Termination: Mic Stand & Deliver
Mic Stand & Deliver.
Text:/ Graeme Hague
Our military and police forces are highly trained in every aspect of their jobs – except in how to use microphones. Have you ever noticed whenever some kind of passing-out parade or graduation ceremony is shown on the telly, the Sergeant Major General is standing about two metres back from the podium microphone? Maybe they have a little too much faith in all the shouting they do. I always imagine some poor First Class (Audio) Private crouched under the stage and riding a single fader on a four-channel mixer, desperate to get anything except wind-noise into the PA system and too terrified to mention to the Generalissimo that no one can hear anything. They still have firing squads in the army, you know. It possibly explains why Napoleon lost the Battle of Waterloo – due to poor microphone technique his troops didn’t hear a word he said during the pre-battle address. Mind you, to be fair, back in 1815 Napoleon couldn’t enjoy the benefits of a line-array system. Must have been a ground-stack, perhaps.
The worst culprit is the Pope – yes, the Pope. Not only the one who recently got the gig, but all of them. I’m not dissing anyone’s religion – each to his own and all that… Okay, maybe apart from Scientology, which is frankly unexplainable. But how come the spiritual leader of something like two billion Catholic faithful and the CEO of arguably the most cashed-up organisation in the world only gets a 30-year-old Shure 58 to address the masses? Surely someone could dip into the Papal petty cash and buy an SM99 or even one of the DPA d:facto II mics we reviewed in this issue. It doesn’t help that Pope Francis, along with all his predecessors, has taken the mandatory two-week course in Incoherent Mumbling (followed by the extra-curricular Incoherent Mumbling in Latin), which plainly doesn’t include a lesson in getting the best out of an SM58. It makes you wonder if it was part of the papal selection process.
Q: “Why do you want to be Pope?”
A: “Because I really want the job and besides, the office is close to my kids’ school. I can drop them off on my way through in the mornings.”
Q: “Can you use a microphone properly?”
Q: “Close the door on your way out. Next!”
Setting up a good lectern microphone is a fine art often thwarted by the people expected to use it. One of my favourites has always been having to explain to presenters that the microphone on the right is, in fact, the lectern light and putting their lips on it will only cause a sizzling, then yelping, noise that the real microphone on the left will clearly pick up.
Often, as you all know, there are two microphones carefully positioned for optimal performance and the problem is convincing speakers not to touch them – no, don’t touch them. These microphones will work perfectly well exactly where they are and you don’t have to adjust anything, really…
Not a hope. Someone will inevitable grab a microphone in each hand and aim them directly at their own nose so that every plosive startles the audience into staying awake. That’s after asking, “Can you hear me?”
Another pet hate is guest speakers who don’t know how to speak. Soft-spoken, shy and intimidated by the whole thing they whisper verbatim a prepared speech from notes in front of them as though they’re reading a very long cake recipe. Riveting stuff, while the audience glares at you and hisses blatantly obvious things like “We can’t hear” or “Turn it up” as if the audio technician behind the audio desk running the audio system is somehow incapable of noticing there’s a problem with the audio. Personally, for these occasions I’ve perfected a facial expression that is a mixture of mild disgust and a kind of, “There’s nothing I can do” look. Works like a charm.
One answer, of course, is to use lapel microphones wherever possible. Unless you have a chest-thumper – a real one. I had to deal with a bloke once who was so passionate about his heart-felt subject he thumped his chest whenever he wanted to make a point. The first time, he nearly blew every driver in the PA rig – and a few pacemakers in the audience, too. I spent the rest of the speech watching his hands like I was sparring with Mike Tyson.
The Chinese military know how to do it. Whenever they have one of those massive, ceremonial drive-by occasions with rockets and tanks, the Supreme Commander’s podium is always festooned with microphones as though they got them cheaper by the dozen. Either that or it’s all about redundancy and an indictment on the projected failure-rate of Chinese mics.
The only real advice we can offer is support and sympathy. Whether your next lectern presenter is a novice, a major general or even His Holiness the Pope, chances are they will stand two metres back from the microphone and wonder why no one can hear them. It’ll be your fault, of course.
Some things never change. But soon you’ll be able to download that facial expression I mentioned as an app. I’ll make a fortune.