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KnowHOW: Lavalier hiding techniques

KnowHOW: Lavalier hiding techniques
DPA's 6060 mics are available in various colours to blend with skin tones and clothing

KnowHOW: Lavalier hiding techniques

Lavalier mics are a great option for animated worship leaders who like to move around the stage. James Cooke explores ways in which they can be hidden from view

A lavalier microphone – also referred to as a lapel, clip, body, collar, neck or personal mic, or lav for short – provides hands-free audio capture from the wearer. They are used often in television and broadcast applications, as well as for public speakers, such as a worship leader, addressing a congregation of people from a stage. Unlike fixed microphones, they allow the wearer to move freely about the stage (and beyond for a little audience participation). They also provide an advantage over handheld mics in that so long as they’ve been clipped to the wearer in a sensible position, there should be no further need to worry about whether their voice will be picked up clearly, whereas with handheld microphones, intelligible audio pickup is quite literally in the hands of the speaker, who may or may not forget how close they need to hold the mic to the mouth. The hands-free option also allows for more animated subjects to make all the hand gestures they like to help illustrate their message as they speak, keeping an audience engaged.

Lavalier mics tend to be wireless in that a beltpack worn by the speaker serves as a transmitter to a receiver unit connected to the rest of the sound setup. However, there is still the case of the cable running from the microphone down to the transmitter hooked to the wearer’s belt.

The Sennheiser XSW2-ME2 lavalier microphone complete with transmitter and receiver
The Sennheiser XSW2-ME2 lavalier microphone complete with transmitter and receiver

Concealing the wire not only makes for a better aesthetic, particularly when a service is broadcast or streamed with plenty of close-up shots. The same goes for houses of worship that employ cameras for IMAG purposes. A cable running down the wearer’s torso will look out of place and cause a distraction. It also presents a health and safety issue in that an exposed wire with nothing to keep it in place can potentially get caught on any number of obstacles as the speaker moves about and, at the very least, this could lead to a disconnection and loss of speech pickup during a sermon.

Even those taking in the sermon as part of the congregation are going to be distracted by a cable flapping about the worship leader, even if they’re sitting further back than the first few rows, depending on their eyesight.

Black clothing conceals a Røde lavalier microphone
Black clothing conceals a Røde lavalier microphone

While the sight of the mic itself on display isn’t the most offensive sight one could imagine – after all, they’re small and inconspicuous to begin with – but some houses of worship may also like to keep the lapel hidden too. Many scripted television shows and movies rely on lavalier mics to record the voices of actors and you’d be none the wiser as a viewer. So, if you want to hide the fact that your worship leader is wearing a microphone from members of the congregation and those watching onscreen, what options do you have? Here are a few ideas.

The wire
First of all, whatever your subject happens to be wearing, it is best practice for them to conceal the wire running from the mic to the beltpack beneath their clothing, using tape to keep the cable in place to prevent it pulling at the mic and causing movement that might result in unwanted noise. Types of surgical or moleskin tape will work fine and won’t pull out too many hairs, if any, when removing the mic at the end of a service, although some sound engineers, particularly for musical theatre and rock concerts, note that they use heavy-duty duct tape to make sure the mic and wire stay in place during a highly energetic performance.

The Shure MX183
The Shure MX183

Buttonholes
If your subject is wearing a collared, button-up shirt or blouse, they’ve just given you plenty of scope to easily hide a lav. The colour of the garment may also help or hinder you. If the item of clothing is black or a dark colour, assuming that the lavalier is black, the tip of the mic can be slotted through a buttonhole and won’t be easy to spot. Buttonholes aren’t the only option available, however, so if your subject is wearing a bright, white shirt, or if they have all buttons done up right to the top, there’s no need to fret.
In some instances, you might be able to tuck the lavalier between the flaps of material that meet between two buttons. Use the tape to make sure the mic and the top of the wire are secured firmly in place.

Ties
Should your subject dress formally with a necktie, fixing the lavalier between buttons or through a buttonhole will be ruled out, as the tie adds a barrier between the mic and mouth. However, the tie itself provides new opportunities for concealment.
Some lavalier mics actually come with a clip designed specifically for attaching to a tie. The mic can be tucked away at the back of the tie, using tape once again to prevent unwanted contact noise, and the part of the clip visible to the audience is camouflaged to look like a regular tie clip.
Alternatively, the knot of the tie can also be used to secrete a lav, so long as the mic in use is an omnidirectional model as it will ultimately face away from the subject’s mouth. Feed the mic out through the top of the shirt and down into the knot so that it just protrudes out the bottom.

Voice Technologies' VT401 omnidirectional lavalier concealed within a tie knot
Voice Technologies' VT401 omnidirectional lavalier concealed within a tie knot

Collars
With or without a tie, lavaliers can also be hidden in the collar of a shirt or blouse, presenting a great option for subjects wearing a polo shirt or garment with fewer buttonholes. Run the wire up the back of the subject, again using tape, and beneath the collar, around their neck, until it’s positioned near the front. If the subject is going to be facing more towards the left than the right, then feed the mic around the left-hand side of their collar and vice-versa.

On the body
What if your subject is extra casual in their dress sense and all you have to work with is a basic t-shirt? The options also apply to any other clothing that doesn’t offer any buttonholes, neckties or collars to help keep the mic out of sight, including dresses. The simplest method is to attach the mic directly to the subject’s chest with tape. Use the tape to create separation between the lav and the subject’s clothing to once again prevent unwanted contact noise. Alternatively, if you have the time and the sewing skills, mics can be sewn into the fabric of the subject’s outfit.

On the head
Finally, if your subject is wearing a hat or any kind of headwear, this can also be used to conceal a lavalier microphone. The underneath of a baseball cap’s brim is one idea for attaching a lav. Some sound engineers even get creative in hiding lapel mics along the hairline of subjects with a thick enough mane.

If all else fails?
A quick Google search reveals a plethora of creative ways in which lavalier mics have been concealed on a subject. One example involves creating a small hole inside a breast pocket and using a hollowed-out pen to feed the wire through.
One thing to remember, before you get started, check with the subject that they are happy for you to mic them up, as this will involve physical contact. Depending on how well you know them, you may want to offer the chance to bring in a chaperone to give them peace of mind, and make sure there is somebody available of the same gender to assist. It will be possible for the subject to mic themselves when using some of the techniques outlined above, but they will still need assistance and guidance.
Once everything is up and running, make sure to continually monitor the mic’s feed through a set of headphones or monitors to ensure the clear capture of the subject’s voice without any unwanted noise creeping in from clothing coming into contact with the mic.

This article first appeared in the May-June 2020 edition of Worship AVL. Subscribe at www.proavl-central.com/subscribe/worship.



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