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Live Music Production in Sports Venues

Popular music has been showcased in acoustically challenging environments for decades, pleasing audiences despite the fact that live sound engineers must often fight physics to deliver anything between great and acceptable audio quality.

The 8,600-seat Ted Constant Convocation Center at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, VA Popular music has been showcased in acoustically challenging environments for decades, pleasing audiences despite the fact that live sound engineers must often fight physics to deliver anything between great and acceptable audio quality. While their seating arrangements may be nearly ideal for live concerts, the acoustics of most purpose-built sports venues are not; concrete surfaces and metal/plastic chairs abound, and early reflection issues and bass-multiplying corners, nooks and crannies often fight the actions of even the most skilled audio engineer.

While these challenges are nothing new, many technologies to deal with them are. At the risk of sounding overly simplistic, here we detail some considerations that any sports venue’s management should consider to improve what they can provide in order to increase overall quality, and frequency, of profitable live music performances.

Give Your Teams Better House Sound

Every game is an opportunity to show audiences how your venue can be a great-sounding one. After all, “hype” music pumped out at games should energize, not underwhelm. The better your announcements, pre-, post- and halftime audio material sounds, the more likely those in attendance will return for a non-sport musical event in the future. Guest vocalists, center-court musical acts performing to tracks and so on can all benefit from a great-sounding house PA, broadening the appeal of any sporting event while encouraging return business as well.

While budgeting for the biggest and best electronic scoreboard you can afford, consider balancing it with equal audio capabilities in the form of line array muscle. For example, the 8,600-seat Ted Constant Convocation Center at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, VA—a premier mid-sized collegiate venue—recently underwent a comprehensive audio upgrade centered on a 360-degree QSC Audio WideLine-8 line array system encircling its center court scoreboard: five enclosures per court short sides and six per court long sides for a total of 22 cabinets. Additionally, 22 AcousticDesign S82H eight-inch surface-mount speakers cover all 16 third-floor suites in “The Ted.” Power is supplied by QSC PowerLight 3 and CX Series amplification, with a Q-Sys Core 500i handling all signal distribution and processing. Onyx AudioVisual of Chesapeake, VA installed the turnkey system.

Creative budgeting often comes into play in major A/V installs and upgrades, with the “audio” often only coming first when saying “audio/visual,” commiserates John Garrido, an RF Engineer for Professional Wireless Systems of Orlando, FL, a firm that often works alongside national tour audio vendors like Thunder Audio. “The screens, some of which are 20 yards wide, are huge,” he explains. “They’re also considered necessary. The screen at the new Dallas Cowboys stadium [AT&T Stadium in Arlington, TX] is immense and two-sided. It was part of the budget, but I recall that it took away a lot from the audio [financial allotment]. I have seen where instances where audio upgrades can be challenging positions to defend, as video and projectors get the biggest chunk of the budget.”

Grand Canyon University’s L-Acoustics Arcs Wide cluster near center court position. Cover The Niches

As illustrated in the QSC installation example above, progressive modern venues will carefully provide audio to acoustically-challenged (or glass-separated) suites, skyboxes and other gathering areas. There’s a lot of potential in selling groups into a private room for musical events, opening up ticket sales to new customer subgroups, but only, of course, if the acts can be heard and enjoyed. Particularly in some underfunded municipal venues, suites and sub-sectioned areas are not provided with sufficient sound reinforcement, thus the spaces can’t be profitable for events other than games. For forward-thinking venue managers, a growth area can be seen as simply investing in a better house sound system, and touring acts can tie into these systems just as easily as they tie into any given amphitheater’s “lawn rig.”

If the budget is available, take this philosophy and run with it—to the restrooms and public spaces, too. Any time audiences on the move can continue to hear the action on the court or from the stage, they stay more engaged and leave with a better overall sense of well-being, connectedness and inclusion—leading to more paid events attended in the future.

Provide Tons of Wi-Fi Coverage, Everywhere

Not only will your audience appreciate comprehensive (and free) Wi-Fi coverage—and the use of their smartphones will increase your appearance on social media, no doubt—but the appreciation will be shared by guest musical acts. In researching for this article, the most frequent need expressed was for better Wi-Fi coverage throughout a venue, particularly in basketball arenas full of concrete and cinderblock crevices. Not only do these professionals prefer to be connected, too, but many of the latest audio tools require Wi-Fi—from tablet-based remote mix, system routing and acoustic measurement/analysis tools to many personal mixing and musician-wielded effects processors, too.

As an RF/wireless systems engineer, Garrido often finds himself working in the bowels of NBA and NCAA basketball arenas. Here, Wi-Fi coverage is an issue, not to mention available wireless “white space” real estate. “We have noticed that [municipal sports venues] are working on upgrading [their Wi-Fi], but being city-run and are budget-restricted, it’s often only some of the newer ones have been well-equipped,” he observes. “The older ones don’t have the same capabilities, though we all need access.”

Choose A Systems Designer Wisely

Any venue’s management considering an investment in an audio systems upgrades should do it’s homework before spending a dime, and that’s a relatively easy, and fun, assignment: attend musical events at similarly sized and constructed venues, make a short list of the best sounding ones, and inquire about their systems designers/installers. After all, rewarding a good design/installer’s success with your own business can be a reciprocal act.

Another route would be to employ a known concert sound provider that also does systems integration, as Grand Canyon University recently did when hiring Clearwing Productions of Phoenix, AZ to install new L-Acoustics Arcs Wide and Kara loudspeaker systems for its 5,000-seat multipurpose sports and entertainment venue. 32 Arcs Wide enclosures make up the arena’s fixed system, while a 12-enclosure Kara system with four SB18 flown subwoofers, eight SB28 ground-stacked subwoofers, and various front- and out-fill boxes comprise its portable touring rig. “Clearwing has been providing concert sound for most of our touring events and larger productions over the past two years, and they’ve frequently brought in Kara,” notes GCU Arena audio engineer Ian Schell. “So when the time came to upgrade our basketball audio system, it made good financial sense to simultaneously invest in our own in-house Kara system, seeing that it’s already proven itself here in the arena many times over.”

Investigate Better Acoustic Treatment

Last but not least, consider acoustic treatment. It’s no secret that people are primarily visually oriented, especially when it comes to entertainment, and what you aren’t hearing is usually not a consideration outside of audio professional circles. That said, acoustic treatment is often an underfunded, yet necessary, investment for any sports venue considering live music as a means of program diversification. If your chosen audio contractor does not do physical acoustic treatment installations, you may want to inquire about who does, or seek out a separate industrial/commercial acoustician for a consult. There’s nothing like fixing a problem by compensating or adjusting around it.

Dr. Peter D’Antonio, founder and CEO of RPG Diffusor Systems, Inc., poses that sports venues have the most unique intelligibility and noise control problems of any commercial or industrial environments where acoustics are crucial. “These expansive open-air or indoor venues are designed to provide optimal visibility,” he offers. “But even the highest-quality public address systems have inherent limitations in their ability to ensure clear voice transmission and reinforcement if the venue has inadequate acoustical treatment.”

As such, he recommends considering some non-fabric treatments, such as his own Quietstone, an acoustic treatment panel formed from recycled stone aggregate or glass. “In addition to sound reflections, extensive reverberation, and excessive crowd noise, daily exposure to harsh weather conditions and standard cleaning regimens coalesce into an abrasive environment … [it is] hard on traditional cloth wrapped sound absorptive panels.” That said, enclosed arenas, unaffected by changes in moisture and weather, may find success in using simple fabric-based treatment materials, just as pro-grade recording studios do.