Friday, May 18, 2012

Corporate Audio....Live from the trenches

So this one is coming live from the scene of the crime...A dark art that few attempt, and even fewer succeed at without serious injury. Yes, I'm talking about the fabled corporate audio gig.

I won't divulge many details, but I will say this.  I am in a room full of about 100 learned doctors. I can confirm that none of them, no matter how many events they do, are aware of the basic functions of microphones.  After many years of doing these events, I developed behaviors that for the most part have kept me from being burned again and again by presenters acting like wild animals at the sight of pro audio equipment.

I'm very familiar with this room in particular. I installed the presentation system when it was first built. Equipment here is much different than a typical pro audio gig. There's a large projector mounted from the ceiling, and 2 42" LCD displays in the back, so people can see the presentations in the cheap seats. There are several surface mount speakers made by EV along the wall, and they are time aligned for seamless speech coverage. I have 6 wireless handheld mics, and a wireless lavalier at my disposal, along with a gooseneck microphone installed in the podium, which is filled with all sorts of presentation gear, like computers, DVD players, and even a document camera.

I don't have a traditional mixer in this room. There's a rack mount audio processor that mixes the microphone and program material. I can hook up to it using a laptop, and I have gain control, parametric EQ, automatic gain control, and matrix mixing.  There's other features that let me take the audio from the room, and send it into a phone call, or to a video conferencing engine. It's some pretty sophisticated stuff, but a world different from what we're typically used to.

My control surface is not a console. I'm not even hooked up to the processor with my laptop right now.  There are control touch screens that allow me to control aspects of the system by simple button pushes. I can turn the video system on, select the active input, and I can adjust the audio volume of my video sources, and the individual microphones. I have no EQ control right now, just volume.

There are a couple things to bank on when heading into these events.  First, the first presenter to speak, will be the last one to arrive before the event starts, and ask to load their Powerpoint presentation. Don't panic, but be sure that you get all of the others ones from the other presenters earlier, and test them all. Open them, play them, check every slide of their presentation. It doesn't matter if you have nothing to do with the fact their file format doesn't mesh with the version of Office on the local machine. You will look the fool, if it's showtime and it doesn't work. 

Hold on, this guy is wrapping up.....talking head change...

The next big issue is microphone technique. Like I said, there is a lectern microphone on this podium. It's a good mic, it's long enough to be somewhat close to most presenters mouths. It sounds great. I think doctors play slot machines alot, because the majority of them that step up to this podium grab the mic and yank on it like it's a one arm bandit. There is nothing you can do about this. Accept it. What you can do is be sure that your connections on this mic are rock solid. One time the mic was yanked so hard, it actually broke a solder joint in the XLR connector. That was not a fun day. Make sure it's solid, and be sure there is strain relief.  Right now I kind of wish I had this presenter on a lavalier. She keeps turning away from the microphone to look at the projection screen while talking....even though there is a monitor right in front of her face that is showing the presentation. Thankfully I have enough gain before feedback that she's still audible in the back. Handhelds are almost out of the question for these events. These people will not hold microphones. They will start with them at their mouths, and within 2 minutes, they will be holding the mic at their waist, or right at their side...pointing right at the floor.  Be creative to be sure you have a way to make these people heard. They will not make it easy.

Back to the yanking on the mic. Almost all of these people will yank, hit, tap, blow into the microphone. The same microphone that was working for the person before them. The same microphone that endured the physical testing of the 7 doctors that spoke before them. I swear these guys have a betting group going that gives big winnings: cars, yachts, real estate in Dubai, six figure cash rewards to the M.D. that finally brings the audio system to it's knees. Not today Doogie Houser, you're not winning crap. My mic will win.  Don't even think about it, House, you will not get that mic to feed back. I have the control. I will make you heard, or not heard...

Preparation is key. Being invisible is key. These people want an audio ninja. When the event starts, you better be scarce. Hover in the back. Put your phone on vibrate, or silent. Fit in with your wardrobe. Tour T-shirts are not acceptable. Khakis and polos are good. Business casual is great. If you're loading in a system for this gig, bring a change of clothes. Look professional, like you belong.

Act professional. Before the event, be sure all event coordinators are aware of where you are, and where you can be found. They have a lot on their plates, and AV is one of the most critical, but one of the last thought of. Put their mind at ease, do a good job, and you will be the first and only call they make in the future. Be sure everything is working, and have a backup plan ready. If this lectern mic fails, I have two wireless mics ready to go in no time. 

Wow, this one finished early....talking head change again...

Awesome. This guy will not get closer than 4 feet to the left of the mic.  Might be time to go to the lav after the upcoming break...

Anyway. Be ready for whatever. You'll be asked to do things that might not make sense, but you'll have to make it work somehow. Enjoy the catered lunch, and enjoy the pay. It might be a long day of boring speeches about medical stuff you don't understand, but will pay better than the bar gig that will keep you out until 4am or later. 

I'm gonna go deal with this lav...ninja style.

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