Sound is important in our job as storytellers. It is, for the most part, an oral art form for an aural audience. Obviously, this is not always the case. There are amazing storytellers who are deaf and use sign language, there are storytellers who use tell tales using a digital format, but for the rest, it is our voices that do The Job.
In an ideal setting we would never need amplification. In an ideal setting we could use our ‘indoor’ voices and everyone would hear. We would never get sore throats, or infections. We would all instinctively know the best way to use our voices to maximum effect with minimum effort. But this is not the case. The hall is massive and our voice is lost or echoes so much there is an eerie delay, the wind takes our voice, or the acoustics are so bad people whispering at the back are as loud as you are annunciating and articulating with your best projection from the front! Sometimes we need amplification.
In my youth I was in a number of bands and always into the equipment side of things: the mixing boards, the microphones, and speakers, both in and out of the studio; even though I was ‘just a drummer’ and never had the voice to sing outside of a shower or car! I discovered that different voices did not always sound good on the same microphone. Some mics were okay all round microphones, but some mics worked well for one singer and another mic worked better for a different vocalist. Guitarists choose amps to project a certain sound or feel. Drummers use different skins, have kit and cymbal manufacturers they preferred over others.
As a storyteller I was able to bring all this knowledge with me, and when I got ‘kitted up’ for larger performance spaces and for venues where the acoustics were lavatory quality, I knew what to do. (All my old equipment was left in the UK and sold, or given away over 20 years ago.) I tried out a number of microphones when I recorded my first CD as I know my voice has a strong sibilant side. For fun, I tried out the most expensive mic the studio (Pepperbox Studios in Vermont) had in their collection. My voice sounded scratchy, and hissing to the point it might make one wince. The mic sounded great on someone, just not me! I tried out a few other microphones and found one that cut the sibilance down and brought a slightly deeper resonance to the mix. That mic I liked a lot. It is the same with speakers. They have their own ‘colour’.
Our art requires us to be heard and understood. As storytellers we need to have equipment which allows us, even in the most horrendous of situations, to be clear as a bell, to be heard over traffic, wind, heating/cooling systems, or rude patrons, amongst other handicaps. As professionals we need to be aware of what is available, what makes us sound good or bad, and most importantly how to set equipment, and a room up for success. We display our professionalism and that we are worth our salt. We show we know what we are doing. People then know we take our profession seriously. It shows our customers, be they libraries, museums, businesses, theatres, etc. that we can be trusted to do a great job and that we can be hired again, and that means more work for all of us.
We want an audience to go home having felt they were in an intimate setting, having an intimate experience, no matter the size of venue, or number of bums on seats. Maybe we get the room set up so perfectly, they leave not even realizing there was amplification. We need to know how to amplify a room for ourselves. Finding and using the right equipment properly is so important. As I implied, and can confirm, the equipment does not have to be the most expensive. But it does have to be right - for us, as individuals.
Why Sound Matters by Simon Brooks, © 2016