What Is A Lavalier?

By Richard Pryn •  Updated: 10/05/22 •  6 min read

Commonly used within film and television, a lavalier is a useful piece of equipment that has revolutionized broadcasting.

What Is A Lavalier?

But what exactly is a lavalier, and how are they used within the industry? 

Lavalier: What Is It?

A lavalier is a type of microphone used within film and television broadcasting.

Characterized by it’s small, compact size, that can easily be attached to clothing, or concealed amongst a costume, the lavalier microphone revolutionized broadcasting, allowing anyone to be quickly, and discretely, microphoned ready for shooting. 

History Of Lavalier Microphones

The origins of lavalier microphones can be traced back to telephone operators in the 1930s, who would wear chest mounted microphones held in place by a strap around their necks. 

The name ‘lavalier’ once referred to a type of necklace with a pendant attached to it, but this meaning was eventually overtaken by the use of the microphones in telephone operation and televisual/ radio broadcasting. 

When Are Lavalier Microphones Used?

Perhaps most commonly, lavalier microphones are used within broadcast journalism, often worn by newsreaders, or by reporters out in the field whose job it is to report back to the studio regarding live, breaking news. 

Other instances where lavalier microphones are used include television interviews, where the interviewer will wire up the guest with the lavalier, so they can be heard during the interview.

This is especially useful for on location interviews, as the portability and discreteness of the microphone make impromptu interviews appear more professional and honed.

What Are The Benefits Of Lavalier Microphones? 

There are several reasons why the lavalier microphone is continuously used within modern media. 

Discreteness

The small, compact size of the microphones mean that they can discreetly be applied to the clothing of actors, reporters, or guests, allowing for a professional, ‘clean’ shot without trailing wires and hefty sound equipment. 

Portability

As mentioned above, the size of the microphones also mean that they can be easily transported – making them especially suitable for field work in journalism. 

When working on a set, this also means that sound can be captured clearly without being seen on camera, and without requiring a single boom operator to follow the actors around the scene, and risk ruining the shot. 

Hands Free

Lavalier microphones are also hands free, which is great when working with multiple actors on a live set.

Once they are attached and turned on, these mics require very little operation from the crew, meaning that there is little that needs to be done when resetting scenes, or changing shots. 

This might seem like a small thing, but when you are working on a fast paced, busy film set, the less you have to do between takes the better. 

Are There Downsides To Lavalier Mics? 

As with anything, there are certain downsides associated with the lavalier microphones. 

Rustling Clothing

As the mics are attached to the clothing of the actor or the journalist, there is an increased chance of picking up the rustling sounds made by their clothing. 

This is less important during a live broadcast when a journalist is reporting to camera, but when on set the need for clarity and crystal clear sound is far more important. 

Steps can be taken to prevent clothing rustling, including pre-production dry runs, wherein wardrobe and the crew get together to test the actor’s clothing and highlight any problems. 

Sound Quality

The sound quality is also not as good as in standard microphones, which means that depending on the scenario, the recorded sound will be more distorted.

This might be true if a reporter was broadcasting from somewhere with bad weather, high winds, or loud crowd scenes that could affect the clarity. 

Power

Lavalier microphones also operate on batteries, which do not have the longest lifespan, and will almost definitely require changing during use – usually at the most inopportune moment. 

This means that crew need to be on hand to replace the batteries in between takes, and monitor battery power levels constantly throughout a particular shoot. 

When Should They Be Used? 

There are several scenarios where lavalier mics are effective – which has maintained their continual use within film and television. 

Isolating Audio

If you are using one microphone to record all the actor’s lines, then the sound may become distorted, or some lines might not be as clear as others. 

If you use lavalier mics however, they are only strong enough to really pick up one actor’s audio (the actor they are pinned to), which means you can isolate audio clips that can then be used for the editing stages later in the process. 

Recording Dialogue

They really are only useful for recording audio and dialogue, which means that other sound equipment will need to be used to record diegetic sounds that might also appear in the scene.

These will either need to be recorded using a boom mic, or recreated with a foley artist during the post production stages.

How To Position A Lavalier Microphone

One benefit of lavalier mics is that they are functional and simple to use, which makes setting them up incredibly easy. 

The most common place to attach a lavalier is near the neckline of the actor’s clothing, as this will remain the most static when they move or reposition themselves throughout a scene. 

For scenes when the microphone needs to be invisible, they should be worn under the clothing, either attached to the actor’s skin with adhesive tape, or fastened inside the clothing.

However, with this comes a higher risk of sound distortion. 

Final Thoughts

And there we have it, everything you need to know about lavalier microphones, and their function within the industry. 

Lavalier mics are extremely useful in film and television production, and as such have plenty of applications throughout.

But if you are planning to record anything other than an actor’s dialogue, then you’re better off with a boom mic!

Richard Pryn

Hey there. I am an award winning composer for movie trailers, including Bladerunner 2049, Diablo II, WandaVision, and loads more. I am the founder of The Trailer Music School where my aim is to teach everything I know about music composition, production, and generally being a functional human being. I podcast, blog, vlog and jog (sometimes). I also love coffee, nachos and self-improvement. I live with my wife, three kids and numerous pets. I am also known by my pseudonym, Richard Schrieber (it’s a long story).

Keep Reading