When Sound Check Is . . . Not So Sound
This article was written by Gracie & Lacy's audio guru, Sallie the Sound Lady - enjoy!
As event professionals, we are all too aware that others expect us to be good - no, PERFECT, at just about - no, EVERYTHING AT ALL TIMES.
The purpose of this post is not intended to certify you as an audio technician, nor add to your ever-growing list of duties. This crash course should equip you in your audio checks, and will help you at least LOOK like you know what you are doing!
Audio is a thankless job. When it is perfect no one notices, and you will never have anyone praising this aspect of your event. But look out if it is flawed, because you will hear complaints about every squeak, squawk, or the dreaded DOA mic (Dead On Arrival).
“But hey,” you may say, “I just contracted Spiffy Sam’s Sound Company - won’t they take it from here?” They may, but most likely they will need someone on site (most likely you) to oversee the set-up, organize the sound check, and help troubleshoot.
Assuming you have an experienced audio technician with up-to-date equipment, here are some tips. Obviously not all will apply to every event situation, but you can adapt to your needs.
Have speakers, singers, jugglers, magicians provide an audio tech rider for you to give your audio company. This should include the number and type of mics and mic stands needed, monitor needs, and any special effects.
Lapel or Lavalier Mics are the little guys that clip on a collar or tie
Handheld Mics are held . . . in the hand . . . preferably by one person
Choir Mics are small Mics that can pick up a group of people
Podium Mics are attached to a speaker’s podium
Boundary Mics can be put on the stage to pick up a tap dance
Wireless Mics have no cables, but rather a transmitter / receiver system
Give your audio company a diagram of the venue along with room dimensions. This will assure they bring the right sized system, and the correct length of cables. Be sure to indicate where the traffic routes will be heaviest (main room entrance, buffet line, exit to the restroom, etc.). This helps in planning where to run cables, and how to properly secure them so people won’t be tripping over them. Location of electrical outlets is also important to note.
Find out if your sound company needs a table, and their optimal
location for the booth. Let the venue know so they can set up the room accordingly. It is a BIG hassle to have to shove beautifully decorated tables around to accommodate your sound booth area.
On the big day, give the sound company plenty of time to set up and check equipment. They should be given a script or agenda to follow. Have the room as quiet as possible so they can hear any crackles or hums, Ask them to let you know when they are ready to test with your speaker or entertainment, and communicate this to everyone involved. Avoid having any of this occurring while guests are arriving. Keep the venue doors closed, and post guards if necessary!
Pay attention to where the main speakers are located. Do not allow them to be placed close to where anyone will be sitting, or you will surely hear about it! They should also be elevated above heads - not on the floor or directed toward anyone’s ear canal.
During the sound check, ask your talent to demonstrate anything that could be unusual in their program - ie, shouting, whispering, power notes, a special effect, etc. A sharp audio person will take notes and set the levels accordingly. If you have several people at the sound check, keep the flow moving by having the next person ready and in the zone. Be sure to tell the audio person who is who.
Be aware that a sound check in an empty room will sound vastly different in a full room - even more so if people will be visiting, or clanking silverware and dishes. Your tech will know this, which is why it may sound a bit louder during the check to compensate for the coming stampede.
Appointing a stage manager is a must for complex events. This person communicates the flow of the event to the technical team, talent, and you. Having a sharp stage manager will help eliminate confusion and lulls between transitions.
Also, it never hurts to ask your technician if they remembered to put fresh batteries in any wireless mics.
I hope this is helpful and not overwhelming. As a touring audio technician for corporate events, I can safely say I have just about seen it all. My favorite was a brash meeting planner who didn’t want to pay for any equipment other than literally two microphones. No explanations could convince her that mics needed to be amplified, mixed, equalized and sent to a speaker in order for her audience to hear anything!