Monday, 24 July 2017

Audio Myths and Legends... busted!

Over the years that I’ve worked in the Hospitality sector there are some statements that I hear time and time again, ‘myths and legends’ of AV that are passed on and often never questioned.  So I’ve decided to address a few of them, the ones that I hear most often, and hope that after you’ve read this you might look at your AV in a whole new light!

More speakers just =  louder sound
In the hospitality sector, our aim is to deliver a consistent guest experience, one which reflects your Brand and encourages repeat visits to your venue, or other venues within your group.  All your diners receive the same quality food & service, so all guests should receive the same quality audio. However, this is so often not the case.

If only a few speakers are fitted, this will lead to audio ‘hot and cold’ spots within a venue.  Taking the dining analogy, proximity to speakers will either make your guests dining experiences ‘loud’, if seated near to a speaker, or quiet for those seated further away.  You wouldn’t have areas of your dining room lit and areas in darkness, so why should this be the case for sound?  

If you install numerous speakers running at a low level, this can create an even and all encompassing sound.  It’s not that more speakers just mean a louder sound, it means that they can create a more consistent sound.  By installing a sound system in this way it will surround your guests, acting as an extension to your lighting and decor, to complement the food and service you offer.

Speakers are black and ugly
Speakers now come in a variety of sizes, colours and finishes.  Some speakers are even invisible and for those that are not, they can be sprayed in any RAL colour to exactly match your decor.  CGA like to get involved as early as possible in the design process to ensure that, where possible, speakers are integrated and hidden.  We can offer plaster in “invisible speakers” and have even installed these behind a gold leaf to deliver both a five star sound and aesthetic!

If the sound system requires visible speakers, these can be colour coordinated with your design scheme.  CGA can finish most speakers to any RAL colour.  If the grill or even the speaker cabinet is visible, this can be the same colour as your ceiling or wall, or if desired they can be finished in a coordinated colour to match other design elements, to give a fully coordinated appearance.  So although speakers are also available in black, if this isn’t the colour of choice it’s really not an issue!

But the speakers in the restaurant next door are tiny!
The tiny domestic ‘design led’ speakers that you see dotted around in certain bars and restaurants are often favoured by designers, as they have minimum impact aesthetically, but these are actually only the visible part of a much bigger system. Their size might be attractive if you are trying to minimise any visual impact, but when you install small speakers such as these, they only reproduce mid and high-frequency sound.  To get a full range sound you will always need to add a complimentary larger cabinet, (or bass bin), to fill in the warm full bass and lower sound frequencies which these tiny speakers cannot reproduce.

These ‘bass bins’ as they are referred to are much harder to place in your venue, as they invariably create a bass ‘hot spot’. A salesman might state that “bass is Omni directional, you can put a bass bin anywhere.”  This is an accurate statement, bass sound does spread in all directions, but it spreads from the bass bin and similar to the example given above when we looked at speaker numbers, if you have a table next to the bass bin guests there will hear the bass much more than those at a table placed further away, resulting in each guest having a very different audio experience. There are ways to work with bass bins to try to mitigate this effect, but if you fitted slightly larger full range speakers instead, this will ensure that all of your guests receive the same audio experience and consistency of sound as they move through your venue.  As we have mentioned above, speakers now come in many different colours and finishes so their size really shouldn’t affect the aesthetics of your interior design!

Why have a music player, I can use my iPod or Spotify in the Bar
Whilst there are many legal pitfalls in this statement, even if you can address these, a portable music player or streamed music source will just offer inferior quality sound.

Many digital sound formats are very heavily compressed to allow sound files to be sent over the internet as fast and as easily as possible. Unfortunately, once compressed, much of the ‘dynamics’ and ‘excitement’ is lost from the music for ever, so even if you have the greatest sound system in the world, it will still sound flat and lifeless due to the poor quality of the source material.  Amplifiers do what their name suggests, they just amplify sound, what you put in is exactly what you get out, only louder! So if you use a poor quality music source, you just get loud, poor quality music.

In addition to this, if you do have a sound system which uses an iPod as a music source, there is always the concern over control.  You run the risk of staff using their iPods and playing music that they like to listen to, as opposed to playing the carefully selected music playlist that is right for your customers in your venue.

