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How do I get my chorus heard?

Mr Steve

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I am working on a show shortly - We Will Rock You - for a local school. To get bums on seats, there are lots of students involved both on stage and in the band. The principal parts will be on discreet headset mics, but the chorus will be singing "bit parts" eg Teen Queens and will not be specifically mic'd, and as usual the chorus are notoriously weak singers, or most of them will be.


Can anyone offer some advice on how to try to raise the stage level? The band will be in front of the stage on the floor, stage is roughly 8x8x6m high. To add to things it's a school hall with lovely flat parallel walls.


I have read many posts on here saying that boundary mics such as the PCC160 (or TM125s which we have) won't be much use.....how shotgun mics will be too directional and this has left me somewhat confused. We have even tried AKG hanging mics in the past without much joy.


Any advice very much welcome!

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Hi Mr Steve,


We did WWRY 2 years ago at our school, our stage is pretty much the same size as yours is.


What we did:


We had principals mic'd up


boundary mics along the side of the pros arch on the inside towards the chorus, so the audience dont see.


2 mics being flown above the chorus.


2 boundary mics on the front of the stage.


as well as 3 directional mics around the front of the stage.


These all got mixed together to allow the audience to hear the chorus... admittedly and obviously you wont get a decent sound unless you mic them all up which would be impracticable. But we found this worked very well in our theatre

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Just a thought, but usually I find that part of the problem with picking up onstage singers in a situation like this is that the acoustic volume of the band means that any mics placed overhead simply amplify orchestra and not vocals. regardless of their polar pattern and focus, because of reflections etc.


We use a lot of acoustic screening to stop similar things happening in large pits where, for example you don't want your flute mic to pick up cymbals when they are sat next to each other.


So maybe it would be worth trying to put some perspex (which schools DT departments usually have), on the front of the stage leaning over towards the band, this would help eliminate some (but not all!) of the acoustic pit noise and help overhead mics pick up their intended source.


Clearly there could be some sight line issues involved.


Also have you thought about some sort of offstage vocal booth? I understand that parents want to see their kids onstage, but maybe something could be arranged where different people are onstage for different scenes, leaving some to sing offstage and bulk out the vocals a bit?


Lastly, We Will Rock You is quite a good show for being able to show microphones and other equipment and being able to pass it off as scenery, so maybe for this show, you could simply have mics placed in front of the chorus on stands? which are then moved for other scenes?


Hope that helps,



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Also have you thought about some sort of offstage vocal booth? I understand that parents want to see their kids onstage, but maybe something could be arranged where different people are onstage for different scenes, leaving some to sing offstage and bulk out the vocals a bit?

I understand from a friend who worked on the touring production (the South African version, for what it's worth) that they had an offstage vocal booth they used for this very purpose.


Hope this helps


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Well, this is the age-old problem of am-dram and school productions, especially where that chorus is only there to make up the numbers.


As we've said on this forum time and again, there's really only one simple way of making them heard - and that's to get the beggars to speak and/or sing louder and clearer. Plate mics like the PCC160 will help BUT only if there's something for them to actually pick up and amplify. I'm never a fan of overhead mics, particularly in this situation, mainly due to the fact that these chorus members will pretty much sing at the FLOOR not the ceiling! The same with shotguns from the front - by definition their pickup range is very narrow and thus unpredictable.


And yes, the band spill on to the stage will certainly not help the balance as a previous respondent remarks. (and with shotguns from FoH that will be made worse still).


On the odd occasion I've run noise for such shows I've found that a sensible demonstration to the cast whilst they're sitting out front will do wonders - BUT you need to do that at a rehearsal as early as you can. That goes for rad mic wearers as well as they can also be guilty of using the mic as a crutch rather than something to emphasise their talent.

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All the ideas so far are good ones and the final solution is likely to be a combination of the lot. To summarise:


First and foremost, as Ynot says, it's important to get the chorus to sing out and project. I once worked with a director (on a youth drama workshop) who made himself a giant "target" out of cardboard and stood at the back of the auditorium telling the kids to aim for the bullseye. I have no idea what the psychology of this was but it seemed to work and the chorus was significantly louder after a few repeats of this exercise.


Second, control the levels coming from the band with the use of acoustic screens, smaller practice amps instead of big Marshall stacks, etc. etc. The music should be one element of the mix, not the determining factor that drives all other levels.


