An Introduction to Radio Mic Hire and Technique, Part 3
by Graham Caplin – 31st May, 2021
In the previous two parts of this series I’ve presented the differences between wired and radio mics, and shown the various options available. I’ve also given you plenty of hard-won tips for using radio mics properly and professionally. In this final part I’ll give you some strategies for maximising your budget without compromising your sound.
Part 3: Getting the Biggest Bang for Your Buck
How many radio mics should you hire?
That depends on several factors, not least of which is your budget. Other considerations include licensing constraints (if you want to use a lot of radio mics then you may need to licence additional frequencies) and the physical limitation of your sound desk.
You should also consider the experience level of your sound tech or engineer. You may have a member of staff who does all of the sound work for you, but you might choose to have students do this instead. Bad sound can ruin a show, so whoever does look after it needs to practice as much as possible, and if you can it’s worth including as much rehearsal time into your hire period as possible. Inexperienced sound engineers tend to have slower reaction times to events happening on stage, but rehearsals will make a huge difference to this.
It’s worth noting that we have hired to many schools and colleges who have students that are particularly keen – and in some cases gifted – in the area of sound. I would always encourage letting students take control of the sound desk – under supervision – if there’s a suitable candidate. When I was working for the Performing Arts department at St Charles College I tended to let students do this for less crucial events. But if we were doing exam pieces I’d do it myself because I didn’t want to potentially jeopardise grades by having someone less experienced do it.
Don’t forget the risk of feedback. If you have too many mics open at the same time there’s a very good chance that they’ll start bouncing off each other, causing feedback. And because you have so many mics open at the same time it’s tricky to work out which ones are causing the problem.
Consider sharing mics with multiple cast members. I like to draw up a grid for each scene or musical number in the show, and then work out how I can swap mics backstage to achieve the smallest amount without compromising the show. Make sure that you allow sufficient time to swap between each use of a single mic, and be sure that you have a couple of students assigned just to manage this backstage. Number each microphone and make sure the performers know which numbered mic they need, and when they need it.
Make sure you maximise the hire period. At Radio Facilities if your hire covers three days then we charge you for a week (it’s cheaper than paying for three individual days). So if your production spans three days then you should book the mics from us for a full week, at the same price. That gives you extra rehearsal time at no extra cost. Also, because we use couriers to deliver to our customers we always send out kit early to allow for potential delivery problems such as flat tires or other van issues, so you may receive your kit an extra day in advance, which is another day to practice!
If this all seems a bit overwhelming, don’t be discouraged. In my experience most students get the hang of it pretty quickly. They enjoy the experience and the responsibility, and they get a lot from it. I’ve trained quite a few students to be sound engineers for their school and college productions with generally good results, and a couple have since gone into the industry full-time (lockdown notwithstanding). The golden rule is that as with most things rehearsal is key.
Remember as well that we take a lot of trouble to make the process easy as easy for you as possible. We know that the kit has to be simple, effective and trouble-free or else it isn’t worth hiring. We package everything so that it’s pretty much plug-and-play – it’s all tuned in, tested and with fresh batteries, and radio mic receivers are provided in pre-built racks, all wired up so you only have to plug them into your sound desk and go!
Finally, we can usually talk through most issues with you over the phone. We have a technician on call 24 hours a day (although we’re grateful to not get calls at 2am!)
One last word of advice: book your hires early! Traditionally there are three peaks in demand which coincide with the end of the three school terms, and at these times we often run out of stock. We regularly have frantic teachers making last minute calls, desperate for equipment – having never hired before they don’t know about these peaks in demand. If you want to be safe, plan your production and set your budget as early as you can, and then call your hire company straight away. There’s nothing wrong with booking your kit three, six or even nine months in advance. You usually don’t have to pay anything until just before your hire starts, and it’s one less thing to worry about.
We know that microphone types can be bewildering, as many of our customers have never used them for their stage performances before. For more information please call us on 020 3355 8188, or take a look at our radio mic page: radiofacilities.com/radio-mic-hire.