Editor’s Note: Bruce wrote this article several years ago, but it offers a lot of highly relevant information for those who might be looking to increase their installation side of the business in light of the ongoing slowdown in the live event sector.
For many sound hire companies, things will be slowing down soon after a busy summer season. Yes, these are the days that turn sound company owner and manager thoughts to Alternative Revenue Sources (ARS).
The contracting/install market is generally one of first potential ARS markets that come to mind. There’s that club downtown that wants to stop renting and buy a system. And one of the churches that use your rental stock and services for the Christian rock festival now needs a new loudspeaker cluster in its sanctuary.
Pretty simple stuff, if you leave it at that. Note, however, that while the upsides of going into the contracting side of the business can be rewarding, there are many issues to keep in mind.
Rules & Standards
First, licensing must be understood. Most states in the U.S. require some form of license and bonding to qualify for work in the permanent install business. In many states, this entails having someone on staff with an Electrical Administrator ticket. To earn this, one must pass a test on the National Electrical Code (NEC).
The NEC is a rather large book containing the rules for installed electrical systems in the U.S. But not quite all the rules. There are also state codes, and sometimes, local ordinances as well, administered by the AHJ, or Authorities Having Jurisdiction. (Ah, how boring life would be without bureaucrats and acronyms…)
These additional rules and standards cover things like proper grounding techniques, conduit fill limitations and proper wire types for specific uses (CL2, CL3, Plenum, Riser, Power Limited Tray Cable, Direct Burial, FPL, FPLP, etc., etc., etc.). Any installation that does not conform can be “red tagged” by an electrical inspector, with the project required to meet compliance before the system can be turned on.
But chances of an inspection are virtually nil, you say? Well, unless an inspector happens to show up at the club to check the new refrigeration circuit while you’re installing the rack. Or maybe an inspector attends that church where you’re putting in the new cluster. Or a licensed contractor who’s been trying to get the same work decides to place a call to the inspector when you get the job.
Next, there are labor issues to consider, which are looked at very differently in terms of workers doing permanent installations versus those dealing with temporary sound systems. A “different” (translation: higher) pay rate is generally required when the troops are installing.
There may be also union issues. Some areas require IBEW (International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers) membership to even pull wire. Usually there are apprenticeship programs, journeyman to apprentice ratio requirements and a ton of administration to do to qualify for union jobs.
Many low-voltage contracting companies simply retain a licensed electrical contractor to pull wire, mount back boxes, run conduit, supply rack power and even hang loudspeaker cabinets. Sort of like working with an IATSE (International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, Moving Picture Technicians, Artists and Allied Crafts) crew, except that members of this union are familiar with audio equipment while most electricians are not.
Extra supervision will be required if this is the path is chosen. Any work done in conjunction with union labor will prove to be an exercise in dealing with both the regulatory and the political.