Perspectives of a Writer and Musician

Issues related to writing, publishing and playing jazz music: One man's muse.
by Al Stevens

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Location: Florida, United States

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Be self-contained

I had a corporate show last night for a local company that has a contract at the Space Center. The gig included music and comedy ventriloquism.

I went to the venue a couple of days in advance to see the layout. I was to provide music on the patio during cocktail hour, comedy in the dining room after dinner, and music for dancing after that.

The first problem was that I have only one sound system, which I would have to tear down and setup twice. Usually I have a program of segues between figures and accompaniments of tunes that my figures and I sing. With no band, that show requires the full PA system to support my playback device, a laptop. But my PA system would be set up out on the patio for vocals and piano work before and after the comedy.

Not to worry, said the venue manager, there is a wireless microphone system I can use inside. Given that, I decided to do my comedy ventriloquist show using only dialogue and no music. The typical wireless house system is usually adequate for voice-only entertainment.

I got to the venue early to set up. After everything was in place for both setups, I asked to see the wireless microphone. Drat! It was a good quality microphone, but its barrel supported two C batteries, and it was to wide to fit the microphone holder on my stand.

This was a handheld only microphone. It might work for a rock singer, but it won't work for me.

I need both hands for my comedy show. It looked like I'd have to schlep my rig between venues that night. But wait, he said, there is also a wireless clipon lapel mic. He said as he handed it to me, I hope this thing works. It did, but his comment made me wonder. Would the batteries last an hour. I kept the other one handy when I went on just in case.

And the show went on.

I usually work with a traditional microphone and stand. I know there are other ways to do it, but I'm and old-fashioned kind of guy, and this is how I learned when I started out many years ago.

With the traditional setup, as I turn my head to look from the audience to the figure, I rotate my head around the mic so that my lips are always directed towards it no matter what direction I look in. That's always worked for me.

With this ad hoc lapel mic setup comes a problem. When I faced the audience the mic picked up my voices just fine. But when I looked at the figure, which I often do while the figure is speaking, my lips got further away from the little button mic, and the voices got lower in volume. Some folks said that they couldn't quite make out some of what the figure said.

I've always taught others that you should be self-contained for these kinds of jobs. Never depend on what the venue provides. This experience reinforces that lesson. I really should have bitten the bullet and hauled my own setup into the dining room. As it turned out I would not have had to take it back out on the patio, because they were behind schedule, and the end of my show came about fifteen minutes before they were scheduled to be out of the room.

The show was a success. Folks laughed at the funny stuff, and the client was pleased. They have these parties every year, they've never had a ventriloquist as entertainment, and they look forward to doing it again.