When I first started Endless in high school, we did not own all of our own equipment and I had to work with hundreds of AV companies and over time, I learned there was something massively wrong with the industry. There was lack of customer service in the AV industry. At Endless, we sought to change that, so we formed our own audio visual & event production company. Over the years, we learned what the right questions were and how to make sure we were aligned with the event planners vision to create a successful event. So I’m here to share our deepest darkest secrets on how to make your event AV a success, and what the right questions are to ask your AV company when it comes to the layout of your event.
PS: I always try to explain the super technical terms in a simple manner, but if you want to arm yourself with the technical terms to talk to your next AV company, we created a free production guide infographic which will explain some of the common terms we use every day!
Where is front of house?
Front Of House is defined as the location (sometimes it’s placed on a small stage riser) where the audio, lighting and sometimes video technician have their controls for the event. The best location for this is a place where the technical team can have an optimal view of the entire stage and all of the various elements they are controlling. While each has its advantages and disadvantages, common locations are in the center rear of the room, the center of the room (in the middle of all of the seating/standing), and the middle (not the rear and not the front) but off to either the left or right side. On occasion, your technicians may also place themselves behind the stage.
The reason this question is important is because depending on the amount of AV you have at your event, this may take up significant portion of your footprint. Also depending on what you are looking to accomplish for your event, the location that the AV team has in mind for your event may not work with what you are looking to do. Also, if the AV team is planning on being backstage, and you want them in the rear of the room. There may be added costs by adding more additional cabling such as an audio snake (a simple way of moving lots of cables with one single cable) or a switch to wireless (in the case of lighting primarily). If it works for your event, we recommend putting the front of house off to either side but in the middle of the room because this allows the technicians to see what the audience sees however, doesn’t sacrifice anyone’s view.
If your event does not have lighting, it is very common to see that your AV team requests to be behind the stage because they do not need a front of house. With the advancement of technology, many audio boards can be controlled by an iPad in the hand of a roaming technician, and video can be hidden behind the stage by using preview monitors.
Where are you getting power from?
Often times, when we use a room layout maker we don’t think about where power (electricity) is coming from for their event (to be honest a planner shouldn’t have to) but often the AV company might forget about this minor, yet critical, detail until the very last minute. The reason it is important to ask this question is because you may have power needs as well and it’s important to collaborate to see where each of you is going to get that from. Also it’s very important because when working with an event that has substantial power needs, you need to mark on your layout where a power drop (large boxes which are used to convert power) might be placed. If the AV team needs the power placed on stage left, and it was placed on stage right, it might force them to rerun all of the cabling they had planned.
Where are the cables going to be run?
Unfortunately, the AV industry hasn’t gotten to the point where EVERYTHING is wireless yet (we’re keeping our fingers crossed) and the industry standard for reliability reasons is that all of the various elements of an event must communicate using wired technology. It’s important to ask the AV company where it plans to run cables for a few reasons including: safety, aesthetics, and your personal preference. The movement of cables can severely affect the layout and what technologies are used.
The first being safety. The industry standard is that whenever a cable is ran across a walkway or a doorway that it will be taped down. However, some venues and planners require stricter cable management requirements. It is best to know this early on. The difference between taping a cable down and running it through an elaborate cable system can add hours of labor time and added costs to your final invoice.
Second being aesthetics. At Endless, we are constantly trying to find new innovative ways to make our setups look cleaner and keep cables hidden. However, some planners are very particular about seeing cables. For example, most AV companies consider backstage a “sacred” place where you can be a bit messier with your cables because only talent and the technicians will see the cables. However, if you’d like back of stage to look super tidy and clean, let your technicians know and they will take the extra effort to make it look clean. Also, some AV companies use cable ramps to cover cables however these tend to be bright yellow to avoid tripping. If you do not like the look of cable ramps, other options need to be discussed.
Last is personal preference. We recognize that everyone has their own personal preference when it comes to cables. For example, we have had planners who do not want any cables running where people are walking, whether it’s protected by tape or cable ramp. This requires the AV team to rethink how it is going to run that cable then and may affect your layout. Another example, if you do not want cables running across a walkway, but there is no way to get the cable there, then you may have to rethink that walkway or if that piece of equipment needs to be placed there.
If you have to run cables over a long distance and you want to save aesthetics, and safety, AV companies can rig (hang) cables across the ceiling however, keep in mind that rigging costs (especially if you aren’t rigging already) may go up for this.
Are the projectors front projection or rear projection?
This may seem like a very simple question but it has a whole host of repercussions based on the decision of you and the AV company. This is one of those questions that you OR your AV company should be asking and there are pros and cons to both. Your AV team should be able to do either rear or front projection and if you have a preference, let your AV team know.
If you are rear projecting, your projections will be placed behind stage. This is great if you are looking to safe footprint in front of the stage. It’s also great if you want to avoid when people walk in front of the screen and have a shadow cast on them. However, the downside is you need “throw distance” (the amount of distance needed to fill the entire screen) and if you don’t have enough room behind stage, then this might not be possible. However, be sure to ask if they have any “short throw” projectors available that need less distance to project though they might be more expensive.
Front projection is obviously the opposite of rear projection. If you front project, you have to keep in mind that you need to place the projector in front of the stage and that may be a location that a seat or table currently occupies. In your layout, the AV company should be placing your projector and screen and calculating it’s exact location. There is a compromise to doing front projection but not taking up foot print, and that is to rig the projector to truss (metal systems used to hang lighting, video, etc) or to the ceiling. Keep in mind though, rigging is not possible in all venues, nor can it be cheap.
What is this all going to look like, really look like?
So your AV company has created this epic list of equipment and verbally explained that it’s everything you’re looking for, and you feel happy, but it feels like something is missing. Then the day of the event shows up, and it’s NOTHING like you expected. The screens are smaller than expected, the stage is too small, and there isn’t enough lighting!
There is a very simple way to avoid this from ever happening to you. Request a 3D computer assisted design (CAD) from your AV company. Most AV companies do not offer this because they take a long time to make, but if you request one, they should be willing to do one because it will make sure everyone is on the same page. A 3D CAD will allow the AV company to transform your list of equipment into a three-dimensional rendering of exactly what the stage, screens, lighting, video and everything will look like. Modern CAD softwares even let you see what it looks like with the lights in different colors and even do fly throughs of the event so you can see what it will be like to be there!
Quick Tip: While the first CAD design can be easy, try to get it perfect in as little amount of revisions as possible. Sometimes the first CAD may be free, however the 3rd or 4th revision may cost you money (especially if it’s a complete overhaul).
At Endless, we found that many of our clients weren’t on the same page with us as far as what it would like and where things went so we now include 3D CADs and simple layouts for all our events so that we are all on the same page.
Wait… there’s more?
I hope you’ve enjoyed our top 5 questions that you need to ask your AV company when it comes to layouts. We know that AV can be confusing at times, but we’re here to help make it easy. We’ve recorded and awesome webinar which is jam packed full of tips when you hire your next AV company, so be sure to watch our webinar, Top Tips for Hiring an AV Company. If you have any questions, please let us know and we’ve be glad to answer them, and who knows, maybe we’ll turn one into an in depth article on our blog!