When choosing a music content provider, always talk to them about the file size and compression rates they use.  Ask them to explain and demonstrate the difference between the same track on a CD and on their music player to ensure that the music quality is right for you and your venue.  

There are some exciting new technologies now available such as the revolutionary new British technology MQA.  It is still a compressed music format, but MQA offers better time alignment which considerably improves the quality of the music output from compressed files.  Once it has passed through the MQA decoder in the sound system, the track is reproduced in the same quality as the sound recorded by the artist in the recording studio!  In a quality hospitality venue why would you settle for anything less?

I hope that I have succeeded in breaking down some long standing AV ‘myths and legends’.  Obviously, each venue and every room is different and each desires to create a unique experience for their clients. Here at CGA Integration we pride ourselves on understanding customer needs and striving to apply the best AV solution every time. Why not contact us to see how we can make your AV work better for you in your venue?

Monday, 12 June 2017

Come in, relax and make yourself at home …

Sound; the missing link in the sensory jigsaw:
Come in, relax and make yourself at home … how would you like your guests to feel when they think about visiting your venue?

In the Hospitality Industry we are all searching to make people feel as welcome and relaxed as possible.  Venues invest in exquisite decor, beautifully designed lighting schemes and specially selected staff, carefully trained to deliver outstanding customer service, but do you still find that not everyone can truly relax?  Some guests can remain on edge throughout their stay and fail to immerse themselves in the wonderful environment created around them.

Maybe sound is the missing link in the sensory jigsaw, the subconscious trigger in helping all your guests to truly relax.

Our hearing is so often the sense we take for granted.  Sound tends to just happen around us.  Familiar noises such as aeroplanes flying overhead, phones ringing, vacuum cleaners whirring, birds singing, children playing or people walking by, just become background noise.  It's often not until you stop and really listen that you can pick out each of these individual sounds.

Our bodies are in a neutral state around sounds that we are use to hearing, but if we are placed in an unfamiliar environment or situation with noises that we are not use to, our sense of hearing becomes heightened and our body becomes generally more alert.  This biological reaction links back to our inbuilt “Fight or Flight” response, which is designed to keep us safe.  As cavemen, our ancestors faced the regular question “should we stay and ward off this prehistoric predator or run as fast as we can to get away from it?”  Thankfully, we no longer generally face this kind of dilemma on a daily basis, but the inbuilt “Fight or Flight” response remains hard wired into our psyche.

Silence and sudden loud noises can often affect us in a similar way.  If we consider the natural world for a moment, predators are often met with an ‘alarm’ call to warn others in their group of impending danger and potentially scare off the intruder, in much the same way as the modern equivalent of a smoke detector, house or car alarm.  Conversely, potential prey can often remain still and silent to conceal their presence from a predator, which in turn heightens their other senses and prepares their bodies for ‘flight’.  These inbuilt behaviours remain part of us even today, so getting sound right for your guests is a crucial part in helping them to truly relax, even though they might not be able to tell you why!

Getting it right:
So how do you get it right?  This is not just about sound for sound’s sake, but about using sound in the right way to help change your guest’s opinions, from liking your venue into really loving it.

By eliminating unwanted noises, choosing a soundtrack to complement your Brand and delivering this through a well designed, expertly installed, flexible sound system, you can address the missing link in the sensory jigsaw.  This removes areas of silence, helps to reduce the inbuilt “Fight or Flight” response in us all and joins together all the other sensory messages experienced by your guests enabling them to truly relax.

Eliminating unwanted noises and reduce noise reflection:
Before you start adding sound to a space you need to consider noises which already exist or which can be heard from within that space, which might have a detrimental effect on your guests, for example noise from; traffic, open kitchens, doors slamming or phones ringing.  Ideally all these noises need to be diminished.

Stand and clap your hands in the space, think about how every noise will or will not be reflected throughout that area, if necessary add some sound absorbing surfaces to deaden these reflections so that you have as blank an acoustic canvas as possible to start painting your soundscape on.  To help, you can engage an acoustic environment consultant to measure the existing noise within the space.  They will then advise you on how to minimise noise and ‘audio bleed’ from other areas.

