Do's and Don'ts for Actors - A Sound Mixer's Perspective

If you’re new to acting then you may find yourself a little confused (or even possibly irritated) by how many “rules” there seem to be when interacting with sound mixers. There aren’t any actual rules per se. However, there are definitely some best practices that will ensure both your comfort levels throughout the day as well as great sound and the security of the sound mixer’s equipment. Here’s a few “dos” and “don’ts” for the emerging actor. 

First and foremost, the sound department’s role is one of customer service. We’re here to ensure that you sound great. From my perspective, the more comfortable you are on camera, the better you will sound.

DO: Wiring up an actor should be a clinical process. Your comfort and respect comes first. Your sound mixer should always first explain how they wish to wire you and then request consent. If you feel uncomfortable for any reason you have the right to request to be wired by wardrobe, HMU, or another crew member that you feel comfortable with. The sound mixer can walk them through the steps to ensure it’s done correctly. If your sound mixer scoffs at this then they are not a professional. The sound mixer’s only concern should be that 1) the microphone is placed in the position that sounds best,  2) that the transmitter pack is placed securely and comfortably, and 3) that the lav mic, wire, and transmitter are hidden well (when it’s applicable). 

DON’T: Don’t try to take the transmitter and/or mic off yourself when your scene wraps. Transmitter antennas, the lav wire, and the mic connectors are very sensitive and prone to breaking when not handled correctly. You never want to tug hard at a wire under your clothing because it could be taped elsewhere on your body. Excessive or aggressive pulling on the wire could result in breakage that is expensive to repair. These repairs cost anywhere from $60-$400 dollars per microphone.

DO: Inform your sound mixer if you prefer to wire yourself up. In many cases, you can do 50% of the job yourself. Personally, I always ask for the assistance of the person I’m wiring up. It not only makes my job easier but it usually makes the person feel more comfortable because a stranger isn’t getting in their personal space. Sound mixers carry a variety of mounts, transmitter straps, and adhesives to work with any wardrobe choice. For instance, there are specific lav mic mounts that are made for bras. When using this type of mount, it’s easier to have the actor thread the wire up under the shirt and under the bra, then to hook the mount to the center of the bra between the two cups. The goal is to have a woman’s cleavage create a buffer between the microphone and the clothing fabric. When the actor does this herself, it’s not only more convenient for everyone, it’s less invasive. 

DON’T: If you are wiring yourself up, don’t decide where to mount the microphone without discussing it with your sound mixer. The sound mixer should give you very specific instructions of how and where they want the microphone to be mounted. These instructions consider a number of variables such as what types of fabric you are wearing, what type of microphone is being used, whether or not you are indoors or outdoors, etc. 

An assortment of mounts and adhesives that are typically used when wiring up an actor.

DO: Do inform your sound mixer if you are allergic to certain types of adhesives. We usually work with hypoallergenic material but there could be a scenario where we need to use a specific adhesive that could potentially cause skin irritation. Informing us of an allergy will help determine an alternative method. Also, in some scenarios we may wrap the transmitter pack in an unlubricated condom (which we call a “transmitter sheath”) to prevent sweat or moisture from getting in the transmitter. This is then usually placed inside a fabric waist, thigh, or ankle strap. However, if you have a sensitivity to latex it’s best to inform your sound mixer and they can make sure that the latex does not come in contact with your skin.

DON’T: Don’t move or take off adhesives yourself while on set. We place tape and other adhesives in very specific places to ensure that the mic is mounted properly and that the lav wire has enough slack to avoid pulling during normal body movement. If you are feeling uncomfortable, inform your sound mixer and they can make an adjustment. 

DO: Inform your sound mixer when you need privacy (going to the bathroom, leaving set to have a private phone call or meeting with the director, etc). We can turn your channel off remotely and make sure that your privacy is maintained. If you’re not in front of the camera, we don’t want to be hearing you through our headphones! Also, it’s often very easy to remove the transmitter pack while leaving the microphone securely attached. This way, there’s no chance of an expensive transmitter getting dropped into a toilet.

DON’T: Don’t try to unplug or turn off the transmitter. If your signal unexpectedly drops out your sound mixer may interpret this as frequency interference and scramble to make needless and time consuming adjustments. Also, some transmitters have their on/off or mute functions disabled unless a series of buttons are hit simultaneously. This is done to prevent accidentally turning the transmitter off during operation. 

DO: After you are wired, your sound mixer will ask you to check your levels. We don’t care what you say, we only want to hear how loud you are and what your voice sounds like under the specific lav mounting scenario. The best practice is to give us the volume level at which you will be speaking on camera. We will often ask a very generic question that is unlikely to be asked on camera. For instance, my go-to mic level question is “what did you eat for breakfast this morning?”.

DON’T: Don’t forget to inform your sound mixer if you are planning on making large dynamic changes during your performance. Of course, sometimes these are unplanned and we can deal with those instances. However, if you are planning to make a giant leap (like from whispers to screams) and it’s not scripted, simply tell your sound mixer so that they can make an adjustment to the settings to prevent distortion or clipping of your signal. Afterall, you don’t want your performance to end up unusable because the audio was bad!

DO: Do remember that once wired, you have a hot mic that’s usually (but certainly not always) located somewhere near your sternum. If you tend to tap your chest while talking you’ll also be tapping on a microphone, causing a loud thud that will render the dialog under that thump as unusable. 

DON’T: Don’t let the fact that you’re wearing a mic inhibit you from delivering the performance you feel you need to deliver. Your performance comes first. Your sound mixer will let the director or AD know if your actions are causing audio problems and make the necessary adjustments.