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Lighting, sound, labor… it’s all part of your AV bid but what’s the bottom line?  How much does event AV cost? Do the brands of equipment really matter? What can you look for to make sure you are getting a good and fair price? If these questions come into your mind when planning events, you are in the right place.

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Today, Will Curran will walk you through all about event AV cost. He will go into the many complex parts covering labor rates, why brands matter, why new equipment may cost more, video, lighting and scenic expenses and more. After you watch this week’s Whiteboard Wednesday, we are sure you will walk away with clarity on how to approach your event AV!


Video Transcript – How Much Does Event AV Cost?

What’s going on Endless fans? Will Curran here back another Whiteboard Wednesday and we’re so excited today because we’re talking about the number one question that I probably get every day. And that is how much does event AV cost? Or how much will it cost for me to do my event? How much will it cost for me to do this? How much will it cost for me to do that? Number one question by far.

So, obviously, event AV is super duper complex. There’s a reason why those quotes are so long, full of so much equipment, different labor, this and this and that. And that’s definitely one of the reasons why it can be confusing. However, because it is so complex and every single situation is custom, there’s definitely though, some principles that apply across all quotes that allow you to get at least some general ideas on how much you should be spending and also where things kind of break down when it comes to the cost.

So I’m going to be breaking down a couple of different principles when it comes to event AV, as far as how much should it cost, and you know, how can we understand where your money is going. So if you’re ready, we can jump right on in. So let’s start with equipment, which is probably the majority of your budget. Well, labor is also a big majority of the budget, but the equipment’s a big majority of it.

Event AV Cost: The 10% Rule

So there are some principles that come into equipment as far as how much you should be spending. And that comes down to a really simple rule that I call the 10% rule. And that is a rule that pretty much applies to almost all AV companies. Again, this isn’t going to apply to every single company because companies do like to do things slightly differently.

But what I’ve found is across the entire world, almost everybody follows this model, which is whatever the cost is to buy a piece of equipment. For example, if it costs $1,000.00 to buy a camera or a speaker, then likely the AV company is charging you 10% of whatever the cost is to buy it. So what that means is they’re usually making their money back on the equipment within 10 rentals, or 10 events.

It might be like slightly varying on that, for example, maybe it’s 15% maybe for somethings it might be 8%. A lot of times when it comes to that, that rule, it depends on the lifespan of the equipment as well and how long it’s going to be in existence. How long it’s going to be on their shelves. How long are they going to have it out at events?

Older Equipment Costs Less

So what that comes to is my second point, which is that older equipment typically costs less as well. So if you’re ever looking at a quote and you’re wondering, man, this one mixer is way cheaper than XYZ’s company’s mixer. Well, chances are if you Google it, which is a term that I love to share when, uh, did another Whiteboard Wednesday video. But if you Google the model name, you might find that that model of mixer that they’re charging for you came out in 1995 or 2000 or whatever it is. Whereas, the new one just came out this year.

So again, older equipment typically is less expensive because they’ve already made their money back on the rentals. But also that they, you know, older equipment likely, uh, you know, they’re not as worried about making as much money off of it anymore. Something really important to keep in mind too, is that this 10% rule really has to do with the lifespan of the equipment as well. So for example, a projector, uh, projectors don’t usually fall into this 10% rule, and the reason why is because projectors have a very short lifespan.

One, technology gets old very, very quickly. But also they also tend to break very, very easily. So what that means is they want to make their money back faster. So this might be as high as 20% to get their money back in five rentals, for example. All right, so we’re talking about equipment. Another concept that I want to make sure that you guys understand is this idea of brands mattering.

Event AV Cost: Brands Matter

We have this great, awesome analogy of Chanel versus Walmart. Um, if you are out there buying clothes, you know exactly what I’m talking about, in that brands are not created apples to apples. They’re not the same in any sort of way. And the best way I can describe this is that, for example, if you’re looking at buying, let’s say a purse for example, and you go and you want to get a really nice purse that’s going to last you a long time that has a great amount of features, and looks cool and people are going to think you look awesome with it. You know, there’s definitely a difference in Chanel’s brand purses versus Walmart’s brand of purses, right?