Choosing a soundtrack to complement your Brand:
Work with a music provider to ensure that the music you are playing complements and enhances your Brand.  Who are your guests? Does your offer change throughout the day? Indeed does your customer demographic change throughout the day? Your music content choice needs to reflect all of these variables.

A well designed, expertly installed, flexible sound system:
To generate the best sound, you need to ensure that the correct speakers and reproductive equipment are installed for your space.  Not every sound system will deliver the right sound. How you hear sound in a space changes considerably with decorative finishes and also once it is occupied.  A specialist sound system designer and installer will create the best sound system for your space, choosing and fitting the right equipment to deliver what you need it to do throughout the day, every day.

Once you have worked through the issue of unwanted noise & sound reflection and chosen the right music content, you may well find that the amount of music you have to add to a space is vastly reduced, as you are no longer competing with or trying to mask other sounds.

To find out if sound really is the missing link in your venue’s sensory jigsaw why not contact CGA Integration today and arrange a full AV review.  Help your guests to immerse themselves in your hospitality experience and truly relax.

Tuesday, 4 April 2017

Making BYOD happen effectively in your venue

What is BYOD?
It is becoming essential that hospitality conferencing venues and meeting rooms are compatible with the growing trend of BYOD (bring your own device).  At CGA Integration we are being approached by more and more venues to ensure that their meeting,conference and huddle rooms are able to operate in a flexible way; allowing delegates to connect and collaborate seamlessly wirelessly from any device as part of an event, without the need for dedicated hardware or a lengthy setup process.  This added functionality and ease of use of equipment will make your meeting rooms more attractive generating more bookings and more repeat bookings from delegates.

The ability to collaborate & present
As we all become more dependent on our mobile devices, tablets and phones, the dynamic and requirements placed on meeting and presentation rooms is changing quickly.  

Firstly, with delegates regularly working in the cloud and not actually having a device that stores all their information, the need for a good or preferably impressive internet connection is essential.  

Secondly it is now normal to touch a screen.  Even at a very young age, children are already familiar with the pinching and finger movements required to zoom into and resize images on a screen.  The next step is to deliver this into your meeting rooms.  It will be intuitive for your clients to move from their touch screen device to a touch screen wall display with the same functionality; allowing them to show all the delegates in a room what is on their device. This is now possible with wall mounted screens and even with projected systems.

Thirdly, we are all working more disparately; in different locations and on our own devices, but often we all still need to show our take or interpretation on the same problem, challenge, or data in question. The next generation of presentation devices allows you to connect and display multiple devices on screen at one time.  This gives you for example, the ability to show the actual sales figures from the salesperson’s device next to the accounts department forecasts, without the need for individuals to meet first to share all the information and collate it onto one PowerPoint slide.

Remote Participants
Modern technology also allows people to participate actively in meetings whilst being in another venue or even country.  If a key delegate is unable to travel but wants to attend a meeting and actively participate in discussions, it is possible to use services such as Skype to bring remote delegates up onto the screen and hear them clearly through speakers.  In addition, they can share their desktop computer on the meeting room screen enabling them to make a presentation and discuss this with the other meeting delegates as if they were in the same room. In a more advanced or larger conference suite it is possible to bring remote delegates up on a separate screen to the data, so that you can see more of the individual, including their body language and hand gestures.

Most of the modern display technology and certainly the screen sharing products all offer the ability to personalise the display of the system.  This allows you to add your own Branding and personalise any login instructions for your delegates, making your systems clear and easy to use.  When delegates enter a room the screen can show your message, logo, room name and how the delegates can connect their device to work in this space.

How does it work?
BYOD connectivity works just like logging in to get internet access in a public space.  To ensure secure connection, your delegates will need to use the correct SSID (wireless access point) in the wi fi settings of their device, login and then enter a password to connect securely to the display in the room.

Support and keeping up with device changes
All the quality systems are now network ready. Devices sit on your hotel LAN and can be easily addressed and updated by your AV or IT team over the network, thus enabling you to be ready for the next IOS version or security patch. Some devices even have a management software suite which makes monitoring and support even easier.

