TIP OF THE WEEK: Joe Little (KGTV) — “The Case Against Stick Mics”

Joe LIttle (MMJ - KGTV; San Diego, CA)
Joe Little (MMJ – KGTV; San Diego, CA)

I see a bunch of good storytellers ruining their stories with an unnecessary tool: The stick microphone.

Do we ever show the viewer our camera? Do we ever show them our tripods? What about our live trucks?

So why do we insist on showing them our stick microphones and gigantic mic flags?
Stop. Stop it right now. The stick mic gets in the way of a good story and a good standup.

1. Stick mics put up barriers

When you have a conversation with your friend at the bar, do you carry a stick mic? Of course not. It’s awkward and puts up a barrier between you and your friend. Why would you do that when you’re trying to build a relationship with someone new in an interview? Take an extra minute to put on a lavalier so you can speak with your hands and have as close to a normal conversation as possible. Plus, how many times has someone leaned into the mic because they think it helps?

2. Stick mics and those mic flags are ugly

Look at your TV screen during a newscast. Your station’s logo is embedded in the CGs. Chances are it’s on the anchor set. You may be wearing a hat, jacket, or polo with the logo. It was on the fullscreen graphic wipe that flashed on the screen just as they went to your liveshot. Do we really need one more reminder about which station we are watching?

3. The stick mic gets in the way of a standup

Imagine the freedom a reporter could have with two hands. They could point. They could demonstrate something. They could look like a normal person. It seems the stick mic has become a crutch for so many reporters who just want to stand there and talk. I see so many reporters just stand there with a mic in their hands like a garden gnome. It’s boring TV. It’s a speed bump leading into, out of, and in the middle of a story. Put on a lavalier. Free your hands. Plus, the viewer at home is your new friend. Just like in #1, why would you put a stick mic between you. Put on a lavalier and just talk.

Joe Little (MMJ - KGTV; San Diego, CA)
Joe Little (MMJ – KGTV; San Diego, CA)

4. The stick mic gets in the way of your shooting

How many times have you see an interview with a stick mic half way up someone’s nose? How many times have you seen an interview subject demonstrating something and the reporter is seen pointing the stick mic in his direction, trying to record the audio? Use a lavalier. Get that mic out of his nose. Get that mic out of your shot. If you put a lavalier on your subject, he or she will be more free and your shot won’t be corrupted with an ugly stick mic.

If you are an MMJ or a photog working alone, you never want to leave your camera. What if the person moves or you want a different shot? How can you adjust your shot or check the focus if you are holding a stick mic in one hand? You can’t. I’ve tried. It’s impossible. Put a lavalier on the person. That will give you two hands to troubleshoot, change your shot, or refocus.

I am waiting for someone to give me a really good reason to use a stick mic other than a live interview, you have to record your questions, or there’s a scenario where the person you need sound from won’t stand still. “My station doesn’t have them” is also a viable excuse…to leave that station as soon as possible.

I had one photog tell me the lavalier is unreliable in a liveshot. Really? They’re unreliable in a 15 second liveshot? Then why did we use it in a 5 minute interview with the mayor? When did going live change the functionality of a microphone?

I have used my lavalier in the wind, in rain, and in crowds. I have used it in live shots and in long interviews. I use it to collect natural sound. It works fantastically.

We spend (hopefully) so much time and energy trying to make sure we tell a good story. A good videographer makes sure every second counts in a story. He or she makes sure every shot is framed correctly, with good balance, and lighting. Why would we sacrifice that quality with a stupid stick mic?

I’m begging you to try your lavalier in every possible scenario. Your conversations will be better. Your shots will be better. Your standups will be better. Your stories will be better.