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Is This Thing On? Hiring a Sound Company for Your Next Conference

November, 27 2013 |
Contributor: Phil Bower, Prestige AV & Creative Services

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The venue was booked months ago, the event has been promoted to your membership, and the speaker line-up, while in a constant state of flux, is finally just about buttoned up. But the time has come, in addition to the dozens of other tasks on your pre-show planning calendar, to hire an A/V company.

To find out how to approach the challenge and what to know before picking up the phone, we called on Phil Bower from Prestige AV & Creative Services. Founded in 1987, the company provides a host of services – including audio and video rentals - for events that range from banquets and special events to major conventions.

Here's how our conversation went:

Shure Notes What's the first thing you need to know when you get a call from a potential customer?

Phil Bower When and where are probably the most important questions to get the conversation started.  Scheduling is a big concern with regard to tech staff and equipment availability. Another issue is when we'll have access to the venue in advance of the event. We need to know how much time we have to get everything set up and tested.

SN What else do you need to know right off the bat?

PB Audience and room size are very important factors in choosing the PA – screen size is important for the video guys. We also need to know if the event is primarily a "talking head" type of meeting or if there will be video and audio content that they want to be able to "rock out" with.  That also factors in to what type of PA we bring in.

Other considerations are how many presenters are using wireless, or if we'll need wireless for an audience Q&A session. I also check with our production manager on which style of podium we will be using, so I'll know whether to include either the MX412 or MX418 mics.

SN What kind of technical support is included?

PB For all of our larger events there will be an A1 in the room for setup, rehearsals and show. We also try to have an A2/floater on hand to assist with wiring up the presenters, distributing handheld wireless, checking batteries, and just generally providing additional support.

SN In comparing one rental company to another, what are the critical determinants in making a sound decision? It's not just price, right?

PB Price will always be a factor, but reputation, the relationship with the client and the quality of the gear are all part of the equation.  Clients want the assurance that they're partnering with a reputable, experienced supplier.

SN Are there ways a good sound company can save a client money?

PB Sure – and here are two examples:

  • Involve your AV partner earlier in the planning process than later.

  • If budget becomes an issue, we can look at the program schedule and decide how many presenters will need wireless. Then, we explore whether the client can re-arrange the schedule so they can share wireless mics across presenters to decrease the number they are renting.

A good A/V company will work with the meeting planner to find economies like these.

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SN What do customers tend to overlook in hiring an A/V company?

PB Set-up time is probably the #1 thing. On any event - big or small - we need to be in the loop on the setup schedule. There are things that we look for that the client might not be aware of, for example:

  • Security - sometimes it's just a matter of signing in, but one venue made us open up every single case for inspection on the way in.

  • Loading dock access is another concern - How far is it from the ballroom? Is there actually a dock?

I just did a show in Vegas and we had to rent a forklift to unload the truck because there wasn't a dock. Fortunately, we knew that ahead of time.

SN What do mic users need to know?  Does everyone tap on the mic or blow into it?

PB Some speakers don't really know how to hold a mic. Tapping on a mic or blowing into it is a good way to make sure the mic doesn't get turned on. So here's another tip for your readers: Please be professional and give the crew a heads-up before walking on stage.

As for how to hold the mic, we all know that handheld mics have to be pointed at the mouth to be effective, but some users seem to think that just holding a mic magically amplifies their voices. That's one reason we like to use Beta 87s on our wireless handhelds.  They are much more forgiving for the people who don't hold the mics up to their mouths.

SN Ever pulled a rabbit out of a hat to save the day for a customer?

PB I'd like to think that there isn't one single thing that we do that is so dramatic that it saves the day. We're able to see things coming and fix problems before they become catastrophic due in large part to the experience of our team and the quality of gear we use.

For example, we just got our first few systems of ULX-D and we are very happy so far. The ability to adjust the transmitter gain from the base is huge for those of us in the A/V world where we rarely get a chance to sound check with every presenter and need to tweak gain on the fly.

SN Your company provides services that transcend the rental of audio gear since Prestige also assists clients with lighting, video and stagecraft. Living in the real world, we know that not all of your audio gear is Shure.  Can you tell us, though, if there's some Shure gear you particularly like?

PB Dependable performance and longevity is key for us and for our customers.  We can't risk a failure. Our tag line is "Inspired Creativity Assured Performance."  Shure equipment that we use consistently assists us with the Assured Performance promise.

We rely on the SCM268 mixers for our day-to-day AV setups. Very simple, very reliable, phantom power and no wall wart! We have at least 100 of them. We even have some of the older SCM267 and SCM367 mixers. They're still out there generating rental income. We've used the DFR11 digital signal processor and SCM262 stereo mixer in several installs, and once they were set up, I haven't had to touch them in years. We even have a P4800 digital audio processor that's still in use and is doing just fine.

Here's another example: We have a large international corporate client that has quarterly training sessions. As part of the training, they have roundtable discussions and require a wireless handheld mic for each group of four people. We can end up with 24 channels of UHF-R® wireless in one small conference room. Wireless Workbench® has been a lifesaver in that situation.  We also use multiple linked SCM810 automatic mic mixers for all the wireless systems since the client is sharing confidential information and will only allow us to have one tech in the room. Never a problem.

Don't Pick Up That Phone Yet Checklist
Know These Answers Before Making the Call

  • Time and date of the event

  • Budget range (if known)

  • Venue, size of room

  • Audience size

  • Type of presentation – individual speakers, number of speakers and/or panel discussion

  • Music? Live? Recorded? Skits? Theatrics?

  • Load-in, set-up, load-out specifics (including location of loading dock, freight elevator, etc.)

Seem a little basic?  According to Phil, the time-proven adage 'plan the work and work the plan' will save you time, eliminate snafus and produce a glitch-free event.

Phil Bower

PHIL BOWER is a Project Manager and Senior Audio Specialist at Prestige AV & Creative Services. With video production experience that dates back to his high school days, Phil has a love of music that drew him to audio.  Before joining Prestige nearly 20 years ago, Phil was a freelance sound engineer for local bands, events, clubs and churches.
Davida Rochman
A Shure associate since 1979, Davida Rochman graduated with a degree in Speech Communications and never imagined that her first post-college job would result in a lifelong career that had her marketing microphones rather than speaking into them. Today, Davida is a Corporate Public Relations Manager, responsible for public relations activities, sponsorships, and donation programs that intersect with Shure at the corporate and industry level.