Feedback Rule

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Microphones have been around since the 1870s, so they have become a familiar piece of technology. Yet despite many technological developments since then, one problem plagues microphone users in Fictionland: feedback. This loud squeal or throbbing sound is so ubiquitous that Ebert's Glossary of Movie Terms has a "Feedback Rule". It seems inevitable that someone using a microphone will be interrupted by this sound, particularly when first speaking into it.

The sound can be used in different ways. Sometimes a savvy character will do something on purpose to create this sound in order to get attention, such as whistling into the mic, moving it near a speaker, or performing a Mic Drop. On a live recording of musicians or other performers, its presence lends credence to the notion that the performance is somehow raw or uncut and thus more realistic or natural. In radio plays and some early animation, the feedback is an audible cue that a microphone is in use, a kind of demonstrative sound effect that is helpful to the audience. Feedback can also serve to point up a speaker's inexperience with sound equipment (moving the mic too much and/or pointing it towards a nearby speaker being likely to result in this sound), and the audible faux pas is useful for indicating anxiety and prompting laughter. By extention, it may serve as an audible indicator of general inexperience with public speaking or performance.

This Stock Sound Effect may have some overlap with The Coconut Effect when the creators are trying to highlight microphone use and think this is what audiences expect a mic to sound like. It may also result from an instance of Is This Thing On?, when an inexperienced user thinks they have to test the mic before saying their piece.


Examples:

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    Films — Animation 
  • On Toy Story, Woody gets feedback when he starts the meeting, so he tells the speaker for the toy microphone to step back.
  • In the Shaun the Sheep movie, the rooster crows through a megaphone and winces from the feedback.
  • In Anomalisa, when Michael is on the brink of a nervous breakdown during his conference speech, the mic produces a feedback.
  • My Little Pony: Equestria Girls Rainbow Rocks:
    • When Snips drops the microphone at the end of his and Snails's rap, a loud feedback sound is heard, forcing all the Rainbooms to cover their ears. This doesn't gain the boys any point with the Principals.
    • When Rainbow Dash is testing the microphone on the stage for the upcoming concert, on her second try Sunset Shimmer has unthinkingly raised the volume to the max, causing yet another ear-splitting feedback.
  • On My Little Pony: Equestria Girls Friendship Games, Principal Cinch tapping the microphone at the school party causes a loud feedback, covering the music and putting an end to the students dancing.
  • During Hiro's speech in Big Hero 6, the mic that he used gives a harsh feedback just after his introduction.
  • In A Bug's Life, Princess Atta uses a rolled-up leaf as a megaphone, and the leaf gives a feedback as if it were a real megaphone.
  • In the original cut of the Gumby movie, the titular character's band uses feedback wake up their missing member, Nobuckle. Near the end, Gumby uses a heavily amplified guitar chord to do the same thing.
  • In Cats Don't Dance, Darla Dimple screams into a boom mic, "GET ME DOWN FROM THERE THIS INSTANT!!!", which electrocutes the headphone-wearing technician on the other end.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • A downplayed example in the beginning of Das Boot, where a German soldier comes on stage at a bar and tests the mic which produces a slight feedback.
  • During the climactic scene in Brian De Palma's Carrie, principal Morton and instructor Fromm tussle over the microphone about what to say during the crisis at the prom. The resulting microphone squeal brings them to Carrie's attention; she disposes of these goofballs by electrocuting them with the mic wiring.
  • Occurs in The Fugitive when Doctor Nichols takes the podium to announce his new anti-cholesterol drug. Subsequently averted when Doctor Kimble seizes the mic to declare The Reveal. In this case, the squealing mic can apparently Detect Evil.
  • The Cannonball Run has a delayed reaction. When Mr. Foyt takes the stand at the Friends of Nature meeting, the microphone behaves itself. Then it feeds back in the middle of his speech.
  • Happens in 1408 when a bookstore clerk grabs a mic to announce the hero's autograph session for that night.
  • In Begin Again, when Keira Knightley's character plays guitar and sings on stage, there is a noticeable mic feedback at one point. It's questionable why because that part wasn't louder than others, it was probably added as a reassurance that this was indeed a live performance.
  • In the French comedy Park Benches (2009), a female clerk at the DIY market does an announcement over the speakers which, of course, is accompanied by some feedback.

