This week, I'm going to deviate from the usual studio-related subject matter to talk about a more general issue. Have you noticed how in the "real world," outside of our little bubble, audio issues are frequently given short shrift, if they're considered at all? This was reinforced for me while attending a friend's wedding this past weekend, an event that was rife with sound problems.
The ceremony took place outdoors in a wooded area, in which there was a fair bit of ambient noise from the wind and a rushing stream. The guests, who numbered about 150, were pretty spread out. They were seated in two main sections bisected by an aisle, in rows of about 20 chairs on each side.
A flute and guitar duo played before the ceremony started, and they were placed so far off to one side that their music was barely audible for half the audience. The organizers had a pretty decent P.A. system set up, but the duo was going through its own little system, which wasn't nearly loud enough.
When the ceremony started, neither the person officiating, nor the bride and groom, nor the other folks who got up to speak had a clue about proper mic technique. Everyone talked way too far off the mic, and so it was hard to hear them much of the time.
I was sitting there thinking, "They had a rehearsal for this? Didn't anyone notice these sound problems?"
Naturally, the visual aspects of the ceremony were perfect. The bride and groom were impeccably dressed, there were flowers all over and everything looked great. But the sound was clearly an afterthought. Whoever supplied the P.A. (or the staff at the venue, or somebody!) should have made sure the participants understood that you need to place the microphone close to your mouth for your voice to be picked up well. They should also have positioned the live musicians more centrally and put them into the main sound system.
The lack of attention to audio manifested itself at the reception, too, which took place later in the evening in the main dining room of this sprawling—and no doubt expensive—venue. The sizeable indoor space had pretty cavernous acoustics. As we walked in, a DJ was spinning for the dancers; it sounded more boomy and indistinct than it should have. When it came time for the toasts, not only were most people once again too far off the mic, but the overly reflective space made it even harder to understand what was said.
A lot of money clearly went into the construction of this building, yet there seemed to be precious little in the way of acoustical design. But this is hardly uncommon. You see this in restaurants all the time. How many times have you been to a stunningly decorated restaurant with crappy acoustics? The concept that hard surfaces intensify sound reflections doesn't seem that hard to grasp for restaurant owners and designers. What's the value of beautiful decor when you can't hear the person next to you?
In the "civilian" world—that is, among those who aren't musicians or audio professionals of some sort—it seems that audio issues are given frighteningly low priority, if considered at all. That wedding ceremony could have been more memorable if the sonic problems had been ironed out in advance. Restaurants and catering venues would offer a better experience to their customers if they brought in an acoustical consultant before finalizing their designs.
Perhaps human nature is such that people are just more focused on the visual, which is often more immediately stimulating. Whatever the reason, audio ends up being a second-class citizen way too often in daily life.