So, you might be able to get a good deal with Walmart. It might suit what you’re trying to do, but to be honest, it’s not the same thing as Chanel. This same concept applies to AV equipment as well. However, it tends to also go beyond just the looking cool or having a good value as well. For example, um, if you’ve bought a Chanel speaker, that might be a great sounding speaker that lasts a long time, is very durable. Whereas if you literally bought a speaker from Walmart, it’s probably not going to sound as good for your event.

So when it comes to your brands, typically what you’ll find is nicer brands cost more money and cheaper brands cost cheaper money. Very simple concept, right? However, if you ever are looking at a piece of equipment, and you’re wondering, well, this one company says they’re charging me $1,000.00 to do the same thing another company says they’re going to charge me $4,000. Well then look at the brands of the companies. See are they reputable companies? Have they been around for a long time? Do they service large scale events? All that sort of stuff.

It’s also just a great question to ask her AV Company. What’s the difference in brand from JBL to, for example, L-Acoustics? Um, it, those are two brands of, uh, speakers and of audio. So, um, a lot of this stuff too, by the way, guys, like my hope is a bonus tip is that talk to your AV company, you shouldn’t have to figure out all this stuff on your own, for example.

Okay, I’m going to do some reverse engineering as far as how much it would cost to buy a projector and that gives me 10% of whatever this is, um, okay, like I have to figure out the difference in those two brands? A lot of times you can just have these conversations with them and for example, if you are looking at two different quotes and they have the exact types of equipment, the exact counts of equipment, but one’s more expensive than the other. Ask him about the brands. Why did they choose that? Is it better? Does it sound better? Does it look better? Is it going to last longer? How does it give me more features for what I’m trying to accomplish? All that sort of stuff.

Video Is Expensive

All right, so next on, equipment, it’s general rule is, well when it comes to equipment is that the areas that you’re going to spend the most amount of money are starting with video. Video is by far the most expensive area when it comes to AV equipment. You might be thinking yourself, well, why? Well, first of all, video is very, very, um, let’s use the word touchy.

There’s a lot of sensitivity into how things have to work. You have to certain types of adapters, you have to have the right type of switcher this and this and that. It hasn’t been around as long as, for example, audio has. So when it comes to your events, a lot of times you’re going to end up spending a lot of money on video. And what this means is if you’re looking at doing something crazy when it comes to, you want you to multiple screens and you know, LED screens and all this crazy stuff, chances are a lot of it’s going to be spent in video.

Event AV Cost: Scenic Expenses

The next area that usually money is spent in that is most expensive, is usually the, uh, the scenic portion of things as well. The way you designed your stage, everything like that, because a lot of that stuff is built custom for every single event. And a lot of it ha- has a short lifespan as well. Go back to the 10% rule. Um, same with the video equipment. A lot of it breaks very, very easily. A lot of it gets outdated very, very quickly as well. I mean, just look at, we had 1080p high definition and in less than, you know, 10 years, we already have 4K. And everyone wants 4K everything.

The lifespan is going so quick and things are changing. Same when it comes to scenic as well. Scenic tends to change. The people want newer, cooler things, more exciting things also it tends to break very easily. So that means that it’s lifespans a lot less. So it means that they have to charge more for it.


Next area that you’ll usually spend a lot of your money on is lighting as well. Um, there’s another area that’s changing fast but not as fast as video. Um, and also tends things are tending to last longer. Um, you know, LEDs are now very, very popular and now they’re in almost every single lighting fixture. Whereas before, if you want an LED light versus a normal conventional light, which is like more of a regular light bulb, um, you might end up finding that, uh, it’s more expensive. Now, not so much.

Audio Costs

The next to last area that you usually will end up spending your money on is things like audio. Audio hasn’t changed over the years. Everyone wants this great sounding audio sound system. The audience size is, you know, 1,000 person concert is the same thing as 1,000 person concert today. Obviously, there are newer, cooler things always constantly coming out. But we found is that audio tends to be a little bit less expensive than most of the items because it lasts so long. And because the speakers that we use 10 years ago work just as good as today, when it comes to everything.