Third, some form of boundary mics across the apron of the stage, coupled possibly with directional mics cleverly hidden on set for people farther upstage. However, do not think these are "turn on and forget". You have to actively mix, bringing up only the mics closest to the chorus at any time. As an aside, these mics can also be a "get out of jail" card in case of the failure of the radio mics on any principals.


Finally, the idea of a vocal booth is a great one. It's a technique I've only discovered fairly recently but we've used it on the last couple of main shows I've worked an it's worked a treat. A handful of good singers in a closed area add a fullness and body to the sound that you'll never get with forms of distant miking on stage--and also leaves the stage chorus free to be more energetic in their dance moves without having to worry about getting breathless.



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Probably worth mentioning the boundary mics placed on anything other than a large flats surface operate as ordinary mics - so on the inside of the pros arch facing the cast rather wrecks their properties.


The supporting cast sing quietly for many reasons.


My own order of 'commonness' is this:

The most common reason for not singing out in school/college productions.


1.Unfamiliarity with the words, so lacking in courage to sing out in fear of messing up!

2.Press gang-ism - they're in the show because their friend is, or other pressure to perform was applied

3.Singing ability - those who know they can't sing (because they've been told), won't!

4.Embarassment - seems obvious, but with makeup and costume, not quite so bad as it seems


Radio Gaga is a good one to look at. Synchronised lurching, rather than dancing should make doing this number a cinch - but every time I see it done, at least half the cast are moving mouths, but not actually joining in. The best school versions and I've seen dozens now all blur together in terms of averageness - and the weak singing, especially for this number, really spoil it. In the good ones, the teacher/director treated this number more like an army cadet parade. Before getting to the end stage, each group of gaga girls had been made to perform to the others. 6 seems a good number. Never do the entire cast in one go. 6 is sufficient to give support to each other so it doesn't become a solo, or duet from the strongest one. Each group practices against an over loud track, building up their confidence singing loudly, with their small group. When each group becomes gelled - the group get a name - usually a daft one, I rather liked Epsilon and other galactic names in one school! Very often the kids get grades if they are doing the singing or musical theatre unit - and in a six, the teacher can hear each voice and give appropriate grades. The group always practice together and then when they are all brought together, each team wants to beat their neighbours, and the result is loudness (sometimes at the expense of quality) that increases each time the number is run. If money for kit is available - then give the weakest (not best) singer a radio mic and the louder ones either side will leak in too. In most cases, there's no need to amplify them at all. In a typical school hall, umpteen girls can easily get over the band once they cease singing like choir girls and find their diaphragms. They need to switch on the chest voice, and it's really a case of finding a rehearsal style that lets them do it. Much is psychology - girls in particular can be amazingly vocal, loud and powerful when they are secure - that's what needs building on. Mix the boys in with them if you need to use up spare bodies - make sure if you stick an odd boy in with the girls that the girls can keep him controlled. even a mouthy fella, in with 5 girls soon learns to shut up. If there are lots of boys, then all boy groups rarely work - in groups they become a pain - split them up! Offer up a prize for best team, most improved team, and other 'awards' that can be held for maybe a week - but always have one less award than you have teams - so one is obviously the worst, but not singled out. The internal group dynamics don't like this.


I've seen this kind of system (the above is to be honest a combination of very similar systems I've seen done) produce really amazing performance. These shows are always long term, so there is time. If you sort Gaga - the other numbers benefit too.


I did La Cage Aux Folles once with an amateur group and the chorus performers looked, er, great, but couldn't sing, and the real singers couldn't take part, so we did off-stage singing in a dressing room with video links for the conductor and a stage view. We stuck a A2 in with them with headset for standbys and cues - and it worked well audio wise, but was the dullest thing they've ever done - it was never repeated.

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I've got to be honest, WWRY is a pain in the backside from a sound point of view. Your leads on radio mics will be easy, especially on headsets, but the tricky songs are Somebody to Love (Teen Queens), Flash/Seven Seas of Rhye (Bohemians) and the run up to Only the Good Die Young (Bohemians). In each of these cases, there are several small parts who only speak once in the show, needed to be heard above the band and alongside the leads wearing mics.

Having done it 3 times now, each time with pretty poor casts, I've had to accept it's just a big radio mic show. Float mics and even my posh hanging mics just won't cut it over the band. Vocal booths help, but only to reinforce the chorus as a whole. As soon as you get 1 or 2 people with an individual small part, the booth is of little help.

