Behind the scenes

Event Planners Guide to Audio Coverage

AUDIO COVERAGE

So, you have an event coming up and have not anticipated such an audience! Will you be heard over that many people? The chances are unlikely. So, what should be considered to make sure you are not drowned out? You guessed it; you will need an audio system and some speakers for sufficient audio coverage. Where do you start?!

THE BASICS

Firstly, you will need to think about what your basic requirements are. There are a few main questions that we need to consider when thinking about audio coverage:

  • How big is the audience?
    • Think of the space. Is it a stadium, or a lecture hall?
    • Are they standing, seated in chairs, or on the ground?
  • How broad-spectrum is the program media?
    • Meaning; is it just voice (presenters or lecturers), or are there background music, video stings that need to have an impact, or is there full-on music being played live?
  • What is the focal point, and where is it?
    • A band or theatrical performance front of stage, or a lecturer requiring full room coverage?

 

AUDIENCE SIZE

Audience Capacity and Audio Coverage
It is always best to account for a larger rather than a smaller audience when planning your audio coverage.

This is the most common dilemma event planners struggle with during the planning stages of the event. You should always account for large capacity attendance – especially when considering your audio coverage needs. If you do not there may be patches of the audience that will not be able to hear anything at all. However, if you over-estimate, you could potentially create a sparse and impersonal atmosphere for your attendees. Of course over-estimating could also unnecessarily blow your budget!

Try to be realistic. This will not only help your audio provider design a correctly proportioned speaker system for your event, but it will help convey the content of your event and create the emotive and energetic atmosphere you desired.

 

PROGRAM MEDIA

Program media is simply the source of the audio, or what is producing the sound. Is it a voice? Do you have a presenter or singer that is standing still or roaming? Is it music? Do you have a band as your main feature, or is your music for background purposes?  Are there any instrumentals or DJs? Do you have any sound effects? These are all factors that help us decide what speakers to use.

For example, if you are hosting an Annual General Meeting and the evening’s festivities consist of a small number of presenters along with light background music during dinner, then as you can guess we probably do not require any large thumping subwoofers. In these circumstances we will use small to medium-sized speakers or arrays. Simply speaking, with regards to audio coverage, corporate events tend to be held at roughly one volume level as there are not large audio dynamics during the event.

But if there is a concert element, or big audio or video rolls, we will need those subs to add impact and get people up and out of their seats.  We will also need to look at medium to large speaker systems to account for the higher sound pressure levels and cater for the shifting dynamic range.

 

FOCAL POINT

Almost every event will have a focal point, or ‘centre of attention’. This could be a presenter, a stage for a musical performer, a large LED video wall, or any combination of these. The question that needs to be answered from the outset is “does this (or these) visual focal points need to be reinforced by the audio system?”  Or put it another way: how important is it that the audience experiences the sound in conjunction with the perspective of the main visual feature?

Centre of Attention
The focal point is also know as the ‘centre of attention’ at any event.

For example, when listening to someone discuss their company’s performance or lecture on a new educational process, the main importance is that each of the audience members hear each and every word.  If the sound isn’t perceived as coming from the visual focus, it doesn’t distract from the overall effect of the event.  Whether or not each listener hears everything at the exact same level and timbre is not critical. Understanding the words said is critical.

On the contrary, musical or theatrical performances rely on conveying emotion.  This necessitates that the sounds and visuals emanate from the same source. You can imagine, as an audience member, it would be very off-putting to have the sound coming from directly above, or even worse – behind you – while trying to focus on the action on stage. Instead, we would design the sound system to reinforce that all sound is emanating from this nucleus.

As this is an intangible synergy, creating your focal point can be quite a time-consuming and costly process. It has to encompass distinct considerations to your audience size, and type of program media as stated above. We must put big enough and an appropriate number of speakers adjacent to this point, ensuring the extra speakers that we need to distribute throughout the listening area are not obtrusive. They should reinforce – not distract you from – the audio source. This can involve extra zones, extra processing, extra amplification, and most of all, extra labour.

 

EXPECTATION VS REALITY

After all this information is communicated to your audio provider, the discussion about concept expectation versus prospective costs can begin. This will depend on several factors. We need to understand how many speakers and amplifiers are needed, where they need to be located, and if it is physically possible, safe, and cost-effective to install. We need to have calculated how long it will take to install and remove the system, and how many crew members it will take to do so. There is a lot more to it than putting a speaker on a stand and plugging it in.

We have often heard event planners say, “the best speaker is an invisible one”.  And technology is getting pretty amazing.  (That’s why we enjoy doing what we do!)  But even with the modern-day sound systems getting more and more accurate, we are yet to find an invisible one! But we are happy to do whatever is to meet your ideal atmosphere and balance that with your budgetary constraints.

As an event planner, you do not need to create solutions for all these described situations. That is what we are here for. Nevertheless, the more information you can arm us with, the sooner we can find the right answer for you, and the closer you become to having an event of a lifetime.

Once again, be realistic when planning your event and listen carefully to your audio providers recommendations when discussing your audio coverage strategy.

Contact the professionals for a consultation on your next event here: http://www.rtrproductions.com.au/contact.

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