Study Hall

There are certain aspects of corporate audio work that are crucial to succeeding... and getting more gigs.

A Matter Of Etiquette: It’s About Much More Than Audio In The World Of “Corporates”

Keeping these simple principles in mind will go a long way toward keeping you busy in corporate audio, where the demand is greater and the pay, generally, is often better.

The rules and expectations in the corporate event world are very different from the touring concert world, so if you’re thinking about getting into corporate audio, there are some things you must know in order to do it successfully.

For example, in the corporate world, everyone on the crew wears black. Sometimes a black T-shirt will do; other times it has to be golf shirt with a collar. Sometimes that golf shirt must be tucked in. For load in and setup as well as strike and load out, black cargo pants and black sneakers are the norm. During the event, black dress pants and black dress shoes are expected most of the time, especially in the larger events. Sometimes a black button-down, long-sleeve shirt is required, and sometimes a black blazer or jacket.

There are also rules regarding personal grooming. Tattoos must be hidden, and in Orlando, my base of operations, show crew are expected to have a “Disney” clean-cut look, even if we’re not working on Disney properties. The stagehands and riggers can be as creative and colorful (within these parameters) as they please during setup and strike, and they often are.

There are a couple of reasons why black is the uniform of the day. One is for uniformity, and another is because it gets us closer to being invisible. To the corporate folk, we’re a necessary evil, so they minimize us as much as possible.

In the touring concert world, front of house is usually far back into the audience, because that’s the optimal position from which we can easily see our visual cues onstage, and it’s the best position from which to hear our mix. In the corporate world, FOH is in a back corner of the room, surrounded by black pipe and drape to hide the equipment and cables. While it might be possible to walk the room during an event and mix with an iPad that’s connected wirelessly to the console, corporate folk take a dim view of us being anywhere other than our station during the event.

Following The Protocol

There’s also a chain of command. The A-1 is in charge of everything audio, followed closely by the A-2. Audio stagehands get their instructions from either one. The A-1 gets instructions from the producer, who is the liaison with the client. The primary reason is to keep the appropriate people in the loop, which is very important, but it also serves to avoid confusion and unnecessary duplication.

The unwritten rule regarding direct contact with the client is to avoid speaking unless you’re spoken to. When it comes to audio (or video, graphics, lighting, etc.), the client knows only what must happen – he or she knows nothing about how to make it happen. Clients have a million things going through their mind at an event, and the producer has already conferred with them so any questions are best sent up the chain of command.

If there are any issues or questions during an event, it’s best to go to the show caller, a.k.a., the director. At smaller events, the show caller and the producer are sometimes one and the same.

Watch your language. I was always taught that profanity is the expression of a weak mind, so I hold myself to a higher standard, but I’m very much in the minority in this regard. Profanity is also the expression of an inadequate vocabulary and a disrespect for oneself and those around us.

When you’re on the job, whether load in, during the show, or load out, you never know when the client might be standing right behind you or next to you. If the client takes a dim view of such character, you could find yourself being replaced, so it’s best to avoid foul language, even on the com system. (In fact, especially on the com system.) Also avoid racial and gender slurs as well. Humor has its place, as long as it isn’t vulgar or profane.

However, I’ve met quite a few folks who seem to be humor-challenged, so I tend to keep it to a minimum. There’s a book full of wisdom that I like to read which tells me that even an idiot can be thought wise if he keeps his mouth shut.

Personal grooming is another important consideration. If you show up smelling like an ash tray or as though you haven’t bathed in a month, you’ll likely be replaced.

Meals and breaks are provided according to the contract that you’re working under. Most often, there’s a 15-minute break at the 2.5-hour mark, and lunch at the 5-hour mark. Sometimes lunch is provided by the client, in which case lunch is a half-hour paid time. Otherwise, it’s usually a 1-hour walkaway unpaid time.

