Something I’ve had to learn over the years is the importance of cultivating my relationship with good integrators, as well as how to better identify the poor ones. There have also been some lessons in that, just like me, they can get better with time. It’s so important to find ones you can trust, for when you get in a bind, they’ll be your best resource. However, we must be discerning. The one down the street might be feeding you the corporate line, and the sheer size of a more nationally known one might fool us into believing they know more than they do. You might also stumble across one few people know of, but still have the experience to deliver work of the highest caliber.
Years ago we were looking at upgrading our speakers. I came in on a Monday morning to discover our DSP had died, which caused a small panic as we had a national speaker coming for Wednesday night. One of the integrators I was talking with brought us a loaner and installed it Wednesday morning. We used their DSP for several months until they updated our speakers and amps. They remain one of my top 3 audio integrators in the state. Their lighting rep also pointed out that some truss we put up, which was supposed to be a temporary install, needed to be better secured for safety reasons. Another integrator demonstrated the dramatic difference height makes for a speaker, especially in a portable system. The people in the front rows really appreciate it.
One of the reasons we needed a speaker upgrade was because the system we had was improperly installed. Being done years before I arrived, the conclusion we came to was that they did a bait and switch, installing a different set of speakers than were originally specified. These speakers were designed to be tight packed, but their throw pattern was incorrect for the room in that configuration, so the installers left a gap between them. It was also a challenge for us when we tried to contact them for more information to ascertain what happened.
The aforementioned integrator who did a poor speaker install? It turns out they are really good with projectors and even better with LED walls. I don’t know how much comes down to more experience, or how much can be attributed to staff changes, but they have been helping people all over the country who were led astray regarding the weak points of their chosen LED walls. I’ve also encountered some integrators who have transitioned away from system tuning by ear, to now setting up reference mics and using the computer. When tuning a system, we don’t want our ears to deceive us.
Not every out of state integrator will bring you a bad experience, and not every local one will present you with the best solution for your needs. I firmly believe it will take some time to determine how good an integrator is. Customer reviews can give you an idea, but if the other customers haven’t determined the good and bad in them, and their competitors, they can be misleading. I have trusted peers whose experiences with some integrators have been the opposite of mine. None of us can afford to hold onto preconceived notions either.
Behringer was the laughingstock of the audio industry for years, when a few key acquisitions suddenly gave them the engineering talent they needed to kick out some products that have become among the most recommended in the industry. EAW was once the epitomy of a great speaker. Few people knew they were largely rebadged RCF components. When they were bought out and stopped using RCF inside, it took years for them to recover and again produce speakers at that high a level again.
What can we do to ensure we are getting the best information? The key step is having multiple people to work with. I have worked with four different quality integrators in ND, and a few more out of state. The variety of insights helps me be aware with a broader knowledge base, keeps the pricing more competitive, and shows me blind spots one person may have that another does not. Beyond that, here are some red flags you can watch for:
- They only offer one solution. You want a someone who listens to your needs, and finds the correct products for you. If they only offer EAW, you might never learn about the offerings from ElectroVoice, RCF, or Meyer. If they only push Allen & Heath, you’ll never hear about what Midas, Soundcraft, and DiGiCo can offer.
- Their price is consistently higher. Sometimes the most expensive solution is what you need. Or the pricing you are given could be out of line with the norm, or they could just pushing whatever is most expensive.
- Their price is consistently lower. Sometimes the cheapest solution is what you need. Too often you’ll find cheaper and inadequate gear was selected to hit a price point, regardless of if it meets your needs. If you’re lucky, someone slashed their margins in the hopes of getting future business with you.
- They don’t want to do a comparison. Few things excite me like an A/B test. If there’s a better speaker for the job I want to know about it. If the new projector that came out is a game changer, I want to see how big a difference it makes. When someone believes in their product, they’ll be glad to put it next to the competitor and show why.
- They won’t visit you. If you’re looking at a 5 digit upgrade, but they won’t come on site and talk with you, then the follow up support will not be there either.
- The vendor caters to a different market. Sometimes you have to look closely. Chauvet and ADJ both offer professional lights and DJ gear. DJs don’t need to spend the extra money when they just need some lights to flash around the dance floor. And DJ gear won’t meet the needs for set design and theatrical lighting. If they made their name with household products, you need extra due diligence before committing to them. I have some lighting software that is compatible with Philips Hue lights, but I wouldn’t trust them outside of my home use.
Operate with an open mind, eager to see what the alternative can bring. I’ve changed my mind many times after seeing how my preference stacks up against a competing product. Don’t lock yourself into one place. They may not offer what you really need now, and if push comes to shove, you want someone to work with that you already trust.
And do your own research. I’ve encountered a handful of integrators still telling people they’ll be fine using their wireless mics in the 600 MHz band, despite the frequency auction concluding over a year ago, the knowledge that it’s been over 5 years that we’ve known that band of frequencies would become unusable, and that fines will be $10,000 per frequency per day. Here in ND, I only need to drive 30 minutes north where it’s already illegal to use those frequencies, and T-Mobile is spreading that footprint quickly.
Be smart. Be flexible. Be informed. Friend or foe, learn to find where your integrators fall in the spectrum, and cultivate your relationship with the best of them.