need to run redundant mics. The soft construction absorbs noise and vibration while providing versatile mounting options.
This Denmark-based company has several different offerings for wind protection. Its Invisible Lav Covers are ideal when mounting a mic to clothing. What we like about these is they give you an option to leave the microphone covered or uncovered when placing them. For more serious protection against wind, Windbubbles offers some of the best protection against wind in the industry. Available in a variety of colors and different sizes, they’ll have what you’ll need.
If you imagine a beige Ace elastic bandage wrap, you’re already half way to understanding Neopax. A standard in the industry, Neopax is a neoprene belt that secures and conceals a transmitter on a talent’s body. Available in different colors and sizes for waste, thigh, chest as well as different transmitters, it’s ideal for hiding wireless microphones when the talent has more pace to their movement.
Joe’s Sticky Stuff
This is another versatile double-sided tape that’s both pliable and removes residue free. Besides mic placement, Joe's Sticky Stuff can be used for many other applications like keeping a rug from moving or, if you place a small strip on your shirt, it can hold in place a second wire while your mic the first talent.
If you have any go-to tricks for wiring, let us know in the comments section below.