I personally don’t like to leave the venue, so if lunch isn’t provided by the client, I bring mine in a HotLogic personal food warmer that works much like a miniature crock pot. Sometimes it’s leftovers, but I can even bring a frozen meal, plug it in when I arrive, and by lunchtime, I have a nice, hot lunch waiting for me. I also bring my own snacks and desserts.

The author frequently carries a HotLogic personal food warmer rather then worrying about the whims of catering on the jobsite.

Never take anything from the catering that’s provided by the venue for the client unless you’re invited or have permission. Most of the time, lunch for the crew is in a separate room. An afternoon break is 2.5 hours after lunch ends. Restroom breaks are as needed, but I always like to tell someone I’m going for a break, just in case someone comes looking for me.

Timing Matters

Arrival time can also be an issue. In this business, on time is late, and early is on time. In Orlando, traffic seems to get worse by the day. I live on the north side and the convention hotels are on the south side, so I have to plan my travel accordingly. It usually involves traversing Interstate 4, which is statistically and officially the most dangerous stretch of highway in the country, based on the number of fatalities per mile.

I-4 stretches from Daytona in the northeast to Tampa in the southwest, so the signs refer to it as east or west, although through Orlando, it’s going north and south, adding to the confusion for vacationers and others who aren’t familiar with it. Crashes on I-4 are a daily routine, and even just a hiccup can have traffic backed up for miles. It doesn’t help to look for alternative routes, because the diversion will have all of the side streets backed up as well.

Morning rush hour in Orlando begins building at 6 am. If you live in a major metropolitan area, you probably have to deal with a similar situation. So if I have an 8 am call, the travel time with no collisions or rush hour traffic would be a solid half-hour drive. Add 20 minutes for rush hour traffic, and who only knows how long if somebody does something stupid, which is a common occurrence. So I add another 10 minutes and take my chances.

I like to arrive about half an hour before call time, which puts me at the venue at 7:30 am, so I leave at about 6:30 for an 8 am call. If a crash has westbound I-4 completely closed, I call my show contact and explain that I’m gonna be late. Anyone who’s familiar with I-4 and Orlando traffic will immediately understand, and he’s probably getting calls from other crew members saying the same thing. This is also why trucks hauling the equipment can be delayed, sometimes for hours.

Speaking of trucks – when it’s time to unload them, it’s all hands on deck for smaller events: technicians, leads, and stagehands. Everyone is pushing road cases. For larger events, the technicians and leads must stay in the room and guide the stagehands to the correct staging area based on the content of the cases that they’re pushing. Audio goes here, lighting goes there, video goes over there, etc.

For example, a lighting stagehand might be pushing a road case labeled “Kara.” He may not know that a Kara is a line array loudspeaker, so he’ll be directed to the audio staging area.

Bring your kit. If you’re new to the industry, search for articles and videos to see what other A-1s have in theirs. Over time, yours will become customized and personal. My kit includes such things as headphones, a cable tester, audio adapters of all kinds, a first aid kit, work gloves, Cat-5 cables, a laser distance finder (“disto”), a crescent wrench, and various other items that I’ve found myself in need of over the years.

If someone asks to borrow one of my tools – a crescent wrench, for example – I’ll ask, “Where’s yours?” I’ve learned over the years that if you loan out a tool on a gig, you can say goodbye to it, regardless of the assurances that the person will get it right back to you.

That being the case, I don’t loan my tools to anyone. I’ll be happy to do something for someone that requires a particular tool, but if I’m busy doing something else, I politely tell the person that I’m going to be the one using it. If the person gives me some grief about it, I tell him to go get his own, with the unspoken understanding that it means even if he has to go the hardware store to get it, because he should have brought his with him. (Don’t be that person.)

Additional Considerations

When testing a system after it’s all connected, keep in mind that there are others in the room who need to talk to each other, which is difficult to do if we’re tuning the system with pink noise, like I do, or if we’re playing music. Yeah, I’m an old school, pink noise and RTA kind of tech.