    Literature 
  • In The Stand, Stu deals with this during his speech at the first public Free Zone meeting. He says they have to get used to technology again (most of Boulder still had no power but they had a generator set up for the meeting). Plus, Stu was also nervous.
  • Artemis Fowl: Commander Root does this once (either by accident or on purpose) when he needs to get a crowd of people out of the way to get their attention.
  • Jinx High: During the Spring Prom, almost everybody on stage has trouble with feedback in the sound system. A building note  storm is causing a huge buildup of static electricity, so possibly justified if no one at the school has ever heard of surge protectors.

    Live-Action TV 
  • M*A*S*H. In "Change of Command," Radar prepares to make an announcement for the senior officers to report to Potter's office. In response to the P.A. microphone's immensely loud feedback, he drops the mic as if it hurt his hand.
  • Saturday Night Live: Will Ferrell & Ana Gasteyer's recurring sketch about middle school music teachers Marty Culp & Bobbie Moyhan-Culp, who are there to do a gig by playing popular music in a classical style, always begins with mic feedback. "Ooh, we got a real hot mic here."
  • NYPD Blue: At Sipowicz's bachelor party, held at a bar with a Karaoke machine, when Maritnez steps up to the mic there's feedback as he says "Is This Thing On?" (even though someone else just got done singing) before launching an off-key rendition of "My Way."
  • Doctor Who:
    • In the episode "The Empty Child", when the Doctor grabs the mic. There's a bit of comedy in a technologically advanced alien having this problem with a piece of technology.
    • In "The Pandorica Opens" at the beginning of the Doctor's big speech, with a barely-audible comment about him dropping the device. In this case, it's not even a microphone he's using, but a communicator that he jury-rigged to work as a megaphone and transmitter, so it creating microphone feedback is pure Rule of Funny.
  • Played with in a Christmas Sketch of Dad's Army, the platoon are recording a Christmas message for radio and keep hitting the microphone. The audience doesn't hear the feedback but the poor sound technician does through his headphones.
  • Supernatural. Sam is Hearing Voices from Lucifer, who is deliberately keeping Sam awake in order to kill him. This includes a loudhailer in one scene, with plenty of this trope to make Sam wince.
  • Midsomer Murders: In "The Dark Rider", Sarah Barnaby is plagued by feedback while attempting to narrate the Civil War reenactment. She keeps yelling at her sound engineer Andy to fix the problem.
  • Death in Paradise: Loud feedback occurs when a prominent academic steps up to the microphone to open the literary festival in "The Secret of the Flame Tree". The author's assistant is seen adjusting the sound board to kill the feedback. The scene is later important as it shows the assistant had the necessary technical skills to pull off the audio trickery that made the murder possible.

    Music 
  • During Bob Marley's rendition of No Woman, No Cry from Live! you can hear one of the microphones give some feedback after he sings: "good friends we had or good friends we lost.."', just during the pause before he continues "...along the way".
  • In a concert recorded in 1973 and first released in 1980 as the album Jim Croce Live: The Final Tour, Jim Croce reacts to an instance of feedback by imitating the sound and saying, "Sounds like a great big om."

    Video Games 

    Web Animation 
  • In the Team Fortress 2 short Expiration Date, Scout privately turns to Spy for help earning the heart of Ms. Pauling. However, since Scout made fun of Spy earlier, Spy responds by activating the intercom and blowing into it to create the feedback squeal that alerts everyone else, making it clear that Scout will have to really swallow his pride for Spy's help.

    Western Animation 
  • Looney Tunes: Daffy Duck does this in the 1938 short "Daffy Duck in Hollywood", but on purpose rather than by accident. On a movie soundstage, Daffy Duck whistles loudly into a microphone and causes ear-splitting pain to a headphone-wearing technician on the receiving end.
  • South Park:
  • The SpongeBob SquarePants episode "Dunces and Dragons" has the "king" of the role playing game center "Medieval Moments" switch on a microphone to give an announcement, flinching as it first gives a sharp feedback tone.

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