If you’ve been out and about at a fundraiser or social event, it’s possible you’ve seen Brent Greeno working behind the scenes.
Greeno, who leads the Sights and Sounds AV Inc. audio visual company, installs sound systems and sets up the visual frameworks for all sorts of nonprofit events every day. That can involve figuring out audio, video and setting up the right type of lighting for atmosphere. It's work that hopefully goes unseen and adds to the greater presentation of the event.
He's been doing so for 20 years, and even with the onset of a pandemic and a dramatically different few years in the events industry, he says he has no plans of stopping.
Greeno was born in Vermont but eventually found himself calling Sarasota his home. It’s fitting that he would choose a beachside city to live because he grew up wanting to one day be an oceanographer.
He didn’t start out aiming to be in the AV business either. For quite a while, Greeno spent his days working in Sarasota’s restaurant field.
It was one of those small but life-changing coincidences that introduced Greeno to his current industry. He was working for a time at the Longboat Key Club with his boss Stephen Moyer, who eventually left to start the Sights and Sounds AV company.
A few years later, after Greeno had left Sarasota and returned, he reconnected with Moyer by chance as he was setting up audio equipment for an event with his new company.
“(I’m working), and in walks Steve,” Greeno said. “We started chatting, and I said, ‘Hey, if you need help, give me a call.’ He called me the next day. That was 20 years ago.”
Greeno admits he didn’t know a thing about audio equipment, but he was willing to learn. At the time the company was focused on small events at small restaurants with the occasional job at a banquet hall. He mostly spent his time setting up screens — he jokes the technology was ancient and the team was still using slide projectors — and likes to think he took to it quickly.
“I think it’s simple,” Greeno says. “If someone has some common sense, they can figure it out. Everything has an input and output, and everything has to work together.”
One event with Goodwill, though, led to working at the Sarasota Film Festival and eventually opened Greeno and other staff up to the world of nonprofits and social fundraisers. That quickly became the main revenue source for the company. Today, events for the social scene provide nearly 90% of Sights and Sounds' business each year.
It’s a busy business as well. Greeno is often arriving at event spaces, deciding how to angle the lighting and set up audio and then bouncing to the next space to do it all over again. There have been days where Greeno and staff are juggling three events a day.
It often comes down to having a feel for what work for each event. Greeno works with event planners on getting the exact look right — he’s constructed origami bird projections that look like they’re flying on the walls and ceilings — but sometimes the idea in someone’s head is better than what becomes reality.
“Sometimes people send me pictures with laser beams going through a room,” Greeno said. “I say: ‘Yeah, we can do that, but we need fog to accomplish the look. Otherwise it’s just a beam of light.’ You can’t do fog in The Ritz-Carlton, for example, because it’ll set off the smoke alarms.”
Each event has a hundred little details, and invariably, something goes wrong. That’s the nature of the business. But Greeno says he works hard to make sure the audience doesn’t notice. He admits that it’s always going to bug him, though.
“A microphone will go out, a video will pause in the middle by accident,” Greeno said. “Little things that people will never notice. I notice, though, and it drives me crazy.”
He jokes he rarely gets much sleep because he’s always putting an event together in his head, which made it more of a grim comfort that he had plenty of sleep when the events industry was rocked by the pandemic.
“We were rocking (in early 2020), and then the brakes got slammed,” Greeno says. “We had to regroup and figure out how to survive.”
They quickly pivoted to streaming events and purchased the right equipment for it, but business was still scarce. Their schedule that once had three or four events a day now had maybe one event or less.
Business has slowly picked up since, and Greeno has noticed a change in event formats in the new landscape. Hybrid events that have a live assembly with a virtual segment have grown more popular, and Greeno says many events are much shorter. There’s been some fun moments too. Greeno was transformed into Olaf the snowman from “Frozen” for Children First’s virtual Fairytale Ball event.
When it comes to the omicron variant, Greeno says he's playing it by ear.
“We’re more prepared now with our livestreaming equipment than we were in the beginning of 2020,” Greeno says.
Even after a tough couple years, Greeno feels optimistic about the future. Events have slowly returned to their prior pace, and he's noticed new, younger faces attending the events, signaling a healthy continuation of events and services.
Sitting above his work desk is a large cork board with every thank you letter from nonprofit staff and patrons. He looks to it sometimes and remembers the impact he’s made.
“I just started putting them up, and now there’s just layers and layers of them,” Greeno says.