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Sound Engineer Paul Bevan on using a PSA EMBRACE earmount mic for a violin

Point Source Audio, Stage Directions • April 2020Sounding BoardThe Sounding Board - Point Source Audio Blog • March 24, 2020

Danny Elfman and Sandy Cameron

With a growing number of theater productions, from Broadway shows to university’s stages, where an instrumentalist is also onstage as a performer, it’s the job of a sound engineer to figure out how to mic that instrument. Traditionally, lavalier microphones are the go-to mics for miking a violin for recording or in a live performance. Nowadays, depending on the scenario, mic selection and placement can differ. Point Source Audio has, in the past, highlighted some unexpected ways to mic a violin, not just relying on a lavalier mic. Here’s one sound engineer’s experience with an earmount mic. 

Recently, for a production of Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas that toured the UK at the end of 2019, virtuoso violinist Sandy Cameron was presented with a new miking technique thanks to Point Source Audio’s EMBRACE EO-8WL earmount microphone. The on-ear, as opposed to on-instrument solution, came from Emmy-winning audio engineer Paul Bevan, who has been working with Danny Elfman on his live projects for five years. This experience led him to assert: “This will be a permanent change to our approach for Sandy’s featured performances during Danny’s concerts. I highly endorse it for any application where a violinist has to be miked and still have the freedom of movement.”

Creating a More Natural Sound
As a production, Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas features a screening of the whole movie, with the dialogue and sound effects from the original film, but with all the music performed live. “As an entr’acte before the beginning of the second half of the film, Danny has arranged a medley of songs from the film, for solo violin, accordion, saxophone, and upright bass, to mimic the ‘street band’ featured in the movie,” explains Bevan. “Sandy Cameron, who Danny has a long relationship with, leads this ensemble. Previously we had used a clip-on microphone into a wireless pack and anyone who has used a clip-on mic understands the compromise inherent in this approach. Because it is attached to the instrument, it tends to have a slightly unnatural sound, with too much body and too much ‘zing’ from the strings. I wanted to find an approach that would give a more natural sound.”

The EO-8WL earmount mic from Point Source Audio is available in beige, brown, and black

To achieve this natural sound, Bevan opted for the EO-8WL from the EMBRACE family. EMBRACE microphones are engineered for concealing, but the mounting system keeps the mic placement consistent. This delivers the best of lightweight and low-profile lavs combined with the consistent placement of earmounted microphones. It was an approach he had tried before when using the technique for the first time with violinist Joshua Bell for a TV show which presented similar challenges of natural sound while looking good on camera, so he was confident it would also work for the tour. “The microphone is placed on top of the left ear, so during performance, it is sitting right over the violin, but the extra distance from the instrument gives a much more natural sound, with more ‘air’. I was anxious to try this approach with Sandy and she was keen to try something that would more accurately represent what she herself was hearing from the instrument.”

Performer Freedom
Reflecting on the tour, both Bevan and Cameron have been highly impressed with the technique. “It sounded much more natural to her and I had to do almost no EQ-ing to get it to sound just like the acoustic instrument,” says Bevan. “There was so much gain before feedback that we were never close to ringing—even in arenas, with huge PA systems and a full monitor system. An added bonus was that as the microphone was attached to Sandy, and not the violin, she could put it down and walk away. After a few years of using a clip-on, it took her a while to remember that she had this freedom! Also, because the microphone was hidden by her hair, it was completely invisible to the audience, even on tight camera shots. The clip-on with attached cable always looked untidy.”

Having experienced the benefits that the EO-8WL can bring to live violin performances, Bevan is certain that he will be using the technique again.

The EO-8WL Earmount Mic

Out of Sight, Out of Mind
The beauty of the option of using a PSA EMBRACE to mic a violin is that it requires no mic on the instrument itself. This option is best when you have an antique or valuable instrument that you don’t want to mount directly on to it. It also presents a clean picture of the performer since the EMBRACE microphone, or EO-8WL—being a custom-fit ear mounted microphone—is small and designed for camouflage in hair and with a range of colors to best match the skin coloration, or costume of the performer.

The Sounding Board monthly column is presented in partnership by Point Source Audio and Stage Directions Magazine. To read the PSA Sounding Board Blog, go to http://www.point-sourceaudio.com/sounding-board/ or visit www.point-sourceaudio.com

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