The Ponds Are Stocked In AV Land

When I was younger, I participated in a few fishing derbies. I remember one particular derby where I caught nine trout in one day, see photos. The derby was sponsored by the local K-Mart, thus the hat. My dad and I were overwhelmed by the luck I was having! The pond at YMCA Camp Sloper had been stocked with fish the week prior. We asked around and quickly figured out that the best bait to use was corn, because the hatchery-bred fish had not yet learned to eat pond food; they liked corn.

I was not the only one who had luck that day. The kid who took the trophy for the most fish caught like 23. I also did not take the trophy for the largest fish; but I was still a happy camper, and went back the next day and caught a few more on my own. I tried my luck again that summer, in the same spot, but I did not catch anything. The corn stopped working, so I went an bought some expensive fishing tackle, which looked great in my tackle box, but nothing was effective as the cheap corn was during that one spring day of the fishing derby.

“The difference is time” as they say. The climate changed as the pond got warmer, the fish retreated to the cooler bottom. The young hatch-lings that survived the fishing derby weekend had two options moving forward: they could adapt to their surroundings, and eat worms, bugs, and smaller fish in Sloper’s pond, or they could be eaten by bigger fish. I don’t think it was a conscious decision. Eventually, the pond life goes back to “normal”, there are less fish, and the ones who survived are larger and more healthy.

Now, let’ reel this back into AV land. I believe the ponds in AV Land are getting stocked this spring, largely due to the tax law changes. I think #AVtweeps are conscious of it; some are not making any decisions, while some are putting plans in place, to deal with the upcoming volume. Notice I said volume, not revenue, or profits, or tax shelters.

Assuming your customers are C-corps, you should see, and hear, a gradual crescendo in spending in 2018, ending with the busiest holiday season anyone has ever experienced in all of AV Land. Older, problematic digital signal processing, microphones, and touch panels will be updated. Corporate customers will start spending more money on large ticket items like immersive rooms and video walls. Ping pong tables will compete for space with VR and AR gaming setups. The more start-up type smaller businesses will finally start to outfit their huddle rooms with new video collaboration systems.

K-12 schools and community colleges will see more donations to support classroom technology as well as gaming lounges and black-box theaters. Sounds great, right? But take warning, according to the AV Land Farmer’s Almanac (you see what I did there?)…

Your service center calls could become unmanageable as the new gear mingles with old.  Bandwidth needs will spike as AV and IT converge, and go forth, and multiply, and higher resolution video traffic will bog down older switches. Fan noise will increase.   Credenza rack switches will begin to overheat. Meanwhile, sales and design teams will design more and more networked AV. Programmers will ask for more IP addresses. Lead technicians are going to make extra money working overtime, making it all work.

So, how do you, the AV integration expert, plan to catch the MOST fish, AND the largest, without wasting a bunch of time, and money on equipment you don’t really need?

  1. Start with corn: Standardize on no more than a dozen pre-designed systems that you can sell quickly with confidence.  Keep the prices down by keeping things very simple, but be sure to include an adequate materials budget and labor to cover the inevitable trips to Home Depot, Grainger, or Lowe’s. Give your AV installation crews credit cards or similar means to get small items ordered immediately. Get ‘er done.
  2. Bring plenty of worms: The big fish in the pond will want something more than corn.  They will want large format displays that make viewers say “Wow”. They will also want to upgrade projection systems with newer laser light source models. Worms are a little more tricky to put on the hook, but in the end, not complicated.
  3. Tackle your complicated designs using your most excellent people and engineering. Don’t let your best resources get bogged down with the “corn” projects.  Figure out a way to free up their time so they can focus on the larger custom spaces and bring your client’s dreams to life.  They are like the professional anglers on the television.
  4. Give everyone the tools they need to complete the projects, but be careful not to fill your tackle box with a bunch of expensive lures like I did when I was little.  Only buy the tools you need right now. Update your own conference rooms, but don’t over do it.  The same goes for hiring new people, look for the skills that you are going to need for your pipeline, and then hire the people who have those skill sets.
  5. Don’t mistake volume for market share. I thought I was going to win that derby.

The key to the next few years will be to anticipate the sales volume bump, and then scaling appropriately, by putting the right people and tools in place. By following the above suggestions, (and never, ever asking me for fishing advice,) AV integration firms should be able to realize the upcoming spike in revenue, without being caught off-guard.

Fish on!

fish

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Music Media Matters

Last week, I dropped $30 on a vinyl record, which was probably the most I have ever paid for an album, without adjusting for inflation. Usually, my vinyl records come from garage sales or thrift stores, and much of my collection came from my Dad and friends. I’m not an avid record store guy like John Cusack’s customers in High Fidelity. In fact, I can probably count all the records I got “new” on one hand. So why did I buy this particular album for $30?

I was attending a concert in Sonoma county, and the $30 record was for sale in a merchandise booth. When I first heard the price, I hesitated. But then I thought about it: this was a compilation album, featuring songs from twelve reggae bands that had recently performed at the 2017 California Roots Music and Arts Festival at the Monterrey County Fairgrounds, the same location as the famous Monterrey International Pop Music Festival in 1967.

