Last week I was doing work for a large corporate event. I was only there as the monitoring engineer for a band that was one of the acts of the show and not running the entire audio, but it was enough to bring up a few points that have become almost universal truths every time I have to do corporate gigs.
Get ready to explain basic audio concepts several times to several people
Working with bands and tech crews for the majority of our time becomes faster and efficient through time as you learn or even develop a common language. It is like a shorthand for fast communication that allows us to talk less, understand each other quickly and be about our tasks as efficiently as we can. The underlying baseline that makes this possible is the fact that you expect people in the business to know and understand the basic concepts of audio, lighting, pyro, and stage management. And when I say “basic”, I really mean “basic”. Stuff like: there are cables running on stage between the artists, mixing boards, speakers and other gear; or the PA system is very difficult to move once it is setup; or live drums are pretty loud and so are guitar amps of a rock band. You do not have to explain this to anyone who is working in the industry. However, when you start meeting people from companies who want to organise a special event for their anniversary or other special occasion, you are not speaking to a person in the entertainment industry. 8 out of 10 times the company contact person in charge of the event is a public relations expert or a social media advisor that just got this assignment, and is now faced with a lot of technical coordination and does not have a clue about how things are done. So make sure that when meeting such a person, you are ready to drop down to the very foundation of any technical concept and explain it to them as clearly and politely as you can. If you do that, chances are you can avoid some crazy demands later on in the process and make your life much easier.
There will be A LOT of meetings - they are your chance to be proactive
I think it was Dana Carvey that once stated: “Meetings are the single reason why humanity will never live up to its full potential.” And to be honest - I have never done a corporate event of any kind that did not digress from what was agreed upon in meetings when it came down to the actual execution. But these meetings are also a great chance to smooth out some kinks because they usually involve all technical crews at once. If that happens, my suggestion is to focus on the connection points with other departments. If you have someone running video, make sure to ask them how to connect their sound to your audio system. Ask the lighting designer about your PA placement and how that might interfere with their design. Work out time schedules for load-in and load out that maximise efficiency and gear setup times. Most importantly - introduce yourself, get their contacts and make sure they have yours. Because you might not have a tech savvy coordinator from the organiser of the event, it works best if you can work out a lot of the junction points and timing details amongst yourselves. Your job is to take the workload away from coordinators and keep the client happy.
Corporate events are a waiting game
There will be schedules and scripts. Then there will be revisions of schedules and scripts. About a day before the event there will be the final revision of the schedule and the script. When you turn up, you will realise that those are more guidelines than set in stone - usually because people do not know how long something takes, or they will discard the basic principles of physics, like the fact that an act cannot magically appear on stage, but you have to allocate time for them to get there and set up. The final final version of the schedule and the script will be made usually on the spot - so be prepared to work under two different mindsets: waiting and rushing. If that is sort of true for all entertainment work, it becomes painfully apparent while doing a corporate show.
Audio is low on the priority list
Corporate events are mainly visual affairs. They are about logos, the keynote speaker, lighting, video, catering, seating charts, wardrobe, banners, flowers, CEOs, invited guests, the plus ones, mingling, business, gossip, and then about audio. So whenever you are doing a corporate event, be ready for the following questions that you might not hear otherwise: “Do we have to have these microphones here?” “Do these speakers really have to be in the room?” “Can you move the PA system between acts?” “Do you have smaller/white/transparent speakers because these are too visible?” There are some measures you can take to be more in tune with the visual aspect of the event:
Cover your speakers and speaker stands with a fabric (always good to have a black and a white option ready). There are stretchy fabric speaker stand covers readily available or you can design and make your own. Same goes for your mixing board stand or table.
Be very mindful of cable management - from the start, use cable runs that are the least visible and make them as neat as you can.
Select visually most appealing black microphone stands (do not use scratched, chrome, covered in tape, rusty mic stands on corporate events). The shoddy ones might be good for a hihat mic, but absolutely not for a CEO of a company that pays your fee.
If you have good wireless systems, use them. Less cables the client sees, the better. But only if you can be sure you have done your homework and coordinated your frequencies and taken all measurements you have a good and reliable wireless signal.
Dress for the occasion
This one might seem a bit weird, but it has to do with the fact that corporate events are much more about the appearance and the visual than your regular club shows or arena concerts. If at any point you have to appear on stage or be in the audience, whether it be to bring out a microphone or to mix a show from the seats, make sure to disappear or blend in as much as you can. I see it often - a classy show, the crowds in fancy attire, the mayor is about to speak - and the stage hand adjusting the microphone is wearing a Sex Pistols T-shirt, ripped jeans and worn down sneakers. That is a big no-no and I have seen people lose work due to such details. Your job during a corporate event is to be a stealthy ninja - not noticed by anyone. An ironed black shirt, black pants and black shoes should be mandatory for any member of your team that is visible to the audience.
Doing audio for corporate events can be a long term engagement because either clients or the agencies like to work with the same team. For the same reason, there is a lot of competition out there. I hope some of these observations can help you get work, keep it and reduce your stress levels while you are doing it.