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In-House Sound Systems

What You Should Know…

written by Dave Hastings, CPDJA National President.


Banquet venues have been installing their own sound and lighting equipment as a way to generate additional revenue. Many venues not only insist that you use their equipment, but they charge very substantial fees to the consumer for the use of the system.

 The examples that follow are from my own personal experiences where situations have developed that have both positively and negatively affected the outcome of various events.

First, I'd like to give credit where credit is due…

 A number of halls have gone to the expense of buying quality sound and lighting equipment. Some venues have also wisely hired full- time professionally trained audio and lighting technicians to assist their clients and to provide the necessary maintenance.

Venues that provide a quality service in this regard can make your DJ’s playing experience very pleasant. As a rule-of-thumb, a happy, stress free DJ has the potential to produce a much better party!

However…

There are a growing number of venues joining this trend. Unfortunately, in order to maximize profits, some locations are installing less than adequate equipment – and are failing to provide the necessary support.

In one particular case, a sound and light system that is currently being advertised as “State of the Art” on a banquet hall website, has equipment that has not been upgraded since it’s installation in 1990! 

As a result this new trend has been a major headache for both the DJs, and the clients that are being charged hundreds of dollars for the use of systems like these.

The “Rental Car” Syndrome

Many people won’t consider the purchase of a used rental car because they don’t know if it was abused by the numerous drivers who have rented the vehicle. Most would prefer to buy a used vehicle where they are familiar with both the driver, and how the car was maintained.

When a sound system is under constant use by people with varying levels of technical experience, the amount of “wear and tear” can be severe. Proper maintenance and back up equipment is the key. 

All it takes is to have the person who used the system the night before to “over drive” the speaker system – and the resulting abuse can leave you with an unexpected problem. (“Clipping” is the technical term”)

A DJ’s “Mixing System” IS their musical instrument – Equipment familiarity is VERY important!

 Would you let a Laser Eye Surgeon operate on you with unfamiliar equipment? Legendary Blues guitarist B.B. King uses his signature guitar “Lucille” to produce his famous sound. Would you ask him to use someone else’s guitar – then expect it to sound the same?

The level of equipment familiarity of your DJ on their own “mixing system” is directly proportional to their ability to produce a seamless professional quality presentation. Some halls try to insist that your DJ use the in-house music “mixing system”, even though the DJ may be completely unfamiliar with the venue’s equipment. (The “mixing system” is what your DJ uses to produce the music signal – before it gets sent to the in-house amplification and speaker system.) 

Most Professional DJ’s have spent countless hours practising on their individual mixing system so the operation of their equipment becomes second nature. Therefore a DJ’s mixing system IS their musical instrument.

What your DJ does for you is time sensitive. We can’t keep you waiting at the door to your hall when it comes time for your introduction because your DJ can’t find the right button on the unfamiliar in-house mixing system, and something is preventing the music from playing.

Professional DJ’s spend a lot of time researching their equipment. They take the time before your event when they are not under pressure to perform, to become very aware of the intricacies of their own gear, and what to do if it stops working.

 If your venue insists that you must use their equipment, you have the right to know what you are getting for your money.

Here are 4 important questions that you should ask - along with the reasons why - before you agree to use the hall’s equipment.

1. Do you have an on-site, properly trained technician who will be there for the entire duration of my event?
Many venues may have someone on-site before the beginning of the event, but they leave once the initial equipment connections are made. Although they will often provide an emergency phone number should there be a problem, if the music stops during the party – 30 seconds of “Dead Air” can seem like a lifetime – especially if it happens in the middle of your first dance or Wedding Speeches.

2. If the venue has multiple rooms, is there a technician for each room, or is one person expected to cover the entire venue?
If your technician isn’t in your actual room, they can’t respond immediately to time sensitive issues. You can’t fix a problem in two rooms at once.

3. If the sound system has been damaged by a previous user, or your lighting fixture stops working, how will they fix it?
Banquet halls normally install their equipment in the ceiling. Although it may be considered aesthetically pleasing, it can create a repair access issue.

4. If there is a system malfunction, what is your back up plan? How long will I be without sound?
If the company who installed the equipment and is providing back up is a 2 hour drive away, you’ve got something to think about!

