Ren Baker began his career in 1989, with numerous regional and national tours, as well as recording projects and instrument credits. His Experience includes Audio Engineering and Production with an emphasis on live show production for various genreís and venues, as well as Rock and R & B studio work.
Ren's clients have included: Michael W. Smith, Blue Oyster Cult, .38 Special, MTV, Jeff Healey, and Hootie and the Blowfish, among others.
The 4Cs of Sound Reinforcement

Tool List for the Well Equipped Live Event Production Technician

Tips for Writing a Proposal for
Production Services - with Example


When the Lights Come Up...

Whenever I am asked what I do for a living, I find it difficult to get the person asking the question to understand exactly what value the lonely soundman brings to the table. Itís true that the artist or presenter is the subject of the show, but itís also true that the quality of the production itself—managed by the soundman—makes the show a success. With bad sound, every show is bad, even if the talent is good. And in many cases, especially today, even bad performers can be made better through technology used, managed, and operated by the soundman. Very often, todayís pop stars utilize real-time pitch correction, prerecorded backing tracks, and advanced digital effects to correct their natural shortcomings.

To sum it up, sound reinforcement systems and the people who operate them are artists and canvases in and of themselves. Every performance has the potential for success and failure, and no two nights are ever the same. In the end, we all seek excellence. And excellence doesnít happen by accident. If youíre still reading this article, itís because Iíve at least captured your interest about what it takes to achieve excellent sound reproduction.

So if youíre considering being a soundman or considering hiring one—here are my ďFour Cís of Sound Reinforcement.Ē It all nets out to Coverage, Clarity, Consistency, and Caliber.

COVERAGE: Sound waves are affected by many physical determinants, such as humidity, wind, temperature, air density, and altitude. As well, the sound wave itself is a physical wave of energy that will bounce off of hard surfaces. Generally speaking, the smoother the surface, the more reflective it is, so things like glass can be an obvious enemy to overall sound quality. Indoor events generally require less equipment due to sound reflection, but carry their own challenges in regards to those reflections causing sound cancellation. To gain adequate coverage while balancing the sound quality and volume, appropriately powered speaker cabinets must be calculated for their coverage factors Ė including dispersion and throw at various frequencies throughout the sound spectrum.Quite often the negative effect of an improperly sized system is material that is far too loud in some areas and not loud enough in others. Another negative effect of poor sizing is the potential for ďbleed.Ē Sound travels faster through denser objects such as walls and steel framework. So when sound is too loud to compensate for poor design, the potential exists that the sound will travel to undesired locations, such as outside the venue or into a quiet neighborhood. In some countries, all major events are monitored by sound enforcement officers whose job is simply to prevent undesirable sound-bleed outside the venue. Good coverage prevents these issues, and is achieved through providing a properly sized and designed sound system, including power amplification, speaker system selection and placement.

CLARITY: Two main things affect the clarity of a sound reinforcement system. Every personís ears are different. Many things affect our earís response, such as head shape, ear canal shape, naturally occurring hearing difficulties, hearing loss, and frequency dependant hearing loss. Many times, what sounds good to one individual can be difficult to understand to another. Age can play a major factor in many situations as well, simply because throughout our lives, we ďtrainĒ our ears to hear certain things at certain frequencies. So when that sound isnít reproduced at the frequency we expect, our brain tells us it wasnít there. Secondly, the material to be amplified must be considered. Designing a system for speech intelligibility is quite different than a loud rock bandís needs. Perhaps the biggest consideration of the systemís needs will be what the primary material of the event will be. Good clarity is achieved through proper equalization, microphone selection, and gain before feedback of the system. Primarily, these are functions performed by the soundman, and thus require constant attention throughout the event.

CONSISTENCY: Our ears ďadjustĒ to sound in the same way our eyes adjust to available light. When listening to someone speak with an accent, you can retrain your ear to not only understand them, but you will also begin to mimic the accent and your ears will become accustomed to that material over time. Once comfortable, it is important for any sound system to maintain consistency throughout all material to reduce the ear fatigue so common at events where sound reinforcement is employed. This helps the ear gently, but more rapidly adjust, much in the same way it would to the accent mentioned above. As the ears adjust and become acclimated to the material (the frequency response, the type of material—music/speech/combination as well as the person or people delivering it) the audience can then focus on the show. Any interruption in the consistency of the sound will negatively affect the audienceís overall satisfaction and enjoyment of the show itself. Once coverage and clarity are achieved, the soundmanís primary job is to ensure the consistency of the overall presentation of the material, becoming transparent to the process and allowing the artists and presenters to carry the event.

CALIBER: The caliber of the production refers to the overall quality of the sound itself. With the correct microphone selection, the proper equalization, the correct mix, appropriate amplification, and the correct speakers, the sound reinforcement system does more than make things louder—it transparently amplifies the emotion of the material being presented. Much like the close up shot in a movie can bring the emotion to the forefront through the eyes; sound reinforcement can do the same with the voice and the ear. Sound is created through many mediums, with vastly different frequency responses. From the lowest lows of the synthesized keyboard to the highest highs of the brightest cymbals, and everywhere in between, the system needs to be able to reproduce on demand what is happening on the stage. This includes the human voice itself, which is as different as there are people in the world. The caliber of the production itself can be summed up like this—when the caliber is excellent, nobody in the audience will ever notice the equipment or the soundman or the supporting personnel. However, when itís not right, the audienceís experience is sacrificed because the sound system (and the engineers who run it) sits directly between the artist/presenter and their audience.
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