Well-ordered endeavors begin at the beginning… or so the story goes. So that’s where we’ll start this new series.
The first thing that the sound professional must do—long before imagining the purchase or rental of enticing new equipment and visualizing him/herself behind the console mixing an exciting presentation—is to back up and think carefully about how to best serve the client’s needs.
As sound practitioners we are, after all, a service organization. While we rely heavily on making intelligent use of the best selection of equipment that’s available to us, the skills and abilities we bring to the table are what sets one sound practitioner apart from another.
Anyone can buy equipment—given adequate finances—but not everyone can optimally utilize that equipment, work supportively with talent and production staff, and end the day with an exemplary outcome for the audience and the other stakeholders.
Let’s take a pragmatic look at what’s involved in this profession. Almost everything you’ll ever do in sound can be broken into four foundational elements.
Take a moment to ponder them:
Working backwards, Operational covers items like planning the system in relation to budgetary restrictions, getting the system transported and installed in a timely manner; interfacing with other trades such as broadcast, video, rigging, carpentry, lighting, back line folks; accommodating the needs of the talent; mixing the event; having adequate spare equipment available; and much more as we’ll see as this series progresses.
Acoustical refers to the art and craft of making great sound in the specific environment you’ll be working in. Acoustical considerations encompass the understanding of loudspeaker characteristics, optimal speaker placement, possible acoustical treatment (especially applicable in fixed installations), and all else that goes into making sound the best it can be.
The venue may change from day to day if you’re on tour, or it might remain stable for many years to come if you’re the resident engineer in a concert hall, house of worship, or other fixed installation environment, but there’s always more to learn, adjust, and accomplish to make each show better than the previous one.
Mechanical is all about how you’re going to package the necessary equipment to get to and from the gig, hang the loudspeakers in the air, run the cabling, ensure that safety requirements are met, and still have time to deal with the other elements.
Electrical is where it all comes together from a functional standpoint. The successful sound practitioner must understand how to power the system, what to do to move signals from one point to another without buzz, hum, or other interference, and how to keep the lead singer from frying his or her lips when touching the microphone due to improper grounding. Without an understanding of Electrical, there will be no show, even if the other three elements have been brilliantly managed.
With this in mind we’ll address each topic in this series by looking at the four elements holistically. Sometimes Mechanical, for example, might require only a sentence or two. Other times, it might comprise the crux of the matter.