“Lightning Can Strike Twice” … an example of a good day gone bad

During an event I played for two wonderful people last year, the in-house sound system at their major downtown Toronto banquet venue completely shut down - 45 seconds into their first dance, rendering the room silent and ruining the atmosphere. As a result, there wasn’t a single eye amongst the 300+ person audience that did not turn and glare disapprovingly directly at me. 

Next was the “rush to the stage”. More than 20 guests were frantically insisting that I “fix it”, even though my portion of the equipment was working flawlessly, and their first song was still playing perfectly in my headphones.

The cabinet that contained the audio equipment where the problem had actually occurred was securely locked. The technician had the only key. People where now running around trying to find the technician who could not be raised on the radio system.

 It took over 25 minutes to find the only technician in the 6 hall venue because he had left for his dinner break.

It seemed like a lifetime…It took 30 more minutes to correct the problem. The guests are now going home as they think the party is over. By this time, the crowd has scattered, the Bride is in tears, and I had spent most of the last hour explaining to a multitude of angry guests that my equipment was 100% functional and the problem was with the in-house system.

Earlier in the event, a couple who were getting married later that same year was impressed with my service and came up to the stage. Not only did they ask for my card, but they provided me with their home and business numbers so I could call them to book their wedding. The Groom-to-be returned during the 55 minute silence and not only handed back my card, but told me not to call because I could even get the first song right!

Before I could explain the situation, he turned and walked away…

During the same evening - both the best man, and myself started receiving complaints that people couldn’t hear the podium microphone provided by the hall. The speeches were delayed by over 20 minutes because the technician was dealing with another issue in one of the other halls. Due to a switch in the wrong position, 1/3 of the room couldn’t hear anything because the sound was turned off in their portion of the hall.

Here are some of the major reasons why Professional DJ’s prefer to use their own equipment:

1. We didn’t start the fire… but we get burned… Damaged Company Reputations
Your DJ is considered the link between the guests and the music. If the music stops, your guests look at your DJ and wonder why because they are the “front line person” – not the in-house sound company.

 Additionally, if the music “dies” we become the “Complaint Department” no matter the reason. Only the clients who booked both the DJ and the venue know “who belongs to what”. The guests - who are our potential future clients, don’t know these details.

2. No Control of the Sound Quality
There is no set standard for in-house sound systems. Unfortunately, this also means that the sound quality can vary greatly between venues. If the equipment does not provide proper sound coverage 
you may not hear it at your table
. Or, it may sound “tinny”
 or worse, distorted.

People complain to the DJ – not the banquet hall management. We are also the person who is “expected” to rectify the situation, even if it has nothing to do with the portion of the equipment they are hired to provide. Most halls keep their sound equipment locked up so only their staff can make adjustments. If we are using our own equipment, the controls that fix these issues are literally at our fingertips.

3. Client Discounts
Many people think a discount should be in order because the DJ doesn’t have to carry their full load of equipment. In reality the work-“load” can end up being much larger... In-house events can be more stressful because you are put into a situation where you have very little control of the outcome. 


Realistically, even though your hall may be charging $500.00 for the use of their amplifier and speaker system, anyone can rent similar sound equipment as to what is being provided by the majority of venues for most under 300 person events - for around $100.00. Instead of a $100.00 discount, a smart consumer will ask the DJ to have the rest of their full system in their vehicle, and be able to provide it right away, should there be an issue. – It’s cheap insurance and money well spent. If there is a delay, we hear – “There’s a problem with the DJ system.” Even if it has nothing to do with us.

4. Who’s controlling the lights?
When it comes to in-house lighting systems, the DJ is often left the control system that operates the lights, and they are “expected” to run them for the evening. If your DJ is not providing your light show, it’s not their responsibility to operate them.

The going rate to add a lighting technician is $30.00 - $50.00 per hour – with a 4-hour minimum. If you’re going to rent their light system as well, you should find out who’s going to be responsible for the operating of their equipment during the event.

In summary, it is in your best interest to be very clear about the policy of a prospective venue that has an In-House Sound System. Ask the questions above and make sure you are completely satisfied with the answers you receive.

All the best with your Wedding Planning!

 

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