This blog has been silent for so long, but it doesn’t mean that business has been bad for me, its fair to say that I have been too busy working to maintain this blog. About the same time I wrote my last blog text in 2016, I started doing some freelance-work for a rental-company that has some nice conference-halls among their clients.
From working solely with music, I now divided my time between spoken word in the daytime and concerts in the evening. Sometimes I would go straight from the conference-hall to the rigging of the band. This made it easier for me to fill the calendar, the different jobs didn’t interfere with each other. I enjoyed getting up really early, setting up the wireless microphones and starting the conferences before my colleagues had woken up.
As an audio engineer, I had always looked at this kind of conference-work as b-rated work compared to working with music, the last attempt to stay in the business before you hand yourself over to NAV. But now I realised that working with the spoken word is not something you can take for granted, and even working with a single microphone can take some experience to get it right.
Placement of wireless-microphones for live-speech can be tricky. The perfect position is as close as possible to the side of mouth but not in front of it. Then you maximise the speech-volume without getting popping from breath directly to the capsule. In real life you need some buffer because its impossible to keep the position intact over time, so there is normally some air between the mic and the mouth. But if for some reason the mic ends up more than 10 centimeters away from the mouth, you will easily get a level-drop of 10 DB or more, and you will soon find yourself fighting against feedback through the rest of the speech.
Working with bad microphone-technique on a conference can be quite interesting. It almost requires the same skills as working with a loud drummer and a quiet singer who can’t hear his or her voice: you need to dip all those offending frequencies and hope that there is some sounds left to work with. The graphic EQ should look something like your grandmothers teeth. The biggest challenge is not to remove frequencies, but deciding which to keep: after several rounds of equalisation its easy to have attenuated all the frequencies, which often puts you back to the starting point.
To avoid these problems I always want to be the one responsible for placing the microphone on the speaker, or, if the speaker insists on doing it him/herself, I will just fine-tune the position on the microphone after they have placed it. By controlling this most important variable that can fuck up the sound, I was able to get very consistent sound-quality speech-sound. Another thing that helped me was that the places I worked with had a high-quality PA-system that would spread the sound evenly across the room, usually with line-array and/or delay-systems that would take care of the furthest seats. The mixers usually had an automix-system that would make sure that only one speech-microphone was open at all times. This makes mixing debates much easier as there are never more than one open microphone which can cause feedback.
Although I was doing a great job with the sound, I quickly realised that it was necessary for the technician to help with other parts of the presentation: the visual content on the projectors. I soon found myself connecting HDMI-cables, opening powerpoints and configuring the laptops in ways that the speakers themselves didn’t know of. To bring this service even further, I started to control the projecting laptops myself beside the audio-mixer, and use a video-mixer to make smooth transitions.
Now that I was already working with video, it was easier for me to take the next step: buy a bunch of video-gear and learn how to use it. This is in fact my favourite way to learn something new, and I did the same when I was new in the audio-industry: back then I bought a recording-rig and started to record concerts of the visiting jazz-ensembles. This time it was a video mixer, computers and Audio-Video-presentation-gear that enables me to take charge of all the video-content on the conference. The arranger only needs to give me a usb-stick with the presentations and videos, and I will fix the rest.
Back to the present. I now divide my time between concert-work, location-recording, conference-sound and conference-video. I have a video-presentation rig that is set up exactly the way I want it, and it works great. In fact, I am so happy with this rig that I want to spend my next blog-post telling more about it.