by Danny Maland
At the risk of being labeled as an immature man-child, I must declare that I love computer games. I got hooked on “Super Mario Bros.,” and have progressively graduated to the modern and mature fare that pervades the PC market. The art of making games, and by extension, the way games are delivered to players, are concepts that interest me greatly. Recently, I've fallen in love with the idea of digital distribution. There's no need to drive to the store, just buy your game online and get it delivered to you through the Internet. In a piece regarding a game developer's experience with two of these digital distribution systems, Ken Buchera relates the following:
“Blow said that most presentations of this kind are led by marketing, complete with power point slides and bar graphs. Valve was different. “The engineers who type the code of the website to make it happen were there, and we were there, and we asked if it would be feasible to do something, and they wrote it down and put it down on their to-do list. It’s the complete opposite of the Microsoft bureaucracy, which is ‘we can’t do that, it’s not how the Xbox works.’ That’s their standard answer.”
(Buchera, 2012. The entire article can be read here: penny-arcade.com.)
Now then. I know what you're asking. You're asking, “What in the world is this doing in an AV publication? What does this have to do with me?” My answer to that is, like my recent piece regarding Google's science projects, there's a concept here that can be generalized. I'd put it like this:
Great customer service means being flexible and agile. Don't be so sure about the way you've determined to go that you can't adapt to a new opportunity.
As always, there are practical limits to how far one can go in immediately embracing this kind of idea. For instance, you may have made a product-line decision that works really well for all the work you're doing. Then, the day comes where a potential customer wants an audio system that's all based on data streaming over Cat 5/6 cable. The problem is that you're just not ready to implement that system in a professional manner, so you point the customer in the direction of someone who can. You've had to say, “I'm sorry, Sir. We just can't get that done for you,” and that's totally appropriate. You haven't taken a job that you can't perform, and that's the right thing to do. However, that's not the end of the story.
As the story continues to unfold, you have two major decisions. One path is to take the “Valve” route, and start figuring out what it will take to get yourself ready to work on a newfangled audio rig for the next person who asks. The other branch is to take the “Microsoft” route, and say, “Nope, we can't do that. That's not how Audio Our Way works.”
The idea that the “Valve” method might be a really good way to go seems obvious, yet it's rather easy to find examples of people rejecting that kind of adaptability. I can remember a forum exchange amongst some pro-audio professionals, professionals who usually take a high-line when it comes to being in a customer-service business, where a surprising statement was made. One of the gentlemen involved declared that, not only did he not do lighting, but he simply would not do lighting and had no desire to learn anything about it.
On the one hand, I could relate to the “I don't do lighting” issue. If you've decided to be an audio company that's really focused, then you just might not have room in the shop (or in the vehicles) for lighting gear. No matter how much a customer might want lighting services, it's just not something that you've got the space to do. That's totally understandable! Where I couldn't agree with this professional, though, was the aggressive desire to be uninformed about lighting. The reason I couldn't agree with his view was because he was doing shows that, presumably, made heavy use of lighting technology. Why wouldn't he want to have some idea about what makes that go? After all, he's a part of making that whole show happen in the best possible way. If he has some idea of what's going on, he can offer better customer service – especially if something goes wrong. Besides, we're not talking about really esoteric lighting issues in this context. Entertainment lighting, when compared to entertainment audio, is pretty easy. Learning about it would hardly set this gentleman back more than a few days of reading, and maybe some experimentation time. Unfortunately, he's closed himself off the possibility of knowing more about the productions he's involved in – he's decided that “he just doesn't do that, that's not how he works. That stuff is for other people.”
(Also, before I get a slew of irritated comments, please don't get me wrong about lighting being “easy.” Lighting has its own artistic complexities and fiddly bits of technology. The preparation required for a large, synchronized light show can be monumental. Still, the basics of DMX-driven entertainment lighting are hardly material requiring a graduate degree to grasp, and lighting techs don't have to deal with their part of the show existing in a semi-closed loop with the physics of input transducers, output transducers, and the room. At my main gig, I have to be both the audio and the lighting tech, and I worry a lot more about the audio end of the show.)
What I neglected to say in my “Google” article, and what I should say now, is that I'm not a shining example of any of these ideas. I've been as risk-averse as anyone. I've been as inflexible as anyone. These things are hard to do. The reason that I'm writing about all this is because, having really loused it up at times, I've felt the negative effects. I'm hoping to learn from my mistakes, and in so doing, pass that learning along. I want to become better at seeing something that needs tweaking, and making those tweaks, rather than just rejecting the notion of adaptation because it doesn't fit my preconceived idea.
I don't want to be so sure.
by Danny Maland