Study Hall

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Roundtable: Productive (And Often Fun) Pursuits Within Current Circumstances

A panel of audio professionals (many of them also PSW contributors) fills us in on how they’ve been channeling their energies in light of the ongoing challenges.
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Chris Mitchell with some of the handiwork he details later in the article.

Scott Holtzman: We attempted to make the best of this profound crisis in our industry and focus on improvement of process and staff, the goal being to come out of the shutdown stronger and more prepared to take on the challenges that the restart will present to us.

First we met with staff and included them in the decision-making process of staffing levels during the shutdown. Everyone was supportive and voluntarily gave up shifts and hours to give opportunities to work for everyone. Our ownership and management then set out the areas of focus and the goals to accomplish. We broke it down into three working groups:

  1. Process and organization
  2. Equipment maintenance and improvement
  3. Staff skill development

Process and organization. The first activity on the list was to completely inventory both our for-sale stock and rental inventory, with the goal of making sure our assets were all in the warehouse as well as to identify assets that could be sold to contribute to our monetary reserve. A lease was expiring on our sales office that also had a small warehouse. It was decided two locations were a luxury that could be eliminated during the shutdown. All material was transferred to the main warehouse, where shelving was reconfigured and ESD workstations were added to the shop, and then all gear was inventoried, tested, labeled and placed into the new location.

Equipment maintenance and improvement. All equipment was checked for proper operation. Loudspeakers were swept, cables tested and distro connections verified, along with a myriad of other functional tests. The equipment was placed in its new permanent home, and all shelving was labeled and verified against the inventory system. Amp racks were reorganized, with system processor software updated and programmed for different loudspeaker configurations. We also constructed new connection panels for some of these racks. All latches and casters were checked and serviced. Further, safety and rigging was verified for lifts, truss, spansets, stands, stairs, staging and other structural and motorized equipment.

Staff skill development. With the warehouse organized and in good order, we turned our attention to our most important assets, the human kind. Currently we’re working on methods to avoid having live skills such as mixing, lighting and video not atrophy. (When the relaunch comes we can’t be missing cues!) For the audio team, using multi-track recordings of artists they’re familiar with provides an opportunity for relevant “stick time” on the consoles. DMX simulators and visualizers let the lighting folkss utilize their consoles and simulate shows. The video team has been very lucky. Video took on the task of learning Open Broadcaster and interfacing with our cameras and switching to setu p streaming systems and mobile videoconferencing solutions. As this sector of the business develops, these skills will be highly relevant. We’ve already assisted venues, houses of worship and corporate clients in improving Internet broadcast content. The lighting and audio team has been able to join in this effort.

Lastly, each member chose continuing education that they wanted to pursue during the shutdown, and the team supported these professional development goals. Showing our commitment to the staff helped improve moral during these challenging times. Weekly video conference calls allowed us to stay connected and discuss both business and emotional issues that the group could assist each other with and provided needed connection in a time where isolation ruled.

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As with any effort, not everything went to plan. With all the gear in the warehouse. it ended up being quite cluttered and difficult to organize. We sorted by most-recently-used criteria and better utilized our vertical space. Drapery was also vacuum-packed to further reduce space and protect the fabric.We finally got in front of the process and the warehouse has functional workspace and staging areas.

The profound impact to our industry can’t be understated. Utilizing this time to strengthen existing relationships and forge new ones added additional hope. We still face uncertainty and not knowing when we will return to work. Additional new forms of revenue may have to be located. The community has supported our counter sales and streaming events now dot the schedule. Unity is our strength and together I’m confident we will emerge with a newfound appreciation for each other and our customers.

Chris Mitchell: I started off the lockdown with catching up on family time and relaxation, but the luster of unpolished adoration quickly faded. I need to create and expand my knowledge.

So, I rebuilt another Yamaha M1532 console, full recap, transformer direct outs, LCR EQ upgrades, etc. I designed a few new circuit boards for the upgrades, then I created a 5.1 surround sound mix from our recent shows at the Ryman Theater. I used multiple audience mics combined with the board mix and built a 5.1 matrix in Reaper. It sounded huge and immersive. I rebuilt a rack from a PM1000, then I built another rack using eight channels from a PM2000.

Next, I refurbished a Tascam 388 reel-to-reel tape recorder with eight-channel mixer – first time I’ve used tape in over 15 years. (Bring back Ferric Oxide-backed Mylar!) Then I built a bass guitar rig with 4 x 8-inch B&C midrange drivers over dual 18-inch Bag End subwoofers, tri-amped in stereo with active crossovers, EQ and delay. Because I like big bass and sawdust. Time for something else. (Enjoy some photos of Chris’s handi­work here.) (Read more from Chris here.)

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Celebrating over 50 years of audio excellence worldwide, Audio-Technica is a leading innovator in transducer technology, renowned for the design and manufacture of microphones, wireless microphones, headphones, mixers, and electronics for the audio industry.