April 11, 2017
We need to talk.
Last week, I attended the Rally to Save the Arts in front of City Hall in NYC.
It was a really lovely rally in a lot of ways. I’d been feeling not great the night before and considered not going, but David Byrne was supposed to speak. I couldn’t miss that. It was a gorgeous, sunny day outside, I met up with a friend waiting in line to get in, and I got to wear my “Noncompliance is a social skill” t-shirt. The crowd was not large, but not bad for the middle of a week day, and there was even a little marching band, complete with drums and fifes, that showed up.
The memorial statue of Nathan Hale looked out over it all.
We were all gathered on the City Hall steps flanking the podium where city council members and union representatives spoke.
And no one there could hear a damn thing.
There was no amplification for the assembled crowd. There was a whole bouquet of microphones, but they seemed to only be there to feed sound to the television cameras–there was absolutely no amplification for those of us there in person.
We cheered and clapped when it seemed like we were supposed to. Somebody tried to get a chant going, but no one could hear well enough to pick it up. Somebody tried to start a sing-a-long of “Over the Rainbow,” but no one could hear well enough to follow and it fizzled out.
I stood less than 20 feet from David Byrne, but I did not get to hear him speak.
It was particularly, painfully ironic given that this was a Rally to Save the Arts. At least half the people in the crowd, which included stage managers, musicians, and sound engineers, could probably have set up a sound system for them.
You absolutely need to consult a professional to set up appropriate amplification at your event. Particularly when we’re talking about the importance of support for the arts, respect for the arts, and how Arts = Jobs (at least, I presume so, but I couldn’t really hear), it’s really…telling, when it’s obvious that you didn’t think to hire one to make sure your event goes the way it’s supposed to. It’s also a matter of respect for your audience and rally participants. We took time out of our days, we took off work, we made signs, we went waaaaay downtown. Which is fine! Everybody wants to do our part right now. If it’s important that a lot of bodies show up for the TV cameras, you can say that! But when we cannot so much as hear what’s going on at an event we came out to support, it kind of looks like you just see us as props.
This is 100% avoidable.
The other thing that happens is somebody did set up a sound system, but super obviously didn’t soundcheck, or doesn’t know how to prevent things like popping and feedback, leading to scenes like the Rally for Planned Parenthood in Washington Square Park earlier this winter, where virtually every time somebody moved on stage, I wound up huddled on the ground clutching my ears in pain while the people I was with asked if I was okay. Yes, I have more-than-typical hearing for neurological reasons, but I also work in the performing arts, I attend rock concerts on a semi-regular basis without any problem, and I know this is not inevitable.
There are people who do this professionally. Please find one. Make sure the message you worked so hard at crafting can actually be heard.