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A “mirror” image of FOH at a corporate event – the original one is at left, then moving to a reverse view... (Thanks to Carl Stewart for the photograph.)

Problem Or Solution? The Differences Between Doing It Right And Wrong On The Jobsite

The objective isn’t to be unprofessional and poorly represent the crew and production company, but to deliver a smooth show. The process is subjective and obtainable, and there are a lot of ways to accomplish a job.

Working in the corporate audio-visual world is taxing because the job balances multiple factors: clients (or guests), venue operations/banquets/sales, and the AV company. Here’s an example of common problems encountered on a typical job:

• The AV company sending only 100-foot XLR cable rather then a variety of lengths.
• The client deciding to change the orientation of the room five minutes before the meeting.
• The venue selling the event space to another group or not allowing access to the space to set up.

Seeing the problem? And there’s one more glowing pillar in corporate AV that can go overlooked: the technicians, and more specifically, the ones who are “cocky dunces.”

Big Differences

Let’s begin by defining the role of the audio technician in corporate AV. As in its rock/pop counterpart, the standard dress code is blacks for every job. There are many other similarities as well, but the big differences are:

• There’s a problem if you’re running around in the corporate sector, while it’s often the norm in rock ‘n’ roll world.
• The job title A1 in rock/pop world is front of house (FOH), while A1 in AV is board mixer.
• The job title A2 in rock is monitor mixer and A2 in AV is an RF coordinator/mic runner.
• Typically, AV audio is more corrective and about being clear and loud, rather then loud and balanced.

The beautiful thing about doing corporate AV is that’s a great place to dip ones toes in live entertainment/production, not to mention it’s easier to make a career and decent living. That said, technicians come from different walks of life.

Commonly, there are “greenhorns” who are new to the game, but most of the time, the standard is a multitude of skillsets joined by a good attitude. Occasionally, there’s the audio tech that claims to have tremendous experience and is only working the gig because The Stones aren’t touring, and that’s the focus of this article: the stubborn folks clogging the proverbial drain of the pro sound community.

Let’s imagine for a second: There’s a faint quacking sound coming from a service hallway. The carpet is filthy, the sconces are buzzing, and the AC is booming.

Now, lets turn on a lavalier. O.K., no response, but no worries – there’s another pack with a lavalier, so let’s just turn it on instead. Huh, the pack is on but is not labeled. That’s cool, let’s just read the RF and match it to the kit. Welp, the pack isn’t synced with either kit; however, there’s signal coming in. “Check 1, Check 1, 2.”

Alrighty, let’s just try one of the handhelds. “Woooah!” the loudspeakers scream. Good thing the master fader was set to half mast and the channel faders were close to quarter mast, because that could have been piercing.

Bingo, the receivers were set to +3 sensitivity and +8 gain. Well, at least the board is labeled correctly, although nothing else is labeled. Maybe the RF ledger will have key info. Nah, wishful thinking, but there are only frequencies, and ugh, there are four identical frequencies on the page. What the actual $#%@! Now the realization sets in – all the rooms were set up identically to this room.

Making It Work

The job: a general session (12 Wx units) and 13 breakouts (overall 26 Wx units, two per room). For the sake of time and boredom, let’s focus on the audio in the breakouts. Each room varied in size, but the sets were identical. The goal was to use the same labeling for each room and log all the RF. Ring out the room and move on. After the first room, a file was saved to a flash drive, and it was also used for the rest of the rooms.

The gear per room: two Wx units (Shure ULXD4 H5, ULXD4 G50, UR4S or UR4S+), QSC TouchMix 8 mixer, two QSC 8-inch loudspeakers, a Rapco LTI direct box and a Shure Mx 412 microphone for each lectern.
Continuity is key, especially in this particular set. The goal is to walk into each room and they all operate the same. Using the identical file is a great starting point, but the EQ will differ in each room.

That said, little adjustments will need to be made to get that audible articulate sound. However, since the file was created wrongly, the EQ needs to be reset. Before we start, let’s put the loudspeakers at 12 o’clock and zero out the wireless units. Similarly, the TouchMix trim pots should be zeroed too.

Next, bring the master fader to unity. Grab a lapel mic, check that its paired, label, follow suit with the handheld. Great, set the channel fader to unity and find that happy place: between -18 to -12 dB. If the input is screaming with little to no trim, pad the receiver and vice versa if the signal is weak.

Anyway, let’s push the fader and pull out that unwanted noise from the master. Now there’s headroom and proper gain structure. Follow the same protocol for the second RF kit, lectern mic, and DI. Awesome, log the room, RF1 and RF2 frequencies, and then on to the next one.

Subtle Differences

Although it was all the same gear, there were subtle differences that made each set unique. First, each room was different. Here’s a short list: natural ambiance (noise), size of space, meeting attendants, attendants proximity to loudspeakers, gear proximity to outer elements (broadcast towers), location of the “FOH,” temperature, etc.

Secondly, the gear will vary in quality due to wear and tear. For example, picture two brand-new 2004 Camrys. One went to a young 20-something that only drove it to school and the occasional trip out of town. The person did regular maintenance and cared for the car. Meanwhile, the second Camry went to a granny living her golden years, enjoying frequent cross-country roadtrips with her Hell’s Angels buddies. In her limited time, she did little to no maintenance.

Fast-forward 10 years, and one car will likely still run at close to excellent condition while the other will barely be able to make it to the scrap yard. How could that be if they’re the same make, model, and year.

Back to the gear, each piece of equipment will usually function exactly as intended, and seasoned techs know how to dial in the right settings to achieve the job. On the other hand, a stubborn A/V audio technician with years of wrong principles making those settings will only mitigate disaster.

The objective isn’t to be unprofessional and poorly represent the crew and production company, but to deliver a smooth show. The process is subjective and obtainable, and there are a lot of ways to accomplish a job. Sometimes the best way to learn audio is by doing it wrong – but the key is to take the lessons from those wrong-doings and start doing it right.

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