Labor Costs

So, all right. So we’ve kind of covered some general rules when it comes to equipment. But you might be wondering, “Well, what about labor? That tends to be one of my most expensive areas as well.” Well, I have you as well. When it comes to labor, there’s a couple of different concepts that I want to make sure that you understand. First of all is that the idea of labor rates, and hourly rates. Everyone tends to ask this question, how much does it cost for an engineer, this and this and that?

Labor Rates

Well, the first thing that you can kind of expect is anywhere from $50 to $100 an hour. Obviously, again, this depends on the company and also the region in which you’re working in as well. If you found that your, um, that your labor is really expensive. Well, it might be because the cost of living’s very high in that city. All that sort of stuff. So when it comes to labor, you can usually expect anywhere from $50 an hour to $100 an hour. Usually, the $100 an hour people are really, really advanced. They know everything. They’re usually your technical directors, your producers, your event managers, that sort of thing.

Whereas you know, closer to the $50 an hour’s more your engineers, your technicians, the people on boots on the ground, building things, and tuning sound systems, all that sort of stuff. So you can kind of expect that hourly rate.

Full-Day Rates

Well, you might be thinking to yourself, “Okay, cool. Well, my conference is three hours long.” Well, there’s another rule that you need to understand and it’s the idea of a 10 hour day rate. A 10 hour day rate relates to labor is the idea that everything is billed in what’s called a day rate or a half day rate.

So you might be asking yourself, “Well, a day rate, like 24 hours of work?” No, not quite. Well, that’s where 10 hours comes in. Again, this depends also on the region you’re in. For example, in California it’s actually eight hours, so you can, you know, definitely, make sure you talk to AV company. Ask them how many hours are in day rate. But when it comes to your labor, for example, if your conference is three hours long …Um, let’s use a little bi- bit easier example. Let’s say your conference is seven hours long. Well, instead of just getting billed just for those seven hours, you’re also going to get billed for the total of 10 hours. And you know, what they do is they always round up to the nearest 10th hour. So for example, if your conference is 12 hours long, it’s going to get rounded up to 15 hours. Well, 15 hours doesn’t make sense.

Half-Day Rate

Well, then there’s half day rates as well. As simple as it sounds, it’s half of a full day, so five hours. So everything usually gets billed in that half day rate when it comes to labor. So what that means is if your event is 12 hours long, round up to 15, if your event is nine hours, round up to 10. If your event is 28 hours, round up to 30. You can kind of see where I’m going. Always round up to the nearest fifth or 10th essentially.

So when it comes to your labor, when you’re thinking about, you can do some really rough calculations. So for example, if you’re in a really expensive market, you can always budget really high and maybe you budget $75, $85 an hour and you know your conference is going to be, you know, 30 hours and let’s say you budget 10 hours for setup and 10 hours for loading, well, okay, that’s a total of 50 hours.

Fifty hours times 85. I can’t do math in my head, but uh, you can kind of get some rough ideas as far as how much you were be spending when it comes to your labor. Um, again, the number of teammates that the company is going to have, and things like that all vary drastically depending on the event, and what they’re comfortable with and everything like that. That’s again where you should talk to AV company, but this allows you to get some initial numbers going.

Event AV Cost: Markets Matter

So that’s some initial labor stuff. Well, what about some more general concepts for how much AV should cost? Well, we talked a little bit about how labor rates depend, uh, on the market that you’re working in. So something really important to know is the idea of, of what I use city versus like a farm, right? Um, it does matter what market you are in and where you are working.

For example, if you’re in a place that has a lot of AV companies, for example, a very large city, let’s say Chicago, New York, LA, there’s a lot of events going on. So, therefore, there’s a lot of companies supplying those events. What this means is that typically in larger markets costs are lower. And in smaller markets costs are higher. And you think to yourself, “Well that doesn’t make any sense at all. Shouldn’t it be cheaper for me to go to a smaller market where there’s not as much going on?”

No, not exactly. If you use the, the law of supply and demand, uh, I’m not here to teach economics or anything like that, but the more demand there is, obviously there’s going to be more supply to, to fix it as well. So what that means is in these large cities, like Chicago for example, there’s 20, 30, 40, 50 AV companies there, which means there’s a lot of equipment which means that they’re all fighting for relatively the same pie. Which means they’re all trying to win on price, which means they’re driving their costs down.