According to the back cover, all profits from the album sales will be donated to the Guitars Not Guns Music Program. Using music as a catalyst GNG encourages children and teens to use their creativity to foster personal development and to help divert them from the destructive influences of drugs, alcohol, and gang-related violence”. When I read that, the $30 price tag didn’t seem too steep; I considered it a donation to a good cause.

CA Roots Volume 1 inside cover

I also consider the album a souvenir, that will forever hold memories of that concert. The bands I saw at the concert were not on the album, but there is still a connection, between the live music I heard, the people I hung out with, and this vinyl record. If I didn’t buy it that night, would I get another chance? Would I have purchased the album if it were on CD or Spotify? Probably not. Why not? Of course, I could argue that the sound quality of a CD or digital track is not the same as the warmth of an analog record, which is true; but I will leave that blog post for the audiophiles.

I listen to records when I am relaxing at home, which is also the only place I can listen to them. When I have friends over (which is basically never, but let’s pretend I have friends for the sake of this blog post), I encourage them to pick out some albums to listen to while we catch up on life (and talk about other imaginary friends.) I sometimes hunt for a particular record in my collection, but more often, I randomly grab a few and put them on. And I usually listen to the entire album, or at least one side, all the way through. I respect the time the artist put into recording the album, and the order of the songs.

Most Millennials don’t get the concept of an album. They like their music to be on-demand, as they grew up with the ability to listen to any song with a click or two. They never had to rewind or fast forward a cassette tape, or heaven forbid, wait for an 8-track to repeat. To give them some credit, they certainly understand the value of a good playlist, but they don’t understand how Generation Xers spent hours making the perfect mix tape; how some DJ’s would sort their records by BPM (beats per minute) in preparation for a club set; or how alternative rock Compact Discs would often have a “hidden track” that would start 20 or 30 seconds after the last official track. I remember Ministry’s “Psalm 69” CD had a song hidden on track 69; I remember watching the track number go up each second, in silence, until the final track finally played! You think Spotify would allow a band to have 50 or 60 blank tracks, each one second long, before the final hidden track? Imagine what that playlist would look like on a phone!

My point here is that when you listen to music, the media matters. When I say media, I don’t mean the news or social media networks, I mean the plural of medium, whether it be a vinyl record, cassette tape, compact disc, MP3, satellite, or regular radio. How you listen to your music will affect what music you listen to. Let me give you a few examples of what I mean, using my own music collection, and how I listen to it:

When I listen to my LP’s, I typically listen classic rock, jazz, big band, show tunes, and classical music. I have a few exceptions like EDM records I landed at the Winter Music Conferences in Miami, and a handful of new albums I have been given as gifts from friends. But most of the time, the records I put on are from the 1950’s, 60’s, and 70’s.

When I listen to my cassettes, and I have a lot of them, it tends to be mostly 80’s music. Many of these I purchased at full price when I was younger. Some were from BMG memberships, some were hand-me-downs from older siblings, and some are live “bootlegs” of jam bands. I also have a lot of greatest hits compilations, and a lot of those Time Life compilations on cassette. Contemporary Country, anyone? I got the Time Life tapes free from a neighbor who put them on the curb when I lived in Fairfax, CA. Many of the tape series are “brand new”, and still in the original packaging. Score!

Timelife contemporary country cassettes

If I am driving around the Bay, I tend to listen to local radio stations. I especially like Oakland’s old-school rap, hip-hop and hyphy.  When I am in wine country, I hear a lot of Joni Mitchel and the Grateful Dead. If I am back in Connecticut visiting family and friends, I listen to the local radio stations there, where I can count on hearing some Rush, AC/DC, Staind, Metallica, and Ska music. The commercials on the radio are annoying, but they give me a reason to change the channel, and find another station, often with a different kind of music. I love the Sunday radio shows, not the Top 40, but the special jazz, gospel, bluegrass, and live music programs on independent radio stations.

If I am listening to my CD’s, it tends to be 90’s music, but there are plenty of other decades represented. I have done a lot of road trips, and my CD collection is a good way to pass the time while I am driving cross-country. Other times, I will hear an old song on the radio while I am driving, and when I get home, I will dig out the CD to hear the rest of the album. I also listen to my CD’s when I am cleaning.

I have a lot of MP3 files, but I only listen to them when I am working on my computer, and more often, I use Spotify to lookup newer bands. Social media gives me the ability to listen to what my online friends are listening to. I can also find new music on apps like Pandora, after I have searched for a particular band, the algorithm figures out the characteristics of music I enjoy, and gives me similar songs from artists I might like.

spotify home pageThe downside to this feature is I don’t usually hear the entire albums; instead I hear the big radio hits, or songs that are the most popular downloads. This is very different from listening to a record, CD, or cassette tape all the way through. If you listen to satellite radio like Sirius/XM, you almost never hear the deeper cuts from the albums, new or old.

