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How Wardrobe Choices Impact Sound

  • Lav Microphones 2
  • Wireless Mic Placement
  • Lav Microphones
  • Wireless Mic Placement 2

Proper lapel mic placement is always a challenge. Read below about the challenges and potential solutions that you and your crew can implement before arriving on set!

When shooting films on location one of the challenges is hiding wireless microphones (aka lavalieres) on the talent. These mics need to be hidden so that the camera and audience cannot see them. Burying these sensitive microphones in clothing can drum up a number of problems.

The challenge lies in hiding the microphones in a way that eliminates and minimises unwanted noise.

The challenge lies in hiding the microphones in a way that eliminates and minimises unwanted noise.
This noise can be two things, contact noise with the microphone element (or cable itself) or “acoustic”, the noise of the clothing rubbing against itself or the body. Your friendly neighbourhood sound person will have various techniques to reduce said contact or acoustic noise on location and should be allotted a decent portion of time to test and adjust their placement. It’s important to know there is no one solution for hiding a mic and eliminating unwanted noise. Each costume and actor combination will present a new challenge. With experience, patience and cooperation from the rest of the crew, a solution can generally found.

This may not be enough! Here is where you come in! Some costumes are simply noisy. There are materials that should be avoided. A little extra thought put into the wardrobe choices before arriving on set will go a long way and result in good clean dialogue from the wireless microphones.

A little extra thought put into the wardrobe choices before arriving on set will go a long way and result in good clean dialogue from the wireless microphones.

For starters, avoid synthetic materials whenever possible. Silk is also very noisy; try to avoid it. That means, no to silk bra’s, silk ties and silk underclothes. Silk ties can be treated by modifying them and adding a cotton interior to the knot for planting a mic. Static is also a problem for recording clean dialogue. Some clothing generates a lot of static and to the microphone it sounds like loud crackling or zapping. A watered down bottle of Scotch-guard spray can sometimes help with static and also loosen up some starchy clothes that may be making too much noise. Zippers, jewellery, chains and watches can also be noisy. Please consider this when working with Wardrobe department to choose the costumes.

100% Cotton is very quiet and good for hiding microphones. Some wools can be okay also. As a guideline, soft and non-synthetic is always going to sound better versus silk or polyester starchy clothes. A basic way to check is to simply go to a quiet room and rustle the clothing around a little bit. If it sounds loud to your ear, it will be exponentially louder for the microphone. If you are concerned with avoiding clothing noise, once you have some ideas for costume, we can meet with you and your costume designer to perform some tests prior to shooting. Testing with the microphones will give us a much better idea of problems that can arise.

Another great suggestion is to have light-weight 100% cotton undershirts for your actors. If this is possible, it can be helpful in some cases to act as a barrier from noisy clothing (and can also block some hairy chest noise). I would suggest each speaking actor have a cotton undershirt kept on standby as a potential “fix” on set.

As with most things filmmaking, these issues can and will arise when we least expect it. We are experienced and trained to solve these issues and work with you to do so. While sound professionals have many tricks and tools to solve these challenges, we know that good filmmaking requires a collaboration so think about avoiding noisy clothing, especially when the principal actors will wear much of the same clothing throughout the film!

See you on set! – Matt