Spend the money and get a deal on plenty of radio mics. 18 meant that with swaps, everybody who speaks or sings a line on their own gets a mic.


Also look at swaps - pop for instance only uses his mic in the first scene, and from the 7 seas of Rhye onwards. The teacher only uses her mic in the first scene, and even Britney and Meatloaf only need their mics from Halfway through the first half - theirs can be used for teen queens.


Hope that's helpful


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(I'm speaking about a school production here.)

Once or twice, when we've had a show that needs a bit of chorus over a loudish band, we've had a smallish group of good singers (6 or 8) all on wired vocal mics sitting with the band. They provide the bulk of the sound which the rest of the chorus can fill out. It actually gives the rest of the chorus confidence so they are louder or it means the chorus can do dance moves without singing. The philosophy was to let the singers sing and let the dancers dance. This was planned from the start so it may not be appropriate for you. The singers felt involved so were not so bored as the performers in the situation described by Paulears.

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as I said before in my post what we did...


im not gonna repeat myself but as others have said it is a mic heavy production.


we usually only have a 24 channel desk for the band and a 8 channel desk for mics, but for WWRY we had 2 24 channel desks one for the band and 24 channels for the mics all full.


Also we had a couple of the musicians on keyboards singing as well on mics in stands to add volume.


As for the songs mentioned:


Radio Gaga is the opener for the cast and the backing was sung by the musicians, but also if you get them rehearsed enough they will be loud enough to project.


Somebody to love, we had it like she was in a dream almost, we rolled on 5 radio mics, one for each teen queen, use as many as you need for the teen queens, and there you are they are singing. Our teen queens all had attitude to begin with and they suited the part, so would project and be heard - even without the mics - but adding the mics allowed them to be heard with better quality and over the band.


Flash/7seas of Rhye, we had Kashoggi going between the boho's so they were using his mic on his face and were kinda being amplified, we also had a few musicians supporting them to be heard... and as for 7 seas of rhye its mainly kashoggi singing, then we used the bohos singing loudly, and musicians adding support to them on mics.


Only the good die young, as for that song its a mainly sung by Meat, we used one of the other principals mics to swap over so she was on a headset, and then for when the bohos do sing we relied on the boundary, float and hanging mics, for it as well as using the musicians to provide some support.


Hope this kind of helps.


It is a great show to perform and if you pull it off, it is one of the best productions you can do.


It is one of the best we have done and leaves you feeling "wow".


If you want any more information PM me



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The supporting cast sing quietly for many reasons.


School productions do seem to be a nest of vipers. Thankfully when I was at school I never had to deal with such problems. Despite going to a fairly run of the mill comprehensive the music department was fabulous and huge quantities of time were put in actually teaching people to sing before they went anywhere near a production. The result was that everyone on stage could project. However few schools do this as it takes huge amounts of ground work over years before you get to the apex of actually putting on a high quality musical. I've also seen accusations of 'elitism' not being 'inclusive' for not putting people on stage who are not good enough to be on stage :/


Unfortunately shortly after I left the head of music responsible retired and with in a year or two everything had been lost.


A concurrent post has been automatically merged from this point on.


You also have to be careful with shotguns, what's directly behind them - as illustrated in the diagram below, there is quite a significant pickup lobe to the rear.


And horrible lobes to the side which can and up pointing directly into your PA if you are not careful. Lobes on shotguns vary wildly, you can get ones which minimise the effect, however they tend to made for the broadcast market and are expensive.

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Thanks for your responses, there are lots of things to try out. I think we will adapt the staging of 'Somebody to Love' to get the Teen Queens singing around mics as Callum suggested. As the saying goes: you can't polish a turd, so the key will be to get the chorus to project so there IS something to amplify, with the better singers placed downstage towards the boundary mics.
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Another trick that I've not tried myself but had recommended to me is to use a sampler with samples of backing "stanzas" on it, just short bits, so that it won't drift too much in time, so for example, "all we need is" "radio gaga" as two distinct samples, and someone who to operate them, either in with the band, or on cans elsewhere, to avoid timing issues.


Otherwise my old standby suggestion of locking the band to a click and have backing vox on disk.


And a big fan of vocal booths. All its needs is some heavy blacks.

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