Choosing an AV Company—Common Terms, What to Expect & Important Questions to Ask
Updated: Jan 12
So You Need to Find an AV Company
If you are someone in need of an AV company’s services, the options you find yourself with after a quick google search can be daunting. One company may advertise “stunning and elegant events,” another might say that they stock “the best equipment on the market.” Even if you know a fair amount about AV equipment, sorting through the different companies you find can be confusing. This blog post will teach you everything you need to know to make an informed decision when selecting an AV company.
First Things First… Industry Lingo
If you are an AV expert and just searching for the best company, this section won’t be of much of use to you. However, for those of you who don’t know exactly what you’re getting yourself in to, let this be where you start!
AV companies will almost always break down their labor costs into two categories: Day Rates or Week-Rates. An industry standard day rate accounts for approximately 10 hours of labor, while a half-day is usually around 5. AV companies might also charge you for a travel day if your event is more than a few hours away from their headquarters. Travel days are charged at a half day rate.
Equipment Rental Rates
The cost of equipment rental is charged separately from labor on your quote/invoice (we’ll get to those in a second!) Different pieces of equipment will have different prices set by your AV company. Newer equipment will usually be accompanied with a higher rental rate than older gear, but that doesn’t always mean it’s a better option. Some of the most trusted equipment in the industry hasn’t been updated in years. You can expect that the main pieces of your rental, speakers, projectors, screens, and microphones will all be listed as separate line items on your quotes/invoices. It should be expected that all accompanying items to your main pieces of equipment, such as cables and stands are included. Some AV companies may elect to simple charge for a “cable package” which would include all necessary cabling.
Load In and Load Out
Load in refers to the time the equipment is delivered and/or setup. Load out refers to the time that the company breaks down equipment and takes it out of the venue. Load out is sometimes referred to as “strike.” Although it seems self-explanatory, there are some nuances to remember with load in and out times. Always make sure to budget for enough load in time. Your AV company should inform you how long it should take to setup your equipment. If you are coordinating times with the venue, make sure to inform them of the allotted time. A rush load-in can be extremely stressful for all parties involved. It is important that ample time is allowed to test any complicated equipment you might be using.
Quoting & Invoicing
When you approach an AV company about an event, they will ask questions to determine what equipment you will need, and whether they will be able to service your event. Your quote will contain a list of equipment that you will be renting and individual prices for each item. These are referred to line items. Most quotes will also show labor quotes, or you may be given a separate quote for labor. After you accept your quote, an AV company will usually follow up with an invoice. The total amount displayed on the invoice should never differ from your quote!
Common AV Equipment
Almost always refers to PA, or public address speakers. These are broken into a variety of categories. Common ones are mains (tops), subwoofers (bottoms), stage monitors, and line arrays. Mains function as the primary speakers in a PA system, producing most of the frequency range. Subs fill out the sound of a PA system, boosting low bass frequencies, making for a powerful sound. Stage monitors are speakers facing the opposite direction of the primary PA speakers, providing sound for any performers or speakers on stage so they can hear themselves. Line arrays are a completely different class of PA system. They are made up of a number of usually identical loudspeaker elements mounted in a line. They are commonly flown, or rigged, from a ceiling or structural beam.
There are a wide variety of microphones, all with differing shapes, sizes, pickup patterns and applications. While your AV company should be expected to recommend the best microphones for your event, it is good to know some basic information about them.
Wired vs. Wireless: When deciding between wired or wireless microphones the manner in which they will be used is crucial. If the performer needs to have a wide range of movement, a wireless microphone is the best option. If the performer will be stationary, a wired mic will be fine.
Lavalier microphones (Also known as lavalier, lapel, or body mics): Lav mics are small microphones used for television, theatre, and public speaking applications in order to allow for hands-free operation. They are most commonly provided with small clips for attaching to collars, ties, or other clothing.
Headsets: Similar to lav mics, headset mics are hands-free, offer a higher quality sound, and are less hidden than lav mics. They most commonly wrap around the head and position a mic in front of the performer or speaker’s mouth.
Projectors and Screens
A critical part of any presentation or visual event, projection systems project any visual medium onto a screen, or sometimes a wall. Projectors have become a mainstream item and many people possess a good bit of knowledge regarding their usage, however there are some important things to remember!
Rear Projection vs. Front Projection: Most, if not all modern projectors can project onto a screen situated either in front or behind the intended audience with little to no quality loss. The main factor to consider when choosing between front or rear projection is the room in which the projector will be in. If people will be situated in front of the screen, it is best to opt for rear projection. Don’t forget to ask your AV company if their projectors can do both rear and front projection!
