In this article we look at lavalier microphones. The video above was recorded back in 2015, when I was 22 years old. Although I’ve gotten older (wiser, more handsome, etc.) since recording it, the advice still holds up.
This article has since been refreshed with a bit more info, so keep on reading if you’re interested in our advice with an additional five years of perspective…
What is a Lavalier Microphone?
A lavalier microphone is a small microphone that’s typically clipped to a person’s clothing during a presentation, interview or piece to camera.
If you’re thinking “I’ve used one of those before, but that’s not what it was called” then you might be relieved to know that these microphones are commonly known as lapel, clip or tie microphones too. No matter what you call it, this little microphone is a staple of our video production toolkit.
A lavalier microphone kit is usually comprised of the microphone itself, which is attached to clothing using a small clip, a cable, and a wireless transmitter which sends the audio to the camera or the PA system in a venue.
Their discrete size makes them ideal for capturing high quality sound without impacting too much on the person speaking, as the microphone doesn’t need to be held in a hand or mounted on a boom arm.
Getting the right placement for a Lavalier Microphone
There’s a basic principle when recording voices, which is that the microphone should be placed as close to the mouth as possible. This allows the microphone to pick up more signal (the speaking) and less noise (background noise). An example would be a singer holding a microphone close to their mouth when they perform.
The only trouble with recording audio for video is that you want to be able to see the person speaking. Having a large microphone covering your subject’s face is not ideal, even if it may be best for the audio.
When attaching a lavalier microphone to somebody, the ideal placement is on their chest in line with the heart. (Or where the heart should be, if you’re interviewing a politician or technology CEO…) From experience, we find it’s better to have the microphone pointing downwards to reduce any overhead noises like air conditioning, but with most lavalier microphones the difference is negligible.
How to clip a Lavalier Microphone onto clothing
For jackets and blazers, the microphone should be clipped to the lapel. The cable can be tucked into the jacket and the transmitter can be placed in a pocket, or clipped to a belt or pocket.
A lavalier microphone can also be clipped to a tie, ensuring the cable is hidden by the tie as it drops down to the transmitter.
For shirts with buttons (including polo shirts), we ask the wearer to take the microphone up through their shirt and out of a button hole near their chest, hiding the cable in the process. The microphone should then be clipped to the placket. (The part of the shirt where the buttons are.)
For t-shirts and other tops without buttons, we also take the microphone up through the top, but we clip the microphone to the collar instead. The microphone should be placed centrally on the collar, under the chin – just make sure the wearer doesn’t tilt their head forward and cover it as they’ll sound muffled.
For dresses and other full-length body suits, we start by placing the microphone on the person’s collar and then take the rest of the equipment over their shoulder and down their back. This saves the person from needing to undress to put the microphone on and to take it off again later. Sometimes these types of clothing don’t have anywhere for the transmitter to be clipped to, so we may ask the person to hold it instead.
In all cases, it’s best to have the cable and transmitter tucked away and out of view. Not only is it neater but it also prevents the speaker from accidentally tugging or pulling on the equipment as they move around or gesticulate.
It’s also important to make sure that the microphone isn’t covered or brushing against any clothing, hair or jewellery. This can cause distortion on the recording.
Is there anything I need to do with the transmitter?
Usually you won’t need to touch any of the settings on the transmitter. In fact, in our experience, things tend to go wrong when people start fiddling.
Some transmitters will have a mute switch or button, but if you’re in a studio environment or at an event with an audio engineer present it’s best to not touch it, otherwise it could disrupt the recording. These controls will be handled by the technician on your behalf.
If you’re concerned about your privacy, such as if you need to go to the toilet and you’ve already been mic’d up, then definitely look at muting or removing the microphone, but perhaps seek assistance first. It’s not embarrassing to need privacy for any reason.
Do I really need to remember all of this?
Most people don’t realise how much thought and skill goes into something as trivial-looking as putting a microphone on. While microphone placement is far from the trickiest part of a production, it’s not always as easy as it may seem!
There’s a knack to getting good results from a lavalier microphone – especially in some of the trickier situations we’ve described – but on a shoot with Southpoint Films you’ll have one of our experienced team members on hand to solve these problems with you.
The biggest challenges come from items of clothing without clear places to attach the microphone or transmitter; usually dresses. Make sure you avoid wearing these if you know you’re going to be given a lavalier microphone during your shoot or presentation.
If you want to make your next production easier, here are a few take-away tips from the perspective of professionals who’ve been using this equipment for decades:
- Wear a button-up shirt or jacket. These are the easiest to attach lavalier microphones to.
- If you must wear a dress, make sure you wear a belt for the transmitter to be attached to.
- Once you’ve put the microphone on, make sure that it’s not covered or brushing against any clothing, hair or jewellery.
- Unless you’ve hired a venue and you’ve been left to figure the audio system out yourself, let a professional manage the sound. Don’t manually mute or otherwise fiddle with the microphone setup you’ve been given.
- Also, don’t forget to take the microphone off and give it back when you’ve finished your piece to camera or presentation. We’ve certainly lost a few hours of our lives hunting down microphones that weren’t handed back!
We hope you’ve found this article helpful. If you’re interested in other tips for making your time in front of the lens go smoothly, why not read this article about what to wear on camera?
This article was originally published on 8th February 2015.
It was last updated on 13th February 2020.