Just throwing a bunch of sound into a room is NOT pro-audio.
The opinions expressed are mine only. These opinions do not necessarily reflect anybody else’s opinions. I do not own, operate, manage, or represent any band, venue, or company that I talk about, unless explicitly noted.
Since pre-school, I have known that calling people names is not a very nice thing. It’s not something that Winnie The Pooh would do, except by mistake, and if he did make that mistake, the end of the episode would have all the residents of the Hundred-Acre Wood coming together to learn a very special lesson. Eeyore would say something unintentionally funny. Christopher Robin would say “Silly old bear.”
But I sometimes do invent derogatory names for people and organizations. I especially invent those names when people or organizations manage to get things wrong in a very complete and glaring way – particularly when it comes to live audio.
(In the name of fairness, let me present that audio-humans are sometimes called “Squeaks.” It’s a reference to some of the unpleasant sounds we’ve been known to make, which includes feedback. I believe I have earned the label on more than one occasion.)
Events over the last couple of weeks have led me to concoct the epithet, “Projector Hanger.” A Projector Hanger may also be called a “D!@# Projector Hanger,” or a “G!@ D!@# Projector Hanger,” or even a “F!@#$%^ PROJECTOR HANGER,” depending upon just how much of a metaphorical mess they’ve left for folks like me to clean up.
A Projector Hanger is an A/V integrator who has no business installing a public-address audio system (because they have no clue about what makes such a system actually work well), yet installs such a system anyway. They attach this fundamentally screwed-up monstrosity to the bit of the install they actually do understand: A reasonably bright projector, maybe with HD capability, which is pointed at a screen and supplied with various inputs at some convenient location. This final bit of behavior actually provides a gateway to identifying – and hopefully avoiding – Projector Hangers.
Projector Hangers are adept at directly firing some sort of light emitter at a reflective target, such as a proper screen or brightly-painted wall. They seem to assume that this is the way to go for everything, and so they have an alarming tendency to fire sound emitters (loudspeakers) directly at reflective targets. Reflective targets like…hardwood floors. This creates an acoustical crapstorm of multiple, secondary arrivals, ensuring that everybody in the room is sitting as deeply in a reverberant field as may be practicable. Intelligibility drops like a rock as transients from words spoken into a microphone smear, bounce, ricochet, and rattle to the maximum extent possible. Gain before feedback throws up its hands and takes a sick day as overhead loudspeakers fire into the sides of microphones, and also as those microphones pick up even more re-entrant noise from the vortex of acoustical reflections.
(A primary indicator of a Projector Hanger is that the audio side of the system LOOKS nice, being unobtrusive and able to blend in with the decor, but the actual audio from the audio side SOUNDS awful.)
More Is Better, Right?
The Projector Hanger is a lover of large images. Wide throw. Multiple screens. Make sure everyone can see it! They apply this same mentality to audio, seemingly thinking that the key to everyone hearing well is for everyone to just hear something. Anything!
To accomplish this, the Projector Hanger installs a lot of speakers, with the intent that sound should be sprayed everywhere. So, even before the sound from all those loudspeakers smacks into the floor, a nightmare of multiple arrivals and destructive interference has been summoned. Also, the Projector Hanger can be counted on to compound this problem by deploying loudspeakers in spaced pairs. (The ability to reproduce stereo sound from a playback device is paramount, even if the critical application for the system is to reinforce the signal from a single microphone.) These spaced pairs further aggravate the multiple arrival and interference problems, and also feed the gaping maw of the acoustical issues: Why just hit the floor with a bunch of sound when you can also hit the walls!
Math Is Hard
Another indicator that a Projector Hanger has been on the loose is when equal numbers no longer correspond. For example:
The Projector Hanger, wishing to be helpful, installs an easy-access XLR jack for a microphone line. The jack is labeled “Mic 1,” and the label even looks like it was silkscreened directly onto the jackplate. It all looks so PRETTY.
They then permanently wire the output of that jack to a set of terminal blocks on a super-classy input mixer and amplifier. The control knobs on the device were clearly labeled at the factory, so that a person could easily find the gain controls for various channels. It would make sense, then, that the jackplate labeled “Mic 1” would be wired to “Input 1” on the mixer-amplifier unit. Of course, that’s not what happens. In an astounding bit of mental gymnastics, perhaps influenced by the literary horrorscapes of HP Lovecraft, the Projector Hanger decides that “1” is actually equal to “2.” That’s where the jack is wired. Input 1 is actually used for the installed wireless system – but no labeling is put in place to clear this up.
One day, an audio-human ties into the system through “Mic 1.” All the knobs on the mixer-amplifier are down, meaning that no signal passes through the system. The audio-human rolls the volume up on “Input 1,” but no noise is heard. The audio-human naturally thinks that there’s a cabling problem, and proceeds to waste a huge chunk of time looking for the bad connection. Eventually, the sound craftsperson gives up and deploys their fallback option – only to later discover that the whole mess was caused by a moronic, undocumented connection scheme.
I can see the argument in my head right now.
Projector Hanger: “Why didn’t you try more knobs?”
Sound Person: “Why can’t YOU COUNT?”
The Backup Is Better Than The Primary
The interface (or, perhaps more appropriately, catastrophic collision) between a pro-audio tech and a Projector Hanger is highly instructive in other ways. I mentioned above that a series of problems might force an audio human to take an alternate route. This alternate route might have been, say, patching into a single, inexpensive, powered loudspeaker sitting on a tripod stand.
Before this particular debacle, the sound person had been trying valiantly to spray-paint the acoustical turd that the Projector Hanger had created. To this end, a very large number of parametric EQ filters had been used. By “large number,” what I mean is, “all that were available.” The EQ transfer function applied to try to make the system usable was (quite frankly) insane, and was implemented across two processors. One was patched across the total output of the audio human’s mixer, and the other was inserted on a wireless headset.
When the fallback solution was implemented, the tech bypassed all the EQ. All that crazy finagling could not be counted on to be helpful in the situation, so it was better to start from scratch. This was unfortunate, but the operator was poised and ready to fight any problems in realtime. Some faders for wired mics were pushed up on the console.
The sound was, actually, very good. With nothing beyond basic channel EQ, the single, ugly, cheap loudspeaker on a stick was handily beating the CRAP out of the multi-unit, nice-looking, expensive install. The headset mic also had plenty of usable gain, although the audio human did use a few inserted filters to clean up a bit of mud and harshness. When an emergency-implemented “I don’t know what else to do, so let’s just get through it” solution works better than the thing that was all planned out…
…you might just have had a run in with a Projector Hanger.