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Tag Archives: Microphone

Lip Synchronization Is Part Of Show Business

Let’s Not Crucify Beyoncé For Lip-Synching

By Paul Konikowski, CTS-D

I remember my first paid lip sync experience like it was yesterday. It was about 10 or 12 years ago. I was working a Halloween-themed multi-act concert with a local professional sound company.  In addition to the load-in and load-out, my responsibilities that day included handing out the wireless handheld microphones that each act was utilizing. Moreover, it was my job to make sure the wireless microphones were working correctly without any interference, and that the artists returned the mics as they left the stage.

Since the music expo was sponsored by a local top 40 radio station, it featured a lot of one-hit-wonders who did not have full albums out yet. Many of the hip-hop performers did not carry any instruments. Instead, they would sing over pre-recorded compact discs, oftentimes hiring multiple backup dancers before any touring musicians.   In the live sound business, we refer to these boy bands and girl bands as ‘track acts’.  Now to be clear, a track act and lip synching are two different things; track acts generally sing, at least part of the song, but let me get back to my story.

One of the track acts we were supporting that day was a duo of teenage girls, along with some backup dancers. Their technical rider requested two wireless mics, which they used to introduce themselves.  But when they began performing the songs, it was obvious to me, and anyone looking at the meters on the corresponding wireless receivers (or the meters on the mixing consoles), that these girls were definitely not singing. It was all track.

Wireless microphone receivers have meters that indicate when batteries are low, as well as when the performers are actually singing (Image courtesy of http://www.grcmc.org/)

I bit my tongue and tried not to laugh.  These two teenage girls were performing difficult, choreographed dance moves I could never imagine doing, even after an entire season of being on Dancing With The Sound Guy.  The audience cheered for their entire set of three songs.  So who was I to say they were not performing their songs, even if they were not singing?  If the instruments and backup vocals are pre-recorded, what is wrong with canned lead tracks? There is a good chance they didn’t write the lyrics or melody in the first place. It was probably handed to them on a compact disc, with Post-It Note instructions: “add dance to this”. So who care’s if they sing or not?

Graduate Synch School continued later that night, as I began to setup the stage for a three-man “DJ super group”. I use both terms very loosely, because there were certainly no discs or records being jockeyed, nor was there anything super about this group.  It was basically three electronic music producers who stayed up all weekend and wrote a hit song on a laptop, and a few other songs that were not as popular. 

So back to the stage, this electronica trio included two guys on keyboards, one of which was the cool 80’s “strap on” version that hung off the shoulders using a guitar strap.  But it didn’t matter, because neither keyboard was plugged in!  They were both just props!  The third guy was the only “real” performer in the group, as he sang the lead vocals using a vocoder over three pre-recorded tracks.

I thought to myself, “can these guys really respect themselves as music producers, while pretending to play keyboards that were not even plugged in?”  I guess the fake keyboards gave Thing 1 and Thing 2 something to do on the stage while the lead guy sang the leads. Who was I to say it was not live performance?  The crowd didn’t seem to mind at all.

Which brings me back to Beyoncé. We all know this modern-day diva can sing, LIKE A BOSS. That is why everyone tuned in to hear her sing, and applauded when she finished. It was not until a Marine Band member came forward to say she may have lip-synched, that suddenly, Beyoncé was in the middle of a scandal questioning her patriotism. Shame on you, mainstream media, for jumping on this bandwagon, and not defending her honor. You should know as much as anyone, that just like applying makeup, or throwing your voice, lip-synching is an art, not a crime.

Moreover, the Star Spangled Banner is never an easy song to sing, because it spans so many octaves. On a good day, you might mess up a few words. On a bad day, you might sound like Roseanne.  It’s not like Beyoncé took any performing enhancing drugs to sound better in the Vocal Olympics.  It was a ceremony. It was still her voice, and everyone still applauded. It was not unpatriotic; it was part of a Patriotic performance.

We all know professional wrestling is fake. It doesn’t mean that they are not athletic, and that it’s not dangerous, or difficult to do their job. But in the end, they are performers, not Olympians. Those wrestlers follow a script, just like Beyoncé and everyone else did on Inauguration Day 2013.

Let’s face it: lip synching is a part of show business, just like acting is part of politics!

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Microphone Etiquette 101

“Is This Thing On?”

By Paul Konikowski, CTS-D
Lectern With Podium Microphones And Confidence Monitor
How many times have you heard these four words spoken into a podium microphone at a live event?  Or at the beginning of a televised speech? Or in a similar scene portrayed in a movie? (The last case usually followed by a cinematic squeal of feedback that magically fades.)  Or maybe the public speaker tapped the microphone a few times, or worse, decided to forcefully blow directly into the microphone, embedding his or her germs deep into the windscreen.

Unfortunately, our society has taught these awful habits to us through film, plays and TV shows, so much that we when we find that we are the ones doing the public speaking, we actually think it’s what we are supposed to do when we approach the podium.  Well, I am here to tell you its not what you are supposed to do; and to teach you some proper microphone etiquette for public speaking.

