The Increasing Importance of Sound Systems & Sound Engineers

The Increasing Importance of Sound Systems & Sound Engineers

There are few things that can have as large an impact on a fundraising auction as the sound system. If attendees can’t hear the auction, they won’t bid. And if all they can hear is the auction, and they can’t talk at their tables without yelling, odds are they won’t come back next year.

The challenge is to set up a sound system that accomplishes the goal of creating an environment where everyone can tune in to the auction at any point…and party at their tables the rest of the time. It is an effect, really – auction surround sound – and it takes a professional sound company to accomplish it. There are many companies who understand the special needs of a fundraising auction; our longtime favorite in the bay area is Sound Expressions in Santa Rosa. They not only set up great sound systems, they engineer them throughout the event as well.

There is a massive ebb and flow to the noise level in the room during a fundraising event. A good sound engineer will be able to react to changes in ambient noise level and alter the sound as necessary. A great sound engineer will be able to see them coming, and proactively adjust levels.

Audiences are increasingly getting louder. Ever since the economy took a severe downturn this fall, people who don’t have the money to spend seem to be looking for any opportunity to party harder and louder. Watch the following video from an auction on September 6th to get an idea of just how loud a crowd can be. The lot sold in the video is the most expensive lot of the night, and it should have generated the most momentum within the crowd. As it is, you can barely hear the people who are into the event above those who are just there to party.

That was with the best AV company I know at the helm, manning the sound board during the auction. It is hard to imagine what that event would have been like without a professional on the boards throughout the auction.

Another recent event, however, opted to save a few bucks and go with a sound company that underbid by submitting a good looking list of equipment on paper that did not include a technician to run the show. The event took place outside, started during daylight hours then progressed into evening, and required PC and DVD video signals across four monitors. A tricky setup under any circumstances, but compounded by the fact that the technician left as soon as he had set up the system and sound-checked.

Two minutes into the video presentation something went wrong in the system, sending a horrible noise throughout the speaker system. The technician was 30 minutes away, leaving a bunch of volunteers to trouble-shoot and try to get the event moving back on schedule. After 10 minutes of frantic action, we got the crowd’s attention, re-started the video and got rolling with the auction. Thankfully, the passion of the crowd was more present than the sound tech, and the event was still a solid success.

But it raises a few key points:

  • Hire a good sound company
  • Get in writing that they will have sound engineers on-site throughout the evening
  • Designate a point person for the night of the evening to be the main contact with the sound company

When in doubt ask yourself if saving a few hundred bucks is going to be worth the potential for catastrophic failure. If your sound system fails you, odds are your audience will forgive you, but will you and your auctioneer be able to find a way to quiet them down and keep them engaged? And with things the way they are, is that the place you really want to gamble?

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