School music teacher Brian Weiland spent over 12 years in a quest for clear, consistent sound reinforcement for his young actors and singers. He tried stand-mounted mics, hanging mics and wireless mics - and finally found what was, in his opinion, the best solution: Bartlett Stage Floor Mics.
Weiland stages two junior high musical theater productions per year, plus numerous choral concerts involving students whose ages range from 5-13, and groups of singers whose numbers range from 4 to 100 or more.
"Unfortunately," he says, "our performance space is of the dreaded cafetorium variety, where the stage faces the school's cafeteria, and for shows we simply take out the lunch tables and set up rows of chairs. The acoustics in this room are horrible. The space is huge - large enough to fit 400 chairs, with a ceiling 30' high, and the walls are constructed entirely of concrete cinder blocks with a linoleum floor. Can you imagine the overwhelming reverb of his room?"
"Also, our stage is quite large- about 40' wide. As you can imagine, my students' young voices get lost and overwhelmed in this space. Just trying to get their voices loud enough for their parents to hear them during performances has been the single greatest challenge of my job."
Over the past 12 years Weiland tried the following solutions:
STAND MICS: First he put stand-mounted vocal mics across the front of the stage. According to Weiland, the sound was "horrible". "Vocal mics are designed for close range, so they don't pick up much of what's going on on my giant stage except for those students who happen to be closest to them, and to even do that much the gain needs to be cranked and so feedback and ringing plagued our shows. Worst of all, whatever did manage to get amplified through our speakers sounded tinny, thin, faraway and just plain bad."
HANGING MICS: Next he tried hanging choral mics above the stage. This was certainly better, but not good enough. "What the audience heard was still simply unsatisfactory ... my smaller voices were still totally lost. Furthermore, though we bought identical mics made by a reputable manufacturer, they were actually very inconsistent dynamically, with obvious differences between them in terms of sensitivity and output."
Two of these mics were destroyed over the years by students. "Overhead choral microphones are fragile and vulnerable," he says, "and in my experience, even when they are working the sound the audience hears is inconsistent at best."
WIRELESS MICS: Next he tried wireless body mics with disappointing results. Weiland says, "In addition to being very expensive and fragile, wireless mics are very difficult to put on and remove quickly... when you have multiple actors who need to share them for different scenes. Also, wireless mics are prone to students accidentally turning them off just when they're needed, they are constantly burning through batteries, and they require the full-time vigilance of a dedicated sound person who can bring them up and down as the actors move on and offstage."
"There's obviously no way every actor onstage is getting one, and so the extreme aural difference between students with and without body mics was jarring and distracting for the audience, and particularly disappointing for the parents of those students without them."
FLOOR MICS: After years of frustration, Weiland decided to try three Bartlett Stage Floor Mics.
"They picked up my downstage voices, certainly, but they also surprised me by cleanly and clearly picking up voices which were fully upstage as well, and I've got a big stage! Feedback was not an issue, they were perfectly balanced and matched with each other. They did not pick up excessive foot noise, and neither did they pick up excessive noise from the audience or from the musicians who were set up in front of the stage. What they did was pick up all of my actors' voices, from the smallest to the largest, pretty much anywhere on the stage."
He was able to omit the body mics and overheads. "Still, audience members universally raved about the sound. They marveled at how clear and natural all of the voices were, and loved that they could hear and understand pretty much every actor on the stage." According to Weiland, the excellent sound was enthusiastically confirmed by parents, other music teachers in attendance, the school principal, and the members of the PTO.
Weiland comments, "These are obviously meticulously made mics, which look as strong as tanks. I particularly liked that the Stage Floor Mic - C had a permanently attached cable, rather than the comparatively more fragile mini-XLR, which I was pretty sure would at some point be stepped on and broken by a student."
"To my surprise and delight", he says, "The Bartlett Stage Floor Mics have basically single-handedly solved my sound problem."