Nowadays, people can purchase one song at a time, which is kind of like buying a 45 rpm record, or a “cassingle”, which was a cassette in a cardboard sleeve, featuring one song that was on the radio; but those still had B-sides: deeper album cuts, live, or alternative versions of the songs. This was a way for the artist and/or record label to get you to listen to a song you might not hear on the radio. Sometimes, the B-side turned out to be better than the A-side. I remember buying Gun’s and Roses’ “Patience” on cassette single and first listening to the B-side “Rocket Queen”, which was never a radio hit, but it is a sick song. I’m going to put it on right now! Yes, I still have all of my Cassingles; unfortunately, most of them are pretty beat.

Guns N Roses Patience Rocket Queen

Which brings us back to digital music. Today’s younger generation does not have to worry about tapes breaking, or record needles wearing out. They don’t need to worry about scratching a CD, or their hard drive crashing. Their music is usually stored in the cloud, with some songs stored locally on their phone or tablet. Live concerts can be streamed on-demand on your TV using set-top boxes. Just about any song can be found with a quick search on YouTube, just watch this short video advertisement first.

Instead of buying albums, Millennials pay for monthly subscriptions that give them unlimited access to literally thousands of albums.  People are happy paying money fees to listen to what they want, when they want, while avoiding the repeating commercials common on traditional terrestrial radio. Others choose to listen to streaming “stations” that are based on their favorite bands, or music genres. This gives them some access to new music, but the bands are still limited, and often chosen by big record labels.

Music is now a service, and people are lazy, so the convenience factor of streaming music is actually affecting what we listen to. If you flip through your old CDs, you will likely choose a different album than you would on Spotify or iTunes. If you listen to a record or cassette, you will likely listen to an entire side, and if you are not too busy, or lazy, you might actually flip it over and hear the B-side.

I encourage my readers to be more mindful of the media that stores their favorite music, and the devices that deliver the music to their ears. Break out your old CD collection, or flip through your parents records, and let the album covers bring back memories, and guide your choices. Listen to the entire albums, top to bottom. Buy a random CD at a truck stop, or from a local band, even if it is a risky because you don’t know most of the songs. Don’t be lame when it comes to music media. Take some risks!

In closing, I would like to get back to that California Roots, Volume 1 record that I purchased last week. When I took it out of the sleeve for the first time, I realized another reason they were charging 30 dollars for it: the vinyl is thick, and decorated with a psychedelic pattern that makes it unique, and memorable, just like the concert I attended. A digital download or YouTube video would never hold those memories like this physical record does. The tracks are great, and the bass from the analog media sounds awesome in my living room. $30 well spent.

California Roots Volume 1

Girl Inside California Roots Volume 1

The Anatomy of an AV Integration Project

Like most audio/video (AV) integrators, we have been quite busy this summer. My company is taking on more projects than ever before, and I explained to my Engineering team that this is analogous to eating a big Thanksgiving dinner: the more food you eat in a given meal, the more likely your stomach will be in pain as you process all of that food.

Let’s flesh out this analogy: the more we eat (Sales), the more likely our stomach (Engineering and CAD) will hurt, and it is difficult to speed up that process . The only thing we can do to increase our overall metabolism (or so called ‘bandwidth’) is to try and exercise more often; exercise = training. And just like exercising, integration engineers need to make/find the time for training, to keep the process moving at a good pace.

If your Sales department is the mouth of the process, and Engineering/CAD is the stomach, then the next step is the process is Purchasing, which would be the small intestine. Some products have long lead times, others may be more readily available, and will move more quickly through the intestines, like liquids. The point is, the purchasing and receiving process usually takes a while, and largely depends on the Engineering to have things ready to go. If the stomach stops working, then nothing gets to the intestines.

According the Wikipedia, “[the] large intestine, also known as the large bowel or colon, is the last part of the gastrointestinal tract and of the digestive system in vertebrates. Water is absorbed here and the remaining waste material is stored as feces before being removed by defecation”. In our AV project analogy, the large intestine represents the rack building and programming of the DSP (digital signal processor) and/or control systems. The rectum represents the testing that happens before the installation begins.

At this point in the analogy, I need to be very careful to not offend anyone. To put it simply, the field installation teams are by far the most important part of the process, because without them, the rest of the process would get backed up. The project managers and installers don’t determine what projects we take on (eat), and yet they are the ones that inevitably have to deal with the … well, you get me. When they are finished, the integration process is essentially done. If Sales goes after junk-food-type projects, or if the Engineering and Purchasing departments make mistakes, you can expect some flatulence. Although it may be too late to fix the current project, the rest of the body will learn to take on jobs that are more healthy, and cause less pain.

So, are we finished here? Not yet! Assuming the system has been fully tested, the client needs to be trained, and the as-built drawings and manuals need to be delivered. Skipping this part of the process would be analogous to not using any toilet paper. You need to clean up! Some audiovisual integration companies are very faster than others in completing this step, others may take longer because they are more thorough. But no matter how long it takes, don’t skip this step! If you do, your clients will likely think that you stink. :)