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Why it is vital to (look as though you) know what you're doing

Getting the job done is paramount, but maintaining a professional appearance is important too. Watch this video and you'll see why.

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The video will speak for itself. The occasion is an announcement from the UK Prime Minister outside of 10 Downing Street, which is the Prime Minister's official residence. Some notes...

  • The video is shortened to cut out segments that are not relevant
  • Studio shots are zoomed to show the video monitor more clearly
  • The audio is muted because, quite frankly, it is totally uninteresting - the presenters are just filling time while they wait for the Prime Minister to appear
  • The action starts from the first material that was available.
  • There are some skips in the original video, which was the best material we were able to obtain
  • The entire process to set up the lectern took nearly 20 minutes

It's a mess. Clearly these people don't know what they are doing. Or do they?

Well they did get the job done in the end and there was no fault with the audio whatsoever. Yes, they got the job done so apparently they do know what they are doing. But did they maintain a professional appearance? No.

In the spirit of fairness I'll say that it's a rare person who has never dithered or gone backwards and forwards in the course of their work. I'm certainly not that rare.

Also in the spirit of fairness, I'm guessing that some of the people you see here are not technical people but are employees either of 10 Downing Street or the UK's Conservative Party.

Since the same lectern and same microphones come out every time a similar announcement is made, it is probable that the equipment is kept at No. 10, possibly in a dark and distant corner of a broom cupboard. And whoever put the equipment away last time didn't bother to coil the green cable that is seen at the beginning and just threw it all in. That accounts for the dreadful state of the cable, which if it ever has been coiled it has been done without the proper respect signal cables require.

I would presume that No. 10's dealing with this equipment ends when the cable is plugged into a splitter of some kind so that the signal can be shared among the various news broadcasters.

Theatre

This is where my theatre training and background comes in. I used to work in what was effectively a repertory theatre - where shows change every few days, there are new productions now and then, but most shows are revivals of previous productions.

Where there is sound involved, that is worked out during planning and rehearsal for a new production. Notes are taken and diagrams drawn. And when that show is revived, the notes and diagrams are brought out and the sound is done in exactly the same way as before. It is an efficient way of working.

So at No. 10 Downing Street, it is perfectly possible that the lectern could be permanently fitted with microphones, the whole thing carried out and plugged in. The microphones can then be tested quickly, the process taking less than five minutes. Maybe I'm wrong and maybe the current procedure is as perfect as it can be in the broadcast world, but it certainly wouldn't work in theatre.

Well, I've had my say. But I've had a run-in with 10 Downing Street before so I'll let them work this out for themselves (eventually).

P.S.

There are some tasks in audio that require painstaking attention to detail and you have to perform them in front of non-technical people. Suppose you're recording an amateur choir. You'll need to spend some time going backwards and forwards optimizing the microphone positions (it would be nice to have an assistant, but who's paying?). The choir members will think you are 'messing around', and yes I've actually heard that said. So it's a good idea to keep people in the loop about what you're doing. By providing an explanation, the non-technical people you are working with will give your craft the respect it deserves.

By David Mellor Thursday December 13, 2018
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