Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Sound for Musicals – Part Two

2234615701_eb9f9ff45cWhen it comes to casting, please remember to keep sound in mind.  A few specific things that will make for a better show.

First, think projection. 

Does the actor have a voice BIG enough for the role.  You might want to reconsider a lead who has a nice, but tiny voice.

Coach projection throughout the rehearsal process.  Make sure the actors are filling the room with their voices, particularly when it comes to dialogue.  There’s nothing tougher than pushing the sound system to the point of feedback because the kids are whispering their lines, and then being blown out when they begin to sing!

Not everyone in the cast needs a line.  Characters with lines need mics.  It sounds bad to have characters with lines off mic, when others are on mic.  Lots of characters means lots of mics, mic packs and and pack switches.  Don’t make this harder by insisting that every kid who auditions gets some sort of line or solo. There is nothing wrong with having a chorus or ensemble.

That brings us to the topic of equipment.  You may be lucky enough to have wireless mics on hand.  The question is this.  Are they professional grade, quality units.  Here’s a rule of thumb.  If you paid less than $700.00 per unit for them, they’re probably not adequate.  You will have dropouts and problems.  Don’t force your sound person to use them!  If you do, don’t  blame them for the problems!

Also, please understand that mixing and matching wireless units requires more work for your sound person.  Coordinating wireless frequencies is not for the faint of heart.  It takes time and the right tools to do it.  Make sure you plan for this in the budget and production process.

When you get to technical rehearsals (you have scheduled tech rehearsals, right?) don’t forget sound. I like to have a time during  a rehearsal to go over mic use with actors.  We talk about pack placement, swaps and placement of elements.

Then, plan on a sound check before a run-through. Plan on five minutes for each actor with a mic to allow the sound operator to get things dialed in.  In musicals, most sound operators will want to place the mic element over the actors ear, or in the hairline.  This technique can sound great, but it requires a bit of time to get equalization set to achieve a natural sound.

During the sound check, I have actors sing a number from the show.  We do this a capella.  No piano or orchestra.  It makes it much easier to get things dialed in.  For actors with no musical numbers, I generally provide a printed monologue to keep them from stumbling and stammering, trying to think of what to say.

Sound checks continue through the rehearsal process, and I insist on them prior to every performance, at least for key characters, generally scheduled just  prior to the house opening.

Don’t expect that any sound operator or designer will be able to come in an provide flawless sound with just one rehearsal.  It just will not happen.  You won’t be happy, and the sound person will be frustrated as well. 

Remember, the sound person has to hit every entrance, exit and line.  That’s not easy! At an absolute minimum the sound person will need three or four rehearsals to get things right.

Like I said, sound for musicals is not easy, but it’s rewarding.  I love doing it, at least when I have the right tools and the time to get things right.   Hopefully, these tips will help you as you get ready for your next big show!

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