How can I make this happen in my hotel?
For more information on how to make your meeting and conference rooms BYOD compatible please contact CGA Integration to discuss your specific requirements in more detail.  We look forward to working with you soon.

Friday, 24 February 2017

Creating the right soundtrack for weddings

Weddings in the UK are big business, with couples and their parents spending thousands of pounds on their big day.  Organising a wedding is a very stressful event, in surveys it’s up there with death of a loved one, divorce and moving house!  What should be a very joyous occasion, is often overshadowed by all the little details the happy couple need to consider, coordinate and arrange.  

Choosing a venue for both the service and the reception is a key decision for every bride and groom.  Selecting somewhere which offers the right mix of facilities whilst creating the right atmosphere for their big day is paramount.  Music is one of the key strands to run throughout the day, from the arrival of the first guest, to the service, into the reception & wedding breakfast with speeches, to the first dance and into the evening entertainment.  Helping your guests by offering them all the AV facilities they need will make their lives easier and make them more likely to choose your venue over others.

Music is so important.  Helping your guests to create the soundtrack for their special day is a vital part of a successful wedding.  When we hear songs from the past they can stir up powerful emotions and transport us back in time. Like stepping into a time machine; you can feel everything as if you were actually there. The Bride and Groom might want to capture memories from special events at their wedding; music which reminds them of when and where they met, their first date or the proposal.  The relationship between music and memory is powerful, which is all the more reason to get the right associations for every wedding day.  Deliver this in the right way to ensure that wonderful memories of the wedding, at your venue, continue to be conjured up in the minds of the happy couple and their alike guests for many years to come.  

What music and technology do I need to offer my guest?

AV requirements for a wedding will vary throughout the day and will depend on if your venue is licenced to conduct the wedding service as well as hold the reception.  To help you to make sure that nothing gets missed, here is a helpful checklist to ensure that you, and any events companies or DJ’s you may employ, have everything you need to make your guest’s big day sound just how they want it to.

(i) Ceremony music
Many of your Brides and Grooms may choose to bring their own music for their service.  As such you need to let them know what format this needs to be in and ensure that you have a connection point in the main ceremony room to enable them to play pre, post and during ceremony music.  This either needs to be accessible and easily operated by someone in the wedding party, such as an usher, or by a member of your staff if necessary.  If the Bride and Groom opt for live music during the ceremony, you will also need to ensure that you have got microphones or power for instruments available.

In larger rooms a microphone and possibly an induction loop might also be needed to ensure that the registrar can be heard by all the guests.

(ii) Before and after the ceremony
Your Bride and Groom may request that you play their own background music either before or after the ceremony, during any reception drinks and possibly in the dining area where the wedding breakfast is served.  Ideally all these rooms, if there are more than one, should be linked to enable the same music to be played throughout.  This creates the same mood for all the guests, allowing them to all feel part of the same event.

It is possible that the Bride and Groom may request live music to be played after the service during the drinks reception, maybe a piano with or without a vocalist or even a saxophone or string quartet, so again microphones and power for certain instruments might be required in another area. Whatever the music choice, it's important that guests don’t mingle in silence, as it can make people feel uncomfortable, equally the music that they hear needs to be appropriate, and played at a suitable volume, to ensure that it doesn’t overpower their conversation.  

(iii) The Wedding Breakfast
From the toastmaster through to the speeches after dinner, it is key that everyone in the wedding party can hear what is happening during this equally important part of the day.  A good speaker system in your main dining or events space is key to this, you deliver the same quality food & service to all your guests and they should also expect to receive the same quality audio.  

Considering the all important speeches, make sure that everyone can be heard by ensuring that microphones are available if necessary.  Some guests may be hard of hearing or some speakers might be too embarrassed or emotional to really deliver clearly throughout the whole of their speech.  To help everyone, It is always best to have a microphone and suitable speakers on hand so that every guest can hear all of the proceedings and really feel involved in the day.  The best and most aesthetic delivery of sound will always be from an installed ceiling speaker system that is specifically designed to cover that room.   If you do not yet have this facility at your venue and the DJ is to be in the dining room after the wedding breakfast, it might be possible to use the DJ’s speakers for the speeches.  It's worth remembering however that these might not fit with the decor and ambience of the wedding breakfast and the sound will not be best balanced this way.