I find it completely ironic and a bit amusing that I’m using the term “old school” to describe the use of modern technology. Over my lifetime, I’ve seen digital replace analog, CDs replace vinyl, and digital sound files replace CDs. One has to wonder what’s next.

Anyway, I use the VOG (“voice of god”) mic to announce to the room, “Attention in the room. Pink noise in 20 minutes.” I do the same every five minutes leading up to the pink noise run while I tune the system.
For RF coordination with wireless systems, I like to touch base with the in-house AV company MOD (manager on duty) to ask if they would like to have a list of frequencies that I’ll be using. If so, I text the MOD the list after I’ve done my scans and syncs.

As on every gig, be sure to pay attention to the RF situation.

I always show respect for the in-house AV staff because I’m in their house, as it were. I call them by name if I can remember it (which I make an effort to do), and I take an interest in how their day is going. It’s very rare that such respect isn’t reciprocated.

Sometimes, I also touch base with technicians working in adjacent rooms to make sure we don’t interfere with each other. After I’ve assigned frequencies to my transmitters, I leave them turned on whether they’re in use or not to avoid someone else using the frequencies. For larger events, I leave this all to the designated RF coordinator.

There’s likely to be the need for placing lavalier microphones on presenters who aren’t accustomed to someone being inside their personal space in that manner, both male and female, and because you’ll be up close and personal, breath mints are always a good idea. It’s also helpful to telegraph your intentions to avoid any surprises.

I like to place the microphones myself (in the absence of an A-2) in order to get them in the optimal position for sound pickup. On male presenters, it’s usually no problem, but with female presenters, I’ve found that a simple “May I?” will suffice. I ask if they would like to hide the wire inside the shirt or blouse, and if so, I’ll hand the presenter the end that connects to the transmitter and ask them to drop it inside the shirt or blouse and bring it out at their waist.

Placement of lavalier mics needs to be handled with care and consideration.

I then take it and pull the excess wire, plug it into the transmitter, and them know that we can place the transmitter wherever is most comfortable – inside a jacket pocket, clipped on a belt, skirt, or the back of a shirt collar, etc. – and I’ll offer to assist. However, I don’t assume that I can put my hands just anywhere. Performers, newcasters and others in the business are accustomed it, but corporate presenters rarely are.

I also explain to them that they need not be concerned about turning the transmitter on and off. I’ll handle that from my end. I tell them that, generally speaking, when they’re onstage the mic is on, and when they’re offstage, the mic is off. I can, of course, cue or PFL (pre-fade listen) the mic to make sure I have a clean signal, but I never use it to eavesdrop. (I probably wouldn’t be interested in the conversation anyway.)

Wrapping Things Up

At the conclusion of the event, I must immediately retrieve lavalier mics to avoid having the presenters walk out and forgetting they have it, in which case it will likely never be seen again. The presenter is almost always engaged in conversation with attendees, so I stand a comfortable distance away but within plain sight. All it takes is making eye contact, and the presenter will either hand the microphone and transmitter to me, or give me access to remove it, without interrupting the conversation.

Having retrieved the lavs, I then go about retrieving the wireless handheld mics, which could be anywhere in the room. I try to track them visually during the event so I know where they are.

The walk-out music volume should be kept low so that the people in the room can have normal conversations without having to compete with the system. After this, it’s time to disconnect equipment and put it in its case if I can do so discretely (i.e., wireless microphone receivers), but I never begin to roll out empty cases, strike loudspeakers, or remove pipe and drape until everyone has exited the room.

When I find the ubiquitous forgotten items – purses, eyeglasses, laptops, cell phones, cell phone chargers and so on – I usually take them to the front desk after allowing a sufficient amount of time for the owner to realize they left it in the room, and return to retrieve it.

Keeping these simple etiquette principles in mind will go a long way toward keeping you busy in corporate audio, where the demand is greater and the pay, generally, is often better.

Study Hall Top Stories