Audio Lessons from Carnegie Hall

As a violinist, many years ago I was offered a wonderful opportunity to perform in Carnegie Hall, New York City. The performing orchestra was in need of more violinists and after hearing about the opportunity, I auditioned. Naturally, I felt very fortunate to be awarded one of the slots. The performance was a wonderful experience. I was thrilled to play violin in the famed, prestigious hall, and although several of those memories are still vivid for me, there is one item that stands out above the rest.

What I remember most above everything else is the Carnegie backstage crew clearly telling us, “when you get on stage, DON’T MOVE anything!”

What they meant is that we should not re-position our chairs, we should not shift our music stands from where they were placed, we should not slide our chairs with our shoes . . . Nothing.

Perhaps I remember this most because the backstage crew emphatically emphasized it. Or perhaps I remember it most because we knew it was important. So after walking on stage for the performance, we were all careful to sit quietly in our “previously placed” chairs. We did not attempt to re-position them in even the slightest way. We also resisted any temptation to pick up our music stands or move them closer to ourselves.

The reason behind their request is quite simple. The natural acoustics in the Carnegie Hall are so phenomenal that had we re-adjusted our stands or any of the equipment on stage, the noise would have resounded and resonated throughout that great hall. These audible distractions would not have been professional and would have distracted the audience from the performance’s feature.

According to legendary story, one pianist (a frequent Carnegie Hall performer) always spent an hour or more testing the acoustics of his piano in the hall prior to performance. This resulted in the crew shifting the piano all around the stage to find the perfect and exact position–according to the concert pianist’s trained ear. After several technical rehearsals over time, the crew began to notice an emerging pattern. The piano’s final position always seemed to land in the same spot.

Thinking ahead the next time, the crew cleverly marked the spot and positioned the piano there before the pianist arrived. They secretly hoped to save themselves an hour of piano re-positioning.

Alas, when the pianist arrived for the tech rehearsal, he sat down to play the piano but then to their surprise, motioned for it to be moved again. The normal pattern ensued as the pianist requested the piano be moved all around the stage, as was his normal custom. When the pianist made it clear that he was finally satisfied with the piano’s placement, the crew looked down to observe its final resting place. To their astonishment, it had arrived back in the same spot from where it had begun!

These stories are certainly enjoyable to hear and share, but they also highlight the importance of taking the time and making the effort to ensure great audio for performances. Whether you’re delivering a live presentation, recorded presentation, speaking for a video bio or recording, reading a voiceover, or educating others with a virtual presentation, quality audio makes a significant professional difference.

If you record video, ensure you wear a mic instead of relying on the microphone in the camera, iPad or tablet which can create the “cave sound” effect. If you record a voiceover, take the time to find a secluded room and remove all competing audio distractions. Invest in a quality recorder where you can transfer files to your computer for audio editing instead of just recording from your smart phone or tablet. Use pop filters on your microphone to prevent consonant pops like “Ts” and “Ps” and save you editing time later. When you present to live to audiences larger than 25, you use a house speaker system and lavalier microphone and test audio and feedback ahead of time.

Audio lessons from Carnegie Hall are clear. If you want to deliver a professional performance or presentation, it’s worth the time to eliminate all potential audio distractions and to deliver to your audience or viewers the best audio possible.

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