Audio production and cinematography more often than not come hand to hand. So chances are, even if you set yourself to be a record producer, you might actually record a dialogue or two somewhere along the journey towards your goal. After all, you never know where the road will take you unless you go through it. And one of the most crucial parts of video production is knowing how to record multiple lavalier mics.
How to record multiple lavalier mics: explained
Before we dive into the recording techniques, let’s figure out what lavalier mics actually are. Lavalier microphones, or as they are often called lapel mics, are very small microphones that were designed to be attached to the closing in order to let whoever wears it move freely. Lavalier mics usually are used in TV, radio productions and in movie making. Occasionally, lavalier mics are implemented in some academic auditoriums.
This recording system consists of a very small microphone with a clip and a wire that is attached to a radio transmitter which sends the signal to a receiver. Some more expensive and sophisticated lapel mics have an optional high-shelf boost that was designed to compensate for some frequency dampening if the microphone is needed to be hidden in the closing.
Recording 2 lavalier mics
Recording 2 lavalier mics doesn’t actually provide any challenge at all. Most of the receivers available on the market are capable of receiving 2 separate signals from 2 different lapel mics. And those receivers usually offer 2 separate outputs for both signals. So then, it’s just a matter of what recording device you should attach the receiver to. As a general rule, any audio interface with 2 input channels will do.
Recording more than 2 lavalier mics
Well, if recording 2 lavalier mics seems extremely easy, recording more than that might be a bit tricky. Fortunately, there’re a lot of ways this challenge could be overcome. It all really comes down to the number of inputs and outputs of your recording gear. And that directly ties to your budget and how often you are going to record multiple lavalier mics. Some of the solutions are extremely simple but require a little bit of investment on your part, while others are as budget-friendly as it gets, but you will have to be more creative with those.
Using a receiver
The simplest but yet the most expensive solution would be to use a wireless receiver with multiple inputs. You can easily find a receiver that will let you record up to 8 different lavalier mics. Usually, those receivers also have 8 separate outputs, which will let you record each mic on its own separate track, given that you have a suitable audio interface. But in case you have an audio interface with less than 8 inputs, those receivers have a mixed output that would let you record all of the mics to one track. One of the most obvious downsides to that would be the impossibility of balancing each mic individually on mixing stages.
Nevertheless, this would be the simplest solution if you are willing to spend some of your hard-earned money, which makes sense only if you intend to record multiple lavalier mics professionally and very often.
Using a mixer
Buying an 8 track receiver would make sense if you actually intend to record 8 lavalier mics which usually is not even remotely a case. Instead, for literally a fraction of the cost of such a receiver, you could buy a very simple 4 track mixer. If you are willing to go secondhand, a pre-owned one will cost you even less. The upside to this solution is that even if you have an audio interface with only one input, you can actually balance the mics before you record them. But the downside is that mixers don’t have wireless connectivity.
Using a mixer to record multiple lavalier mics makes perfect sense if you are on a tight budget and don’t intend to do it often. And, of course, on the contrary to a wireless receiver, mixers have greater usability, which means that you can incorporate it into your other audio production tasks.
Using a cell phone
There is one very unconventional solution that could be very useful to audio engineers who rarely record multiple lavalier mics and have an extremely limited budget. As you probably already know, most of the lapel mics are connected to a wireless transmitter by a simple 1/4 inch jack. This is the same type of connector that is used on cell phones for connecting headphones which means you can easily connect a lapel mic to a cell phone. This is really good news since, with a very rare exception, the majority of people you meet carry a cell phone. So if you suddenly find yourself in a situation where you have to record a sound for an indie film, you just can ask the actors to connect the mics to their phones and press record in a dedicated app.
This solution will put you at a very obvious advantage since you will be able to have a separate track for each recording, and you don’t have to spend a dime of your hard-earned money. But there are a few problems that you might encounter while using this recording technique.
First of all, you’re going to have to spend quite some time synchronizing the tracks, especially if a lot of takes were made. Secondly, some modern cellphones do not actually have a 1/4 inch jack. And since those phones are quite popular, there is a chance that you simply wouldn’t be able to connect a lapel mic without a dedicated adaptor. This problem could be easily solved if you are willing to carry some adapters with you, which would not be very practical if you think about it.
Not using lavalier mics at all
If you only record dialogue on occasion, you might be better off not using lavalier mics at all. If you are an audio engineer with some experience, chances are that you already own some kind of a stereo microphone or a stereo pair. Then what you can do is to put this microphone directly above the people whose dialogue you need to record. This will give you a very dimensional sound that preserves its natural qualities.
This technique was widely used at the dawn of radio and film production. Most of the movie sound engineers still prefer to use this technique, although in combination with others. One of the most prominent advantages of this technique is that you can set it up very quickly and do not have to balance the recording afterward.
Of course, you are going to have to have some additional challenges if the scene that you are required to capture is outdoors. Using this technique in that situation would not be very wise since there is a high probability of the dialogue not being audible. But if the scene takes place indoors, you are perfectly equipped to record it if you already own a microphone and an audio interface. It does not even have to be stereo. Mono will do just fine since the output of lavalier mics is mono anyway.
If, for a second, we set the budget limitations aside, we can say that professional audio engineers prefer to combine different techniques and solutions. Using different recording techniques at the same time could give you much more flexibility and, of course, provide you with some additional options on the mixing stages.
For example, you could send the output of a wireless receiver straight into the mixer and then to your audio interface. This will let you balance the mics before the recording, which means that you are going to have to spend far less time on it later.
By combining the microphone above the scene, which by the way is called boom mic, and the output of lavalier mics is the most commonly used recording technique in movie and TV production, will let you record the scene naturally with a lot of background sounds and also have voices with a lot of definition and presence. Of course, you are going to need a mixer or an audio interface with multiple inputs. But still, in terms of flexibility and quality, this is by far the best option.
There are different ways of how to record multiple lavalier mics that you could implement in your production depending on your budget and the frequency with which you intend to do such recordings. You can invest in a wireless receiver with multiple inputs and a more flexible audio interface. Or you can buy a secondhand mixer and set the balance of the mics before the recording, which will save you some time later. You always could choose not to use lapel mics at all and instead use a boom mic, but the best way to do this is to combine different methods and use them simultaneously.