Audio

Often forgotten

Bear in mind that a hand held mic will take up one of your hands to hold it, which will not be desirable for many types of performance. A tie-clip mic, also called a lapel or lavalier microphone will be more suited to most performance styles as it frees up both hands. Alternatively, some performers like a headset style of microphone as pictured here on the right.

A basic P.A. system consists of a microphone, a mixer to control the level, an amplifier and some speakers. The music equipment such as CD or mini-disc connects to the mixer too. You don't need anything too fancy, even for larger venues, and many places will already have suitable equipment already installed and available.

Try and get someone you trust (and preferably who has experience) to regularly operate the sound, as there is no substitute for someone who is familiar with your routines. They will know the quiet and loud parts of your act, when to turn the microphone off and on, and when to cue the music, which is a great help.

If you do play in a venue where the 'house' (on-site) technicians control the sound and lights for you, remember to prime them as to what to do, and make sure they understand! Also, don't forget to thank them for their work, remember, they have the ability to make you look great (or not), so acknowledge their efforts. You will find that given respect and appreciation, most technicians will go out of their way to make sure you look and sound great!

Having mentioned CD's, through experience we would say that CD's are better than cassettes for a magic show because of their better quality and instant access, but even better than CD's are Mini-discs. Why? Because they still have the instant access and great quality, but unlike CD's they are not prone to skipping.

I watched a professional magician perform in a high profile venue in Las Vegas recently, and as he was trying to perform a serious routine, to equally dramatic music, the CD starting skipping, and the whole effect was wrecked!

The magician was noticeably upset; he did manage to recover by starting the routine again from the beginning, but I'm sure that the sound man limped home that day with two broken knee caps. There is no excuse for poor sound when you have a professional technician. They have a responsibility to make sure the equipment is well maintained.

We've mentioned the way you look on stage, and a significant factor that can contribute to this is lighting...

Lighting plays an important role in any size show, even in a small room. That is to say, lighting in terms of how light falls, rather than simply the use of additional lights. In larger venues, stage lighting is always provided anyway, and in such cases, it is vital that the lighting designer and operator understand the implications of how they light you, and the stage area.

Basically, the main principle is that you want to be able to control, by the use of lighting, what the audience sees (and what they don't see) at any give point in your show. In a small room you won't have much control over the lighting, but if the lights fall in such a way as to expose invisible thread for example, either they need to be redirected, turned off, or you might need to move to another part of the room for the show.

Lighting is also used in theatres and larger venues to enhance the visual interest for the audience. Coloured lights, varying brightness levels, and different types of lights can all contribute to making you look good on stage.

Generally you should not have to worry too much about the creative part of lighting, other than to ensure that secrets are not exposed by inappropriate use of it. Don't take this for granted as we have even on occasion seen National TV shows where the lighting has revealed the secret of a trick, and the director really should have known better.

Associated with lighting is smoke, as it is often used to enhance the lighting. Smoke, properly supervised and controlled can be used to great effect. If it's managed badly, you might disappear from view on stage or cause a fire alarm to go off in the middle of your act.

There are four main types of smoke (and you thought smoke was just smoke). Firstly, there is smoke that produces a haze or mist over the entire stage. It is a very fine smoke, and can often only be detected when lights shone on it. This is the most common type these days, and virtually every musical group uses it.

Sometimes this type of smoke is created from a cracked oil machine (which are well known for leaving a thin film of oil over everything on stage) or more commonly now, a water or liquid based substance that is heated up in a small unit.

The second type of smoke is the type of smoke that can be clearly seen in the air, even without the benefit of the lights hitting it. This type of smoke is sometimes used in short blasts for effect, or pumped out in high volumes by magicians to disguise a scene change or a secret action. On other occasions it is used to simulate a smoky room such as a nightclub, or simply for dramatic effect.

The third type of smoke effect is dry ice. This is frozen carbon dioxide (CO2) that is heated to produce a low level fog that stays low and thick, as it is heavier than air. This is typically used in dreamy sequences to soft music, where a waterfall of smoke is needed, or again, for dramatic effect.

The effect is created by dropping a lump of frozen CO2, called dry ice, into boiling water. Dry ice is kept frozen at an extremely low temperature so it's very dangerous to touch it with bare skin. It has the unusual property of turning straight from a solid to a gas without going through a liquid state.

Lastly, there are pyrotechnics. These are small canisters that are remotely fired by an off stage operator to produce anything from a plume of smoke to a shower of sparks, depending on the desired effect. They look great, but they are only to be set up and operated by qualified personnel for obvious reasons. They are really a type of firework, and used sparingly they can add to the moment of a dramatic production, or to the finale of a show.

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