Modern live events can take advantage of the latest technology in cameras, streaming, projection, and LED walls. Interestingly, lighting and audio are not much different than they used to be, although strengthened by newer efficient digital electronics. Fundamentally, speakers are constructed and used in much the same way they were 20 years ago. So how do we leverage this history and technology to improve modern event audio?
Here are my top ten best ways to improve your event audio that will help you avoid feedback, quiet mics, missed cues, and strange music choices. These are hard learned lessons that Repertoire will make sure you learn the easy way.
- More speakers is clearer, not necessarily louder. Speakers have a cone of sound projected from the front. We take advantage of this by placing speakers forward of where the presenters will be speaking, but it can create dead zones in the audience. By placing speakers on the extreme left and right of a theater, a gap in sound forms at the center of the stage. That is why we use center fill, left and right, delay, and overflow speakers to create an even wash of sound throughout a room. Certainly you could just turn a distant speaker up louder, but then any poor audience member sitting close to that speaker will be hearing ringing sounds for the rest of the night.
- Fly your trusted technicians to travel jobs. We have to balance budgets for travel gigs by hiring local crews. In some cities, we can have local contacts and know the right person for the job. However, in a new town, hiring local leaves a lot up to chance. Not every audio technician knows every audio board. There are different user interfaces for every digital console and we’ve met a lot of techs claiming to know a board they have never touched. This inevitably ends with bad audio and bad recordings. Treat your trusted audio techs like a must have person and fly them to location with your trusted gear.
- Coach your presenters on proper microphone technique. I was on set when a presenter claimed she was an audio engineer, then physically tossed her mic on the ground without a second thought. Too often do presenters treat their microphone like a magic talking stick and not like a microphone! Mics work best when the signal to noise ratio is very high. That means, get the microphone close to your mouth and keep it there. If you hear feedback, don’t stick the mic out into the sky, keep it in front of your mouth. The further away the mic is, the closer your voice sounds like room ambience to that mic, so the higher chance of feedback you get. We’re used to hiring stage managers and audio technicians that can show presenters the proper technique.
- Create a separate mix for records and live presentation. Very often skilled audio techs spend time testing a room for resonance and getting to know its character. To avoid feedback or to suppress resonance, the technician will chop out frequencies and eliminate the risk of ringing. This helps solve our problems locally, but the recording doesn’t need and shouldn’t have this filtering. The audio technician should be able to rebuild their mix for a separate output to records which do not have any eq. We can handle that later in post production in controlled environments.
- Separate the power for Audio and Lighting. Lighting equipment uses a variety of electronics to chop up and reshape the typical mains electricity (sinusoidal 60Hz in the US). This can affect other electronics on the same leg of power and produce hum. We know the sound, it’s in our office lights, and our microwaves. Now amplify it with thousands of watts and you’ll have a big problem. Repertoire has hired skilled electricians to allocate and manage the power requirements of every department. A must have for any professional event.
- Pipe and Drape reduces echo and resonance. The AV tech’s scourge, and a go to set dressing, pipe and drape is typically used to create a solid color backdrop to hide hotel walls or an army of caterers, but it serves another unseen function. It absorbs sound waves and actually reduces the chance of feedback. This is because the material is permeable to sound, and dampens vibrations. I won’t complain if a company wants to eliminate pipe and drape from the menu, but it does have a lot of benefits.
- Avoid last minute additions. Technicians are provided with technical riders which explain the requirements of a job. This is done so that they can work efficiently and bring all the gear they will need to set. Suddenly, if we ask them for a podium mic 200 feet away, and a series of audio cues they aren’t prepared for, instead of continuing to ring out the room, they are running more cables and building playlists, risking the integrity of the show. We review major details in the pre-production process and use a carefully constructed run of show to make sure we have all the necessary gear and can describe the requirements in advance.
- Manage your wireless channels! The FCC has allocated specific bands of the radio spectrum for use in different industries and technology. For instance, wifi in the us operates in the 2.4GHz and 5Ghz bands. It has been fortold that the FCC will be selling and re-allocating certain bands for future 5G cellular networks. As a result, companies like Shure are discontinuing certain wireless channels which cannot be future proofed. All of this means that our useable frequencies are getting surrounded by more lucrative industries so it is even more critical to manage those frequencies carefully. Skilled techs will be able to scan and identify open gaps in the spectrum they can stick their wireless channels in. Large conventions and arenas actually hire frequency managers to make sure every production is using a predetermined frequency for their wireless electronics.
- Hire at least two audio technicians. We use the term A1 for the principal audio technician. This tech will have an A2 or A3 to assist with hoisting and placing heavy speakers, wiring those speakers, micing presenters, and keeping track of audio cues and playlists. Smaller events can get away with one over worked A1, but they’ll be a sweaty mess after building everything by the time they are supposed to pinch lavs onto your CEOs collar. Maybe do your talent a favor and hire another audio tech?
- Audio Techs are not DJs, bring your own music. As an event planner, you know what music you want playing between sessions or after the show is over. Don’t expect your A1 to know what music taste you like. Often techs are deeply involved in obscure and experimental audio art, so unless you are happy with heavily distorted test tone dance beats, you might want to supply your own mix of the light and talkative jazz.
At Repertoire Productions, we are learning something new on every job. After thousands of event jobs, we have a long list of very skilled and competent audio technicians as well as sources for the highest quality gear. Someone in our company has had to suffer through many of these mistakes, and we hope to never do it again. That is to your benefit when you hire our company for your event. Give us a call or send us an email to get a quote for your next event.