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Mind Health – How Tech is Consuming our Crew Brains

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OPINION

Mind Health – How Tech is Consuming our Crew Brains

by Julius Grafton.

I love smart. I hire smart – witness Jason Allen (editor of this publication), Jimmy Den Ouden (our former tech editor), and Simon Byrne who writes here, and works with me in and outside on various ventures. Plenty more of these in the conglomerate! And outside of hire is my scrumptious fourth wife Kate. Every one of these guys can out IQ me, think faster than I do, and solve more problems than I ever could.

As a working tech I was a veritable plumber or bricklayer – and that isn’t denigrating those binary trades. It’s just we do a thing and then do the next thing. The current working tech is dealing with increasing complexity at 360 degrees and in three dimensions (on a timeline) and I don’t see it getting easier.

My Mac address is what I’m typing on. My IP address is julius@whocares? The mode I’m in is wherever I can get a connection.

Reading all the pages and groups I follow, I see endless drama with software and firmware version conflicts, WordPress extensions, utilities, pantechnicons, omnibuses and updates that occur automatically when you have least time. As Lighting Designer to-the-stars Francesco Calvi once put it, we have snapdads and doodads. But now lighties face universes, addresses, fixture profiles, and pixel mapping – stuff.

Every freaking brand of lighting console (and there are 12 in common use) has a different user interface and needs serious hours of training to even start it up.

An audio page post recently recounted the drama of a serious high level gig where the control surface and the stage box disagreed, so the input gain was decimated. Ten minutes to showtime an update to firmware restored some reality and saved the show. Terrifying business.

At the coalface, the audience expect it to look and sound better than the 4k video. Spice Girls crew in the UK were slammed when the sound wasn’t pristine at row Z up in the Gods at various 80,000 seat stadiums built before Queen Elizabeth was a randy idea.

Did the promoter ASK them how bad it would sound way up there through the house PA fills before selling the seats?

Ten years ago we sat dumb and happy as intelligibility swept in and out of reverberant perception. But good sound and high definition vision have lifted and keep raising the stakes as punters protest immediately on social media if it doesn’t sound as good as it should. Says who?

Take it from Snake, the Spice Girls audio engineer under massive media fire, for the girls:

“Please feel free to share and help us all in team audio feel some positivity. Wigwam did a great job of coverage and our predominant issue was the chat between songs. The entire show is performed in front of the PA!

“I am (was) indeed mad to take it on but said yes before I saw the plans. During the show on the tower we only received one official complaint and one of the crew went to inspect. 82,500 people in attendance.”

That’s pressure.

At your local, things don’t get easier. Take this plea found on social media:

“Yesterday I was mixing on an iPad to a (cheap digital audio box). All was good for a while until I logged back on as Admin then I got a message that said I was logging on as different user and I would lose data if I continued. I didn’t know what to do. I tapped on cancel and I went to the desk, saved to a new scene, then logged on, had the same message appear and tapped on continue. Then I went and recalled the new scene and was back in business. Does anyone know why this happened?”

Plenty of people came back with answers. This is the great salve and ointment of our frustration and occasional distress!

“Check you don’t have a scene selected to permission user levels to recall at log-in. We use this regularly for Basic users in installations (to automatically recall a default scene at log-in), however it’s dangerous on Standard and Admin user levels.”

OK. Wow! Anyway, back to Snake at the Spice Girls tour, who (according to a post), took himself off the tour.

“The negative press and trolling have hounded Snake. He has taken a giant leap and handed in his notice. A sad day to see an extremely talented and experienced engineer of some 30 plus years take this course of action. Will it be the Reset the UK press are looking for? Time will tell.”

Good thoughts to Snake, people. Who deserves this stuff?

“That which you speak of also applies to those of us over here in broadcast audio”, Al Craig told me. “Over the past 15 years we’ve gone from analogue to digital, multicores to fibres, and now we are into AOIP.

“The rate of change is faster than day-to-day operators can keep up with. Just today, I struggled to get Sennheiser’s WSM program to talk to a rack of receivers.

“What I eventually discovered was the laptop (not mine) should have been running Windows 10 (not 8.1), and that the latest version of the software requires specific firmware on the receivers and transmitters (which some did not have).

“I could go on and on about how much harder it is these days, not just because the technology has advanced, but because the expectations of the client(s) pushes the requirements to the limits.”

My 1970s through to 1990s show crewing days had plenty of tech stress. “The show must go on” was the driving message, and we made damn sure it did. I never lost a show, more from good fortune than planning. Yet crisis planning was never far from my mind.

If it were now, with DSP and DMX and networks up my wazoo, I’d be slower and probably more anxious, every single show day. For the lousy money out there, I’d think long and hard about this showbiz thing. For the promoters, producers, event managers I’d suggest some real conversations with your tech suppliers and crew about risk. Ask them, ‘What can go wrong?’ and put a premium on making sure it don’t.

With this level of high definition, immersive pixelated excellence that the tech provides us, we need better thinking, training, and remuneration to compensate for the knowledge and stress we are expected to produce and handle. But, one of my generation begs to differ.

“Firstly, I think you sell yourself, and those of your generation, short when you take the view that your binary trade era was much easier”, replied Chris Kennedy when I put this to him.

“Think overnight in a truck, bumping in with few, or no, loaders, soldering broken cables at the venue, trouble shooting, trying to eliminate ‘lighting’ buzz from the PA, speaker systems that need real tuning without the tools to do it (cleaning up at the crossover points, feedback when the singer walks in front of the PA etc).”

“These are hardware dramas, as opposed to software dramas. But they are dramas nonetheless with all the stress (and quite possibly more) of dealing with software issues and conflicts. I could go on but you get the drift. When the control surface and the stage box disagree, either the system hasn’t been prepped properly (something a lot of clients generally don’t understand or want to pay for), or the system tech hasn’t had enough training.”

“Now to poor old Snake. The problems are not all his. In fact none of them may be his. If the speaker system isn’t providing even coverage to EVERY seat in the house there is a problem with sound design or implementation.

“I haven’t heard a single complaint about the mix (not to say there may not have been), just about coverage and difficulty hearing speech between songs because they are in front of the PA and the available level before feedback is insufficient for the output of the girls.”

Kennedy is on a roll here. “And back at the local the rule has always been: don’t change anything between the soundcheck and the show (or tech check if there is no soundcheck). “Why would you be logging on as Admin in the middle of the show? Whoever did that needs serious counselling. And the summary? I can’t agree that you, of all people, would be slower and more anxious dealing with audio, lighting and vision digital networking.

“And finally, I think those risk conversations are being had, or considered, more than you think. You keep your clients, and get better paid, if they know nothing is going to go wrong. Most of them are intermediaries and have as much to lose when things go wrong as you.”

For crew I’d say look after your mate, the one next to you, and the one next to them. We have too many folks checking out, and remember, we are in the Hotel California. “You can check out, but you can never leave.”


CX Magazine – August 2019   Entertainment technology news and issues for Australia and New Zealand – in print and free online www.cxnetwork.com.au
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