HD vs. SD: Just like a TV or an online video, some projectors can project in high definition, while others only project in standard definition. Make sure you know whether your event’s visual elements require an HD or SD projector. The standard aspect ratio of an HD projector is 1080p. While an SD projector is most commonly 480p. Remember, you don’t always need an HD projector! For a simple text slideshow, you can save money by opting for an SD projector.
Drapery and Lighting
Some AV companies only focus on audio systems and projection, while some full service AV companies also provide drapery and lighting.
Drapery: Drapery is a simple and elegant way to transform an event space. Drapery consists of colored or white fabric draped over standard sized drapery poles. Drapery can hide an ugly backdrop, cut a room in half, or simply provide a beautiful touch to a reception.
Lighting: Lighting is a vast field of expertise, which is why there are some companies that just provide lighting. There are various types of lighting systems, ranging from a simple array of colored lights on a pole, to full fledged concert lighting systems with various shapes, sizes, colors, and functions. When combined with drapery and projection services, lights can make an event stand out!
What to Expect From an AV Company
Prompt Response Time
The AV industry is a competitive one. If you reach out to an AV company during normal business hours, they should get back to the same day, if not within an hour or two. An AV company that is slow to respond might be a sign of an unorganized organization.
Modern and Functional Equipment
While some AV equipment has been industry standard for many years (Shure SM58), AV technology is always progressing and changing. An AV company that only stocks old and unreliable equipment is a bad sign!
If your rep can’t explain to you what a piece of equipment does, or if they’re unsure of what your event needs, RUN! While some AV equipment is self-explanatory, a majority of AV equipment requires a trained and skilled technician. Make sure you are confident your AV company knows what it is doing.
While business is business, a rep for an AV company shouldn’t be scared to offer honest and unbiased to you regarding your event. If an AV company isn’t able to service your event, they shouldn’t hesitate to tell you. On the other hand, if you think you need more equipment than your AV company usually provides to events like yours, it is a good sign if they suggest that you might not need that extra subwoofer or stage monitor you thought you did.
Arrival at Agreed Upon Times
Load in and Load out can be tight at some events. Always expect your AV companies’ technicians to arrive on time or early!
If an AV company is serious about their business, they should have no problem sending you a list of previous clients. Ask these clients any questions you might have regarding the service they received from the company.
While the relationships formed in the AV industry tend to be close and long-lasting, you should always expect all communication with an AV company to be succinct and professional. No text messages at 9 o’clock at night, no incoherent emails. A business that values professional communication is one you can trust.
Questions to Ask an AV Company
Can you explain my quote?
An AV company should have no problem explaining anything and everything on your quote. Some line items can be confusing. You shouldn’t be expected to know what “QSC K12 2-Way Powered Speaker - 1000 Watts” means on your quote. Ask your rep to walk you through your quote line by line. Beware, some companies might be trying to confuse you with long model numbers and confusing language! Don’t hesitate to ask an AV company why they chose the items on your quote. Furthermore, if your event is on a tight budget, ask where you might be able to save some money by going with a less expensive piece of equipment. An AV company should be able to tell you which items on the quote are important and necessary, and which items are flexible. Remember, the price on your quote should NEVER differ from the price on your invoice!
Is this new equipment?
As mentioned earlier, the AV company you choose should be keeping their inventory up to date with changes in the industry. That said, there are some great pieces of gear that still hold their own after many years! If the equipment isn’t new, the AV company should be able to explain why and how it is still serviceable. Some of the best analog mixers and microphones are 10-20 years old. Don’t be scared if you are renting some older equipment, but make sure it is in good repair and relevant to your event.
Can I do better than this equipment?
A good AV company should always be honest. If you ask your rep if you can do better than the equipment the company has suggested for you, they should be open and honest with if you they don’t have a better piece of equipment. Remember, this is your special event; you want to find the best company to suit your needs.
How are you different from your competition?
A good AV company will try to stand out from its competition. Your point of contact should easily be able to tell you how they are able to stand out from their competition. Some AV companies truly beat out their competition. Sometimes, if your rep gets a feeling you might be looking around at other companies, they might be inclined to offer you a discount to stick with their company.
Who is my main point of contact?
No one wants to juggle talking to a seemingly endless amount of people. It is standard practice for you to have one main point of contact within your AV company. Don’t hesitate to ask for one!
What other services do you offer?
AV companies offer a variety of services, and sometimes it might be not be readily apparent that they offer something else your event might need.
Let’s Sum This Up..
At the end of the day, you want to find an AV company that you can trust. On the day of your event, you should have no worries about the services you are paying for. Don’t hesitate to ask anything, there aren’t any stupid questions! There are a lot of AV companies on the market, take your time making a decision.
If you have any more questions, don’t hesitate to reach out to us via email at Contact@ChannelAudioGroup.com or drop us a call at 615-715-7911. We’d love to hear from you!