Bigger Markets More Choice

What this also means that you have more choice as well. So when it comes to your AV company, instead of just relying on, for example, in a small market, you only have one AV company to work with or two. You know, those people are really going to dictate the prices. Here, you could always pick up and say, “Oh, I’m just going to go to the, the sixth company, or the 12th company, or the 20th company along the way.”

So when it comes to doing your events, picking your location is incredibly important because if you’re choosing smaller markets, it might be more expensive to get to. For example, with our company, if, uh, we had an event who is looking to do an event in what’s a city called Pella, Iowa. You might be thinking to yourself, “I’ve never heard of Pella, Iowa.” Well, you’ve probably heard of Pella Windows and Glass. Well they were having a big party and they needed to have a big production.

Well, turns out there’s only one AV company in Pella, Iowa. Well, with our model, um, with our company, we have to bring all the equipment in, we don’t have a location in Pella, Iowa. So we had to ship all of our stuff out of Chicago, which meant that that had a very high trucking cost. So even having to move equipment into a smaller market might be more expensive even if there is a large market like Chicago nearby. So something to keep in mind.

Whereas if you’re in the smack dab in the middle of New York City, boom, all day long, people can get you equipment all day long. So kind of keep that in mind. It’s almost, think kind of a little bit of an inverse reaction because larger markets sometimes have things like unions and usually have higher cost of living. So, therefore, labor might be more expensive, but in smaller markets equipments harder to get to, but labor might be cheaper as well. So. Something you just kind of keep in mind.

Event AV Cost: The Bigger the Event The Bigger the Price Tag

Alright, and my last concept when it comes to your event, this one’s going to seem pretty obvious, but the larger your event gets, the more people, the more expensive it’s going to cost for you to do the event. And this might seem obvious, right? We know with things like catering, right? A thousand plates of food is going to cost less than 2000 plates of food. However, when it comes to AV, this is very much true as well.

You know, for example, if you have 500 people versus 1,000, it might need more sound. You might need bigger screens. You might need, um, additional support, you might have more breakout rooms. So something to always keep in mind is as your event gets bigger, your AV costs are going to rise. Um, and the best thing you can do is talk to your AV company to see, “Hey, if I’m worried about these costs as my event grows, how can I keep them under control?” And they should be able to give you some really good tactics.


All right, I think I covered everything when it comes to event AV cost. This is a complex topic like I said, and there’s just a lot going on when it comes to the cost of AV. But my hope is that these general concepts help you get a little bit better grasp as far as where you should be spending your money. Where is the cost going? What do these brands have to do with it? All this sort of stuff all coming together, this big gigantic mess. But the biggest feedback I have for you is to work with your AV company as a partner. They should be able to help explain all this sort of stuff.

This isn’t very complex. This isn’t rocket science. It should be all able to be explained in a really simple to easy to understand manner. But my hope is that I’ve given you a little bit more knowledge so you feel more comfortable when it comes to understanding the event AV cost.

Again, if you are looking to get a very specific cost, how much does it cost for my 500 person event with three breakout rooms with a general session with cameras and this and that? The only person that’s going to be able to give you the answer is the AV company.

So talk to your AV company. Ask them questions. Get educated. They’re going to help you out. I think for now we’re probably good to go. So I hope this video was really, really helpful. If you enjoyed it a lot, go ahead and smash that like button. I would love to hear your loving feedback down in the comments as well.

However, if you didn’t like this video, give me a thumbs down and leave in the comments, what can we do better? What sort of topics can we cover? We want to hear from you guys as well.

And if you really love this video, hit that subscribe button, hit the bell notification icon as well, and you’ll get tuned in for every single Whiteboard Wednesday as they come out. But for now, I gotta get out of here. I hope you guys enjoyed this video. And I hope you have an awesome Wednesday. We’ll see you next time on Whiteboard Wednesday.

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Will Curran

Author Will Curran

Information junkie, energetic, and work-a-holic are just some of the words we can use to describe Will Curran. Aside from spending 20 out of 24 hours a day working as the Chief Event Einstein of Endless Events, you can catch Will ordering a chai latte or watching The Flash with his cats. He is also well known for his love of all things pretzels.

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