Corporate Audio Sound

Jan 1, 2012 9:00 AM, By Chris Thomson



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The author at the Midas Venice console

The author at the Midas Venice console

Sound reinforcement for events in hotels and convention centers has been a huge industry for many years. It goes through cyclical up and downs, like most corporate-related services, but right now it’s only getting bigger and more production-oriented. Ballroom events, meeting rooms, multipurpose venues, video conferencing, telepresence—they’re all proving a fertile ground for today’s audio school graduate. Often, professional A/V companies are the first employer for many of the students graduating today. Mix asked Chris Thomson, a 2002 graduate of Ex’Pression College for Digital Arts and now a technical coordinator at Swank Audio Visuals in San Francisco, to let us know what a typical day in the life of a first job might look like.

Corporate, medical and political events are becoming ever more complex as meeting planners expect the speakers presenting onstage to sound clear while integrating seamlessly with video, lighting and staging. In fact, the corporate-event sound engineer’s skill set includes many of the fundamentals that concert sound mixers adhere to, and the consoles, loudspeakers and processing gear is increasingly of the same type and quality. While the majority of the job involves dealing with the low sound pressure level of the speaking voice, it’s not uncommon to find an A1 working a press conference in the morning and then mixing Carlos Santana for a Silicon Valley product launch in the afternoon. An event I recently engineered for commercial real-estate company CoStar required using all of the fundamental corporate audio skills, including proper speaker positioning, effective lavalier microphone placement, voice-specific EQ techniques, correct wireless RF programming, podium microphone compression and, finally, proper gain structure.

CoStar’s event was held in the ballroom of the Westin Market Street hotel in downtown San Francisco. The ballroom is an elegant 9,040-square-foot rectangular space measuring 114x80 feet. The setup day began at 7 a.m. I joined four of my Swank Audio Visuals co-workers to begin the gear push from our various storerooms located throughout the hotel. By 8 we were ready to begin the event setup, which called for three 17-foot, fast-fold, rear-projection screens, 60 feet of pipe and drape, two lighting trees and the sound system.

The sound equipment included four Meyer Sound UPJ loudspeakers for the mains, two Meyer UPMs for the front-fills, a 32-channel Midas Venice console, and an audio rack with the processing gear and wireless mic units. A crew from CoStar’s IT department was providing (and setting up) the projectors and video-switching equipment. They were scheduled to arrive at 2 p.m. My team planned to be finished with the hard set so that the projection work could begin once they arrived. As three Swank workers assembled the lighting trees and projection screens, I teamed up with my audio assistant, Brandon, for the sound system setup.

Positioning the Meyer UPJ mains

Positioning the Meyer UPJ mains

First, I needed to examine the room’s stage, seating and tech riser positioning, already set by the house according to the client-approved CAD diagram. The two things that stood out to me were the position of the tech table and how some audience sightline issues would dictate my speaker placement. The tech table was positioned on the stage-right wall. It is best to mix from the back of the room near the center, but in the corporate A/V world, side-wall tech tables are common. I positioned my 32-channel Midas on the end of the table furthest away from my planned speaker position so that I could hear a more on-axis sound. As Brandon rolled over the speaker cases and Ultimate speaker stands, I began plotting the best locations.

This particular show called for the audience tables to be set fairly wide and not too far back from the large stage (32 feet wide). Also, the two outside 17-foot-wide projection screens forced me to place the speakers further from the stage than usual. No truss today, so with this floor-based speaker set, I chose to cluster two speakers outside the screens instead of splitting them due to sightline issues.

To accommodate the video tech table, we had to set the speakers about two feet behind the front of the stage. It is almost always good practice to place the speakers in line with, or in front of the stage’s front edge, but that was not possible for this show. Also, the wide set of the room tables in relation to the stage did not allow for delay speakers to make a difference. The two Meyer UPM front-fills placed on the stage were going to help, but for the most part sound would be coming from the two UPJ clusters set wide, seven feet high, angled toward the stage more than usual, requiring that sound be pushed 70-plus feet to the back center of the room—not ideal, with potential for greater-than-usual feedback problems.

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