Over the weekend, I went to a wedding at an outdoor venue. I’ve been to this venue before, and the typical approach is to just put up a pair of speakers on sticks on each side of the freestanding pergola where the bride and groom meet for the ceremony. The soundman for this wedding turned out to be a friend and, after hellos, he noted, “There wasn’t a good place to put the speakers, so I hung them in the trees.” Sure enough, in the large trees on each side of the pergola, a pair of powered loudspeakers hung unobtrusively, the speaker cabinets secured to large central tree branches using steel cabling fitted with proper hardware. The vocalist/pianist (electronic keyboard in this case) commented to the soundman that it was the best outdoor wedding sound she had ever experienced (and she’s done a lot of weddings).
This is an example of a professional taking an extra step beyond what is required. He delivered superlative sound, but he would have done that with stand mounted speakers near as well (the extra height was a plus for full audience coverage). But he also considered the aesthetics, and did what it took to make the complete experience as excellent as possible for his customer.
On a different occasion, while participating in the judging of a student recording competition, top-shelf, household name engineers giving their critiques diverged into a conversation of how their own mixes are judged, not on a sliding scale, but instead on a strict success or failure criteria. Good enough is never good enough, they opined, with one judge commenting, “Until it’s great, it sucks.”
Talent, whether native or carefully honed, can certainly differentiate the performance of audio professionals in a given situation. Knowledge and expertise can do the same. Professionalism is the final component. Given two equally talented and skilled professionals with the same available resources to complete a job, the one that shows the extra effort, that goes beyond what is expected, that looks outside the narrowest parameters of the task at hand, maybe even climbing a tree if that’s what it takes—that’ll be the one considered Great.