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Travel Tips from a Sound System Designer

University Of Southern Indiana Color Display

We all know that online meetings are commonplace. I would even go so far as to say that for many people, they are preferred for a number of reasons. Online meetings save time and money making it very efficient to simply sit at your desk and describe to your client how wonderful their systems are going to work once they are installed. At the end of that call, you can simply move on to another task, keeping your chargeability high, and the bottom line well above that red line.

However, as a sound system designer, there comes a point in time that you are going to have to go to the project site to commission that wonderful sound system you put on paper all those months ago. If you are lucky as I to travel to some really nice places, especially outside of the New England area during January and February, then I have some simple advice to share with you. Given the delicate computer and measurement equipment I like to travel with, there is no way I am checking that bag under the plane, which means I am going to be carrying electronics through security.

First off, remember that TSA is your friend. They are the brunt of many a joke. But whether you like it or not, their job is to keep us all safe. Please be kind and courteous to them. Clearly they can tell that you are an experienced traveler and sometimes they might even afford you the benefit of going through the TSA-Pre line (even if you haven’t paid the $$ to become a “member”).

Secondly, there are many people out there, believe it or not, who have not flown on a plane in the last 15 years. They are easily overwhelmed by the simple idea of taking their shoes and belt off. Don’t even get me started on the 3-oz 1-quart bag conundrum. I don’t know why this simple idea confuses so many people but it does. Please try to be patient with them as well and remember this simple expression: not my monkeys, not my circus.

Now back to the TSA. Despite all announcements about what is a laptop that needs to be taken out and put through x-ray separately, and what is a tablet that can stay in your bag. According to my experiences and conversations with TSA officers, a Microsoft Surface looks like a laptop because of the way it is assembled on the inside and if you leave it in your bag because it is a tablet, it will get pulled and you will have to wait while they swipe it for explosive material.

(Speaking of explosive materials – Important TIP: If you happen to be at a performing arts center where pyrotechnics may have been used and your equipment may have been in the same performance space as said pyro, well, let’s just say arrive early at the airport and try to be really patient with the TSA as they don’t really understand the difference between theatrical pyro and other explosives!)

Back to the TSA screeners. Here are the most common phrases I have uttered while watching my audio testing equipment get swabbed down: It is a sound level meter. It measures sound pressure level. Yes, like how loud things are. That is the microphone. Yes. It measures how loud things are. Like at concerts.

Needless to say, I have only had to turn my audio meter on once in my several trips around our great country, and to be honest, it was at a small airport and they have probably never seen anything so interesting like this before and I used it as a nice teaching moment in hopes that the next audio engineer who happens to travel through Podunk Regional Airport is passed through with a nod and a wink of “hey I know what that it is.” You’re welcome.

Finally, now that you have made it to your awesome hall with wonderful sound system that needs your expertise, enjoy the time you have there. If you are like me, it will be a short lived day or two where you get to run the sound system through its paces. Balancing and tuning, setting delay and EQ. I like to take some time at the end of the day to sit at the sound console and just play my favorite music as though this was my very own home stereo system that all my friends think I have at home. Cherish that time because how often do you get to sit in the 3,000-seat performing arts center all by yourself and listen to whatever you want at whatever level you like. Take it all in. For in a short time, you will be back on a plane after having answered that age old question – Yes, it measures how loud things are.

Travel safe my audio engineering friends.