KISS: Keep it Simple, Sparky

KISS: Keep it Simple, Sparky

Occam’s Razor For the Stager

How much equipment does your event really need? Save the customer money and yourself some headaches by keeping things simple.

I was recently advancing a show with the projectionist/video switching engineer hired to work the upcoming corporate meeting. After reviewing the show with the tech (event overview, schedule, room drawing, and equipment list), the tech then asked for additional equipment that they thought was necessary for the meeting to be successful. Because I would not be on the job site, and because every tech has their own preferred approach to show technology, I listened to the technician’s ideas and explanations for their requests. After all, I am a firm believer that anyone driving the car should be permitted to adjust the seat and mirrors as necessary for the safe operation of the vehicle.

Now this particular tech is an expert and a true professional. Together, with me as the sales person and him operating the show, we have successfully (and politely) completed several shows, leading to satisfied clients. In this case, the tech asked me to add to the order additional switchers, a master controller, additional preview monitors, and wired live backups for most devices. What the tech did not know is that this exact order was copied from a previous order that we executed perfectly six months prior for the same client in the same room, but with a different lead video technician.

Now some shows require sophisticated switching, wiring, equalization, lighting, control, backups, etc, but when they do not, why complicate the situation and risk the show and, by definition, the client? For example, I often run the sound system in mono since one is easier to control than a stereo system, let alone a 5.1 or 7.1 system. Don’t get me wrong, I love the challenge of aligning and mixing a 7.1 system (as well as the commission I get as a sales person selling such a system), but why put myself and the audio crew through all that work if it’s not required? And as a human being, I could not be happy with myself if I oversold a client.

While there are some shows that require complicated systems with extensive equipment leading to a dedicated amount of both additional time and crew to program the equipment, and then artistically soundcheck /converge/focus the systems to the room and show, let alone installing and managing redundant live, duplicate backup systems, why would anyone want to do more work than was necessary? I’ve had the pleasure of providing sound for college graduations that occurred in reverberant gymnasiums where I was fortunate enough to not only choose the correct loudspeakers, but also receive the speaker placement positions that I requested (can you believe it?), thus it was unnecessary to delay all 16 speakers on sticks. Each speaker only filled a small zone with sound, and thus did not spill onto another speaker’s territory. Image my client’s surprise when their invoice was lower than the proposal because I removed the charges for the rental of delay units and the labor time necessary to time-align the system. Now that’s a client for life!

Recently a client asked me for a two-screen show with only four inputs, but there were times when the client wanted to see different sources on the two screens — for example, IMAG on the stage-right screen and PowerPoint stage left. We decided to use two separate switchers, one for each screen, and split all four sources to both switchers through the use of distribution amplifiers (DAs). We could have used a controller, which, after programming, would speak to the two switchers, but we chose the simpler approach of using DAs, which was actually suggested by the tech responsible for switching the show.

Sometimes More is Better
Sometimes, keeping it simple means extra equipment. Many of the teleconferencing boxes offer limiting, compression, and equalization, in addition to echo canceling. However, when I am mixing a meeting that includes teleconferencing, I use the DBX 160 limiter and 1/3rd-octave EQ that I am familiar with because I use them at every show, and then turn these features off in the teleconference unit. As a technician, I can react faster with these familiar additional units rather than scrolling through the various menus inside the teleconferencing units. When using a digital console, I use the console’s limiting and equalization. When there have been times I was forced to use the client’s gear and did not have the luxury of my outboard rack, I made a cheat sheet of the unit’s menus so I could navigate them quickly during the meeting.

On another show, we were providing sound reinforcement for an annual sit-down dinner in an acoustically challenging room. My client was an A1 audio engineer out on tour, so I designed the audio system and mixed the show for two years here in NYC. The design called for 18 Meyer Sound UPA and 16 UMP loudspeakers, with an additional 12 Yamaha MS101 on mic stands for fill here and there. The only inputs were the two lectern mics on the single podium. The third year, my client was not on tour, so he took over the event and decided on a huge 56-input monitor mixing console using all 24 outputs — each one having its own 1/3rd-octave EQ and then feeding digital delays. Long story short, all those discrete outputs (for only two inputs), EQs, delays, zones, etc. was too much for the technician, and the rehearsal went so bad that the in house two-speaker system was used and we lost the gig forever.

In conclusion, since this is a service business where reputation is everything and we don’t get a second chance, Keep It Simple, Sparky — KISS! Why risk a client or your reputation just to operate a complicated system when it’s not required? So what happened to my duplicated show and the tech that advised that the current (and previously proved successful) system design would not work? Well, let’s just say we had another successful show with the identical gear list, but it took some work on my part to get the tech psyched to set and operate the system as designed, which is okay. After all, I am currently a salesperson. But if it came down to it, I could go replace a tech, while the other Michael Andrews’ sales people cover for me, because I am a former technician after all, and it’s hard to get that out of your blood.

Editor’s Note: Bill often quotes movie lines and calls almost everyone Sparky when addressing them. Also, Bill wants to credit Michael Wright for the idea for this article.