Autograph shapes up for post-pandemic world

The London Plasa Show saw Autograph announce its new structure and future direction, amalgamating its pioneering and standard setting Sound Recording and Sales branches.

Formed in 1972, Autograph Sound Recording Ltd quickly established itself as a world leader in sound for theatre before being joined in 1982 by Autograph Sales Ltd, bringing skills and knowledge from the theatre world to bear on the sales and installations markets. Although Autograph Sound and Autograph Sales have a history of mutual support, the two operations are now under one banner and one roof, sharing the same HQ in London NW5. The move also reflects a broadening of the Autograph remit.

‘From a business perspective, it made sense to bring the companies together and pool resources, but it was happening by word-of-mouth from clients anyway. It is people trusting in the Autograph brand,’ says Project & Installations Manager, Adam Broom. ‘As a result we have learned an awful lot about integration, control and networking, so why wouldn’t we take that to market?

‘It gives us the opportunity to utilise skill sets and experience from other people, and diversify what we’re doing. From a projects and installations point of view, we had started that process anyway – always where the audio led. It was clients and venues that wanted the very best of audio where we found ourselves working increasingly as an integrator and control programmer doing some video; now we find ourselves doing A/V and offering a full integration service.’

While theatre remains a core discipline, the company’s activities now encompass sound design, equipment rental and sales, event solutions, technical support, consultancy, infrastructure design and installation, training, and product development.

‘We now find that the “A” is still important but the “V” just as big. With some clients, the “V” is now huge and the “A” is just a necessity,’ Broom says. ‘We’re starting a project now at a private school where the initial contact came from the Head of IT, who was interested in the video wall we could install for him in the main hall. It was only because the Head of Music was in the room at the same time that he insisted that the audio was as important as the video. For us it’s about the user interface being right for any particular client.’

An early indication of the potential the Autograph teams had to work beyond the theatre world came during lockdown when they directed their expertise towards a very different audience. The result was Stadium Sound by Autograph, a system that created a live crowd atmosphere that could be dynamically controlled in real time to bring life to football matches being played without a crowd.

‘Fundamentally, that is what this expansion is all about,’ Broom says. ‘It’s about recognising that the skill sets that our theatre technicians, sound designers and engineers have are transferrable, and are valued highly in other areas. The football project is a good example of taking a real-world problem and applying theatre skills to achieve that. It’s also about understanding which skill sets are best applied in other areas.

‘Most of this was happening as a result of demand from clients,’ Broom continues. ‘They bought into the service that we provided, the project management and real-world experience, and they wanted us to look after the whole package. So it was natural that we began doing more parts of a project. Lockdown has allowed us to move that along faster.

‘Audio has always been the company’s backbone. If you can talk to a client about why a particular loudspeaker has to be in that place with that dispersion pattern and educate them a little about electro-acoustics, then they will quickly buy into the “A” of A/V being as important as the “V”. And we very rarely sell or install a system that we haven’t already demoed for a client – when we do those demos, we either A-B against an existing system or one technology and another. There are a lot of hi-fi enthusiasts that come out of the woodwork at these demos, and that’s a really useful tool in those situations.’

Autograph’s portfolio now includes advanced digital networking, data management and visual media. Recent projects for which the company has delivered fully integrated audiovisual solutions include several leading independent schools, RADA, The British Museum, and a soon-to-be-completed car launch. ‘We also do a lot of pretty big weddings and parties – not speakers on a stick, but bespoke systems,’ points out Andrew Hedges, Head of Special Events, who describes his role as ‘anything that Autograph touches that is not theatrical’.

‘We delivered a very large Indian wedding about two weeks ago, on very short notice for an events agency. We were told “this is the room we’re working in, this is the kind of audience we’re expecting – go!” That was the brief.

‘We know what to expect, but always try to go beyond a standard brief. The party was bigger, the dinner was bigger, outdoors under truss arches with a table about 65m long and roving band outdoors all miked up using radio mics and IEMs, and loudspeakers that gave everybody the same experience. That was just the dinner…

‘Because of the nature of these venues, they’re not really venues. So we go in thinking “how can we engineer this differently so that, the next time we have a similar situation, we can handle it better”. We’re always trying to think outside the box.

‘For me, the main thing about the new structure is that knowledge is now more easily shared within the company. The installation team will have ways of doing things and we will have ways of doing things, and they will see what we’re doing and say, “we’ll have a bit of that”.’

‘We try to approach all of our projects brand agnostically, and go in looking for the best technology and the best solution,’ Broom adds. ‘If we find ourselves with a challenge, we go for it. The football project is a good example of that. It’s about growing as an integrator and seeing where that takes us. It’s exciting.’

‘It does feel like a slightly new Autograph,’ Hedges agrees. ‘There’s a lot of excitement within the company.’

‘The enforced lockdown periods, though not welcomed, did give us the opportunity to concentrate on completing the changes we are now pleased to announce,’ says Autograph MD, Scott Arnold. ‘We are able to deliver all of the qualities and expertise that are uniquely Autograph to a much wider range of customers and applications - whatever the project, the experience our customers receive will very clearly have the Autograph stamp on it.’

To reflect both the new structure and the company’s extensive range of services, a new Autograph website has also been launched coinciding with the Plasa Show.

More: www.autograph.co.uk

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