Microphones

About a year ago I decided I wanted to be a magician. That’s a strange thing to say, considering that I’d been making my living as one for over a decade. Or so I thought.

There are two schools of thought when it comes to blending comedy and magic. You can be a magician who is funny, or a comedian who does tricks. There’s plenty of  praise & criticism levelled at both elsewhere so let’s move on and just talk about the difference.

WANTING TO BE FUNNY

Earlier on in my career I wanted to be funny more than anything. I chose my material based solely on how many jokes I could squeeze into a routine and seriously sacrificed the strength of my magic by stepping all over it with jokes and shoe horned levity.

With those misguided goals, the classic ‘microphone in a stand’ was the only option. I started before big named comedians wore head microphones, they were mainly reserved for actors or musical theatre performers. These days more comedians use them, the most notable being Michael McIntrye. (www.michaelmcintyre.co.uk)
Had this been the case when I was younger I may gone a different way.

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The epitome of a stand up comedian was always a microphone in a stand next to a stool, usually with a drink on it. I wanted to look like a comedian, so that’s what I chose.

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LEARNING TO USE THE STAND

I remember my friend Wayne Dobson (www.dtrik.com) telling me that he thought being able to use and negotiate a mic stand was the sign of a classy performer. I took this to heart and I focused on it.

– I worked all of my tricks around it and used one when rehearsing so as not to be surprised by it at shows. If you’re not used to them, they can get in the way a LOT.
– I took my own stand to gigs so I could cut down on the variable of getting an awkward or bad stand. Some have legs, others a round base. Some bend, some don’t.
– I tried as much as I could to leave the mic in the stand, so I wasn’t pacing around too often. Before this final change I’d charge round like Lee Evans. My nervous energy creating a one man tennis match.

All of these things are solid tips and worth taking into account if you want to use a mic in a stand and you’re free to try them. Have your prop case close by and you’re good to go. EXTRA TIP: There’s nothing worse than delivering your opening line into a switched off microphone. So have the person introducing you use the microphone you’re about to, then at least you know it’s working.

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SOMETHING CHANGED

I got hired for a week of shows at The World Famous Magic Castle in Hollywood. I performed 21 shows over 7 days in a room that seated 56 people. This meant I didn’t need to use a microphone. In that week I found a new freedom in my performance I’d never had before. I was able to cover certain magical moments with a funny line or gesture that wasn’t impinged by the stand. Now, rather than being occasionally contrary to the magic, I was able to use comedy to enhance it. A funny line could create the perfect misdirection for a move and my new ability to talk without worry about moving away from the mic meant there was no dead time.

NB/ If you are a beginner I’d suggest that some of this advice may not be for you. Learning that you cannot talk every single second of a performance is a good thing. Having to inject pauses and space because of restrictions like a microphone will absolutely make you a better performer. It’s vital to learn that the spaces between the lines are equally as important as the lines themselves. Without them, a performance becomes a mess.

Having spent 12 years with those limitations and firmly believing that ‘you have to go there to come back’ I now have the best of both worlds. Having been forced to learn about spacing I can now play with that freedom in a way that’s not indulgent and hopefully use my voice in a way that’s sparing without being held back.

If you hadn’t guessed already, I’m now using a head mic. Screen Shot 2017-10-23 at 13.46.32

WHICH MIC TO BUY

If you’re looking for a recommendation for one of these microphones I would highly recommend this –

Sennheiser EW 112 G3 GB Wireless Lavalier Microphone System

(It requires a license which is only £80 per year. The place you but it will be able to point you in the right direction.)

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I got mine from HERE for £499. You’ll also need one of these –

Headset Microphone with Telescopic Boom and 3.5mm Locking Jack Plug

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I got mine from HERE for £41.

I chose the Senheiser brand specifically because (in the UK) it’s pretty much the industry standard for wireless microphone. Wired mic’s are more popular from Shure. Almost every wireless mic I’ve ever been given to use was a Senheiser. When you buy one you basically get two separate things –

1 The receiver – which plugs into the sound desk.

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2 The mic pack sender – which you have on you.

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Having the most common brand means I almost never have to plug my own receiver to the sound desk as there’s usually already one in most places I perform. I turn off the mic they give me after setting my own frequency to match. This means my mic works through their receiver and my set up is super quick.

BATTERIES

I’m only on stage for 45 minutes per night. I’ll usually get 6 gigs out of one pair of batteries without worry. You can get 30 AA batteries for £10 on eBay, that’s 15 battery changes. As I’m getting 6 shows per change that means you can do 90 gigs for £10. Nothing to worry about there.

CONCLUSIONS

Obviously this advice won’t work for everyone. Art is subjective and style is personal. Even if you are going to buy and use a head mic, it won’t do you any harm to know which of your routines work just as well with a stand microphone. There’ll be times where this is unavoidable and so it’s best to be prepared.
For all this blog has been about the technical aspects of the choice between head mic and stand mic, it’s also about the artistic choice between them. Knowing what you are and having a sense of character is vital to success. We feel for our favourite characters in movies because we know who they are. Because THEY know who they are.

Knowing who you are is a long process that takes years to understand and refine. If you’re a ‘comedy magician’, a huge part of that can be knowing if you’re a comedian who does tricks, or a magician that’s funny.

I decided I wanted to be a magician who was funny, and oddly, I’m getting more laughs now than ever.

Mark James
Sleight Of Hand Magic & Comedy
http://www.MarkJamesMagician.com

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