First, lets list two big “Don’ts” when using microphones for public speaking:

  • Don’t blow into the microphone, any microphone, ever.  (Unless blowing or pink noise is the native language of your audience).  Blowing into a microphone only creates an awful experience for the audience and may actually damage the diaphragm in the mic capsule.
  • Don’t tap on the microphone, or the mic stand, or the lectern if you are using one.  In fact, don’t touch the microphone at all, unless it looks like the microphone is way too low or way too high.  If that is the case, carefully and gently adjust the microphone height (using two hands) so that the mic capsule (the end) is roughly on the same “level” as your mouth, aiming directly into your mouth or nose. There are exceptions, but in most cases, you should keep your hands off the microphone and mic stand.

Exceptional example: I once worked an outdoor event at Yale University where the main speaker was former President of the United States, Bill Clinton.  Preceeding President Clinton was a number of “Yalees” giving short speeches and getting the crowd pumped up.  The last of these speakers, who finally introduced Mr. Clinton, was much shorter in height than the previous speakers, and pulled the two microphones way down when they spoke, then bent them way back up when Mr. Clinton took the stage.  The podium microphones were the flexible gooseneck type, with the heads taped together.  By the time President Clinton got to the lectern, the goosenecks were “bent to hell”, with the two mic capsules aiming in different directions, and neither mic aimed correctly.  If it were any other gig, I would have quickly run out on the stage and fixed the goosenecks myself.  But anyone who has ever worked a “White House gig” knows you NEVER make any sudden moves, or you might get tackled by the Secret Services, or worse, shot by a sniper.  (Yes, there were snipers on the nearby rooftops.)  Luckily, Mr. Clinton recognized the microphone pretzel, and carefully adjusted the mics so they were properly aimed before he started talking.  I was impressed, along the entire production staff.  Disaster averted.

So, if you are not supposed to blow, tap, or say “Is this thing on?”, how should a person approach a microphone?  Well, the best practice is a combination of a) assuming the mic is working perfectly, while b) simultaneously being ready for the mic to not be working at all:

  • First, approach the microphone slowly, and confidently.
  • Place your notes on the lectern in such a way that you can easily read them without turning pages.  Mark the order of your notes in advance using large numbers in the four corners of each page.
  • If you brought bottled water or another beverage, open it, take a sip, and place it somewhere where it’s easily accessible, but out of sight from the audience or cameras.  Put your drink somewhere you can’t accidentally knock it over.  If you can, use a separate dedicated shelf, or table, for drinks.  Don’t bend or squat to put your drink on the floor, it just looks awkward.
  • If a sound guy (or sound girl) is running the PA system, try to make eye contact with them.  They will nod or point at you if they are ready, or hold up their hand telling you to halt if they are not ready.
  • Smile, and say something simple, short, and positive to test the microphone.  My personal favorites are “hello”, “good morning”, “good afternoon”, or “good evening, ladies and gentlemen”. Speak directly into the microphone, and listen for feedback. If you hear feedback, or if it seems too loud, back off the mic a few inches.  If there is a sound crew, wait a few seconds, and continue. They will address the feedback or volume issues, but they will need you to keep talking to adjust the microphone(s) properly.
  • Instead of saying, “Is this thing on?” or “can everyone hear me okay?” (the answers to which will never tell you if a mic is not working properly), try something like this instead: “Before I begin my presentation, I want to make sure everyone here can hear me, loudly and clearly.  So please do me a favor, and raise your hand if you clearly understood everything I just said”.  If you don’t see hands raised from the front to the very back of the room, check to see if the microphone is switched off, then move closer to the microphone, and repeat the question until you see enough hands raised.
  • If you don’t have a sound crew, and need to raise or lower the volume yourself, do it in very tiny increments, repeating the previous step until you are convinced the entire audience can hear you.
  • Before you start your actual speech, thank the audience, the previous presenters, and any volunteers or sponsors of the event. This gives the sound engineer a few seconds to fine tune the mic to your voice.
  • If you are using a wired or wireless handheld microphone, try to hold it very close to your mouth, at such an angle that it aims into your mouth.  Do not pretend you are a reporter on the local TV news, holding the mic near your chest or stomach.  Those TV reporters and sportscasters use special microphones that allow that sort of thing, and they are trained to aim them directly at their mouths, or the mouths of the people they are interviewing.
  • If you need to cough, or sneeze, turn away from the microphone and the audience.  It’s much better to pause and regain your composure, than to subject your audience (and possibly your recording) to these very natural, but very nasty, noises.
  • If your audience laughs, sighs, or applauds during your speech, pause a few extra seconds until they are done.  Don’t rush to start talking again.  Instead, pretend you are giving the State Of The Union Address, or a stand-up comic.  It’s all about timing.
  • When you have finished your presentation, thank the audience again, smile, collect your notes, take a bow, or wave as you slowly “exit stage left”. Do not turn off the microphone or adjust anything.  If you accidentally exit the wrong way, or leave something behind, don’t turn back.

If you take my advice and follow the above tips, you will be an effective public speaker, and any fear you have of microphones will fade away.  If you have any other tips to share with my readers, or any microphone horror stories, please add them to the comments section below, or email me at pkav.info@gmail.com.

Thank you for listening to me speak to you today.  I hope you learned something valuable.  Good night, and good luck.