When someone requests sound – whether to support an event, installation or recording – what are they really asking for? Speakers? Microphones? Your best digital toys?
Nope. They want satisfaction. Plain and simple.
In reality they want a flawless event with the highest professionalism on the lowest imaginable budget even if that isn’t being clearly articulated. They probably have an image in their head of themselves basking in the glorious afterglow of applause and celebration, supported by perfect production. They need someone to make that imagined concept a reality.
They ask for sound or production support when they really just want satisfaction.
They might even think that they understand enough to itemize exactly what they want, but rarely will the best amateur efforts match the results of a seasoned veteran. Sometimes we have to specify what we know they need, but can’t exactly ask for.
If I approach you as an AV service provider, system designer, recording engineer or even as a used car salesman, I want to spend my money on a final product that gives me all the positive emotions I’m imagining when it’s over. I want a good price, but I also want a good deal. Price is only one piece of the puzzle. Remember this quote from Ben Franklin. “The bitterness of poor quality remains long after the sweetness of low price is forgotten.”
I’ve turned down substantial opportunities because the early interactions assured me that there was no chance I could make a particular client happy in the way they wanted. When their gig was over, based entirely on the clock or calendar, they were going to expect more labor, gear, time or aggravation than I felt their budget was worthy of.
Case in point…
A deacon of a local church contacted me about upgrading an old system in a much older building. Everything about the room presented the concept of expedience. Wires and equipment had been given the old band-aid treatment regularly for many years and Radio Shack gear would have been an improvement.
After clarifying the expectations for the system, I began discussing his options. Nothing in the room was worth saving. Even the gear that worked didn’t work well. Flea markets generally stock better brand names. So I worked up a quote for an entirely new system.
If I’d had the sense of a gumball, I’d have offered them a phone number and recommendation for a local competitor, but I didn’t. After dozens of mindless negotiations, we went from a new system quote down to a service call. They ended up only purchasing a few MI grade wireless mics (something I formally banned on system quotes immediately afterwards) and a cheap mixer. So we ended up only replacing the absolute worst offenders with new gear. Everything else stayed.
Just to help out a church, I took some extra time to straighten out and repair cables, and label the old equipment after the “new” system was done. Upon returning to inspect his magical new sound, he was moderately disappointed. It was now functional and wireless, but not much improved. Even after re-re-explaining that his archaic speakers were the last and worst link in the chain and everything else depended on them, he became distressed.
I didn’t think an “I told ya so” would help, so I refrained.
When the pastor came in to inspect this glorious new sound system, his disappointment was also pretty evident. He expected everything to be replaced and it all looked the same to him. Ultimately, I informed the pastor that I’d help him however I could, but also asked him not to send that particular deacon back to see me. He then informed me that I wasn’t the first one to say that.
In my drive to help local churches, I accepted many projects that quickly turned out to be far more trouble than they were worth. Each time it came down to spending money and not feeling satisfied with the results. So even when it wasn’t my fault, it was still my fault. Had I spent more time clarifying exactly what it would take to satisfy them when it was all over, I’d have turned down a whole lot more.
As professionals, it’s part of our job to assess and support the needs of our clients. If they understood the intricacies of what we do they probably wouldn’t be hiring us. Understanding that satisfaction is the real goal can go a long way towards that celebratory moment when it all comes together. Or doesn’t.
And thanks to Tumisu for the image up top.