Whether you’re installing wireless audio for a live event or building an audio system for a venue to use at their leisure (like a church, school, or conference center), you’ll spend a majority of your time, energy, and labor on installation day.
Installation day is when it all comes together… Or when it all falls apart. If you manage the job carefully, it can be a smooth, effortless process as you and your team install and configure the equipment. If you aren’t prepared, however, what should be an easy day can turn into frustration, costly mistakes, and a poor experience for your customer.
So how do you make a wireless audio installation smooth for everyone?
Follow your plan
The key to properly setting up an event venue without a bunch of costly, time-intensive mistakes is to follow your plan.
Avoid costly, labor-intensive mistakes during your wireless audio installation by following your plan.
At this point in the process, you should have a very clear plan based on your evaluation of the site and operation area, as well as your discussions with the property owner or event coordinator about their goals and needs. This plan should be documented and made accessible to everyone on your team.
The goal of your plan is to keep everyone working so you don’t incur unnecessary labor time by accounting for any decisions they may have to make. (Wireless audio professionals aren’t cheap. Being smart about labor time is a key way to keep the cost down.) Plans also keeps your equipment reliable.
The worst mistake you can make is to show up to perform an installation without evaluating the site and having spoken with the property owner or event coordinator. Even if your contact tells you specifically want they need, you can’t possibly setup quality sound without having explored the RF environment.
Using RF coordination software, you should have a plan as to how you will coordinate frequencies. You can either show up to the installation with a list of equipment and their frequencies, or preconfigure the equipment at your workshop before you pack your truck. (The latter method will save you time on the job site, but it requires more time in your shop and superb organization.)
In order to avoid mistakes and cost yourself time fixing problems, organization is critical. This is especially important on big jobs that use lots of equipment.
There are countless ways to organize your equipment. You might keep all similar equipment together so installers can grab what they need. You might group equipment based on sections of the operation area and assign each group to different installers. How you stay organized isn’t important, as long as you create a system and stick to it so everyone can fulfill their duties.
Use tin bins to keep active transmitters organized. Tin bins are a simple and clean way to store and organize microphones and other transmitters. The metal in the bin re-radiates the RF signal inefficiently so all noise and intermodulation is lost, even though the transmitters are close to one another.
Continue to monitor the RF environment
Even if you’ve evaluated the RF scene multiple times, it’s important to continually check to make sure your settings won’t create interference or dropout.
As you work, check your RF spectrum analyzer regularly. See if you can spot any irregularities that need to be compensated for after you install the equipment. It would be nice if we could just position the equipment, plug it all together and be done, but that’s rarely the case.
If you have the resources, designate someone as the RF coordinator. This person should plant themselves in front of your spectrum analyzer and RF coordination software to continuously monitor the airwaves. They should make sure that signals behave properly and correspond with the groups and equipment they were assigned.
This is especially important in settings where the RF environment is used by other professionals (like video integrators) or wireless audio equipment is outside of your control (like a house PA system). A slight change to either of those systems could disrupt yours.
Integrate with other teams
Image: Marc van der Chijs / Flickr
Ideally you should speak to other professional teams who will be working on the site before installation day or event day. If you haven’t had the opportunity yet, now’s the time. Even if you don’t expect to work closely with the other teams, it’s smart to introduce yourself so they can find you if their jobs will somehow affect yours.
For instance, if you are installing a wireless audio system in a space that’s being built or renovated, you should speak with the builders. In the best cases, the general contractor will arrange it so you have time to run cables before walls are completed, but don’t depend on that. Simply ask the carpenters to inform you before they close anything off.
With a little communication, you can save yourself a ton of hassle.
Lean on your team
Unless you’re a one-man-show, it’s impractical for you to be in every room overseeing your team while they complete the installation. You have to trust your team to follow your plan, make smart decisions, and notify you any time there is a serious problem.
In a perfect world, you shouldn’t be spending your time configuring microphones or running cable. You should be finding new work, creating installation plans, and running the business.
If you hire great people (and pay them what they’re worth), they should be able to hand over the job’s plan and let them handle it. If you find that you have to be present to ensure a job is done correctly, consider providing some additional training or, if you must, rehiring. The only way you’ll grow your business is by delegating work to others.
Limit last-minute changes
Inevitably, you’ll have a customer who wants “just one small thing” changed during the installation. They figure it won’t be an issue because you haven’t completed the work yet. But your customers don’t understand how much coordination is necessary for a seamless wireless audio experience.
“The key to succeeding is that you go in with a plan and strongly dissuade clients from disruptive last-minute changes,” recommends media production expert Larry Kless. “They may think it’s not a big deal, but you know better.”
Even if your client is willing to pay for the extra time and equipment, that may not be profitable or fit into your schedule. Don’t feel like you have to abide by every request, although it’s smart to make any adjustments that are reasonable.
Wherever possible, be prepared
Some wireless audio integrators will tell you to create a backup frequency plan in case your first one is made unusable by some outside interference. Others will recommend that you bring 20% more cable than you expect (and charge the client for it) to get around corners or over doors. The last thing you want is to have to delay a job because didn’t account for an obvious challenge or obstacle.
We couldn’t possibly list all of the potential ways you can protect yourself from costly mistakes, but we will suggest that you carefully consider what can go wrong for each specific job before you arrive on installation day.
We’ve said this before, but it’s worth repeating. The best way to get through a wireless audio installation process is to create a thorough plan, coordinate your RF signals with software, and continuously monitor the RF environment. If you do that and follow these best practices, your installations will be pain-free and profitable.