With the rise of multimedia, do you have a projector and screen to allow the speakers to show the guests any photographs?  From baby photos to selected images from the stag and hen parties, your speakers may want some visual cues to help them deliver their speeches, (and jokes), sharing images and memories.  This may be something that you use an external events company or the DJ for, as many DJs now use video screens to show video clips and pictures, but either way it may well be something that you are asked if you can provide.

Using digital signage can help to direct guests around your function spaces and signpost what is occurring in different areas as well as helping to personalise the event to help to celebrate the day.

(iv) After dinner entertainment
Although a playlist can be very personal and work to create a mood as background music during the drinks reception or the meal, it is very difficult to predict which songs will work well at what times during a party.

As an ex-DJ, I would urge you to encourage your Brides and Grooms to hire a professional DJ or entertainer.  For a DJ, a wedding reception can be one of the hardest gigs, as the audience you have to engage with is truly diverse: from grandchildren to grandparents, ballroom dancers to ravers and everyone in between!  Pleasing everyone and keeping the dancefloor full can be a real challenge, but  when you get it right it's very rewarding.  

A good DJ will be more than someone who just plays a compiled playlist, they should read the crowd and respond to their mood and dancing preferences, cracking appropriate jokes and creating a memorable party atmosphere along the way, which a predefined playlist just cannot achieve. A real professional will mix selected tracks in with the dancing so that it means something to the Bride and Groom and yet the rest of the crowd, who may be too young or too old to remember your special tracks, can still have a great night.

As a venue owner you need to see how you can make the DJ look like part of your venue for the day to come together seamlessly.

In an ideal world you would have the DJ set up prior to the ceremony and reception drinks so that the set up is not seen, although with some venues resetting rooms for dancing after dinner this can be harder to accomplish.  If this is not possible, think about hiding the DJ equipment behind a curtain or screen or even under table cloths so that the turnaround is faster and boxes do not have to be carried through the venue, breaking the mood of the day which everyone has tried so hard to create.

(v) What is better, owning or hiring?
There are certain items, which as a quality venue you should own, to ensure that they are available to offer your guests at all times, but other equipment you may wish to just consider hiring.  The table below should help you to prioritise your choices.

Speakers in dining & events spaces
Speeches & background music
Yes, this should be a minimum requirement
Radio Microphone
Enabling speeches in any location within events spaces
Yes if demand is high enough

If you find the use of this is infrequent then hiring makes sense
Music player socket, input in function space
Play ceremony or pre and post ceremony music
Yes, this socket should be located in a logical place for guests and or staff to connect and play back music
DJ equipment or Band equipment
Wedding evening party
Yes, allow for the use of power sockets, set up space, limiters, etc
Yes, hire in a professional from an agency or from the Bride and Groom’s personal experience
Best man's speech, memory images, etc
Yes, if you have enough storage space and regular use of these.  They can also be used as meeting screens.
Yes, allow for power sockets around the venue
Yes, hire from local events or AV providers as and when the need arises.  This allows you to hire a screen appropriate to the size of the event.

(vi) Managing music volume
If wedding guests are also staying at your venue make sure that where possible you place the guests most likely to be disturbed by a noisy DJ at the other end of your venue, put the best man and bridesmaids in the bedrooms over the dancefloor, as they are most likely to need to change or freshen up and are most likely the last to bed! If this is not possible, try to work with the DJ to maintain a sensible noise level.  Limiters can be fitted and the Environmental Health Officer may insist on these, but try to avoid this route if you can as they can create a poor guest experience, causing the sound to cut out just as the party gets going which equally may mean that the DJ will not want to play your venue again! Some sound limiters have a traffic light system, which if managed correctly enable the venue manager and or DJ to see when the music is getting too loud and to take action to address this gradually and in a controlled way without actually killing the ambience of the evening.

By considering all of this you really should be well on the way to helping your prospective Brides and Grooms create the perfect soundtrack to their wedding.  With music being so closely linked to evoking memories, getting it right through for your guests will mean that you can create the very best memories of their special day at your venue.

For further information about AV equipment and installations for weddings and all other events please call CGA Integration to discuss how to make the most of your venue.