Can We Get a Little Help?
File this under editorial as I was thinking about this this morning. Console and equipment manufacturers should pay attention to this one.
I’ve been working on a variety of different consoles and gear since becoming an independent engineer last summer, and one of the things I’ve been thinking about is why it can be so difficult adapting to a new console. I’ve been behind audio consoles for over 25 years now so I would think the task of figuring out a new console should be fairly simple, and yet it can be frustrating and often quite difficult working with a new console for the first time in this digital age.
With any new console there’s always a certain amount of geography to learn. Everyone puts their knobs and buttons in slightly different locations so figuring out new whereabouts of things is always step 1, but that’s nothing new. We had to do that back in the analog days, and it goes with the territory of working on a new console.
Another annoyance is any proprietary language used by the manufacturer of the console. What are Groups called? What are VCA’s called? What are Aux Sends called? It boggles my mind why manufacturers have to give things their own names and can’t just get on the industry bandwagon with some things. In the end, this is really a small gripe, but still a frustration as a user.
The real challenge to new consoles, though, usually lies deeper within and typically amounts to configuring things. How do you insert something? How do you send to FX and get the FX working? How do you patch things? How do you assign VCA’s and/or Mute Groups?
I’ve had numerous occasions over the last six months where I would have been up a creek if I hadn’t had a tech nearby to help me with what I consider pretty basic console workflow tasks. When you factor in the deeper functionality of digital consoles such as snapshots, macros, user keys, etc. it makes complete and perfect sense to me why many engineers avoid getting into many of these features because they can be a little more complicated to implement than I would sometimes like.
So this got me wondering. Why in this digital and technological revolution can’t I find an on-board help system on digital consoles? Maybe it’s there and I just missed it, but if consoles are basically just software in a big package, why am I not seeing more of this? Every application I purchase for my computer has some kind of help in it, and I’d like to see something like this on consoles.
Really, I would love it if there were at least two functions available on consoles that would provide engineers with a Virtual Console Assistant. First I’d like a “Where is the _________?” feature and then a “How Do I ___________?” feature. Both of these could be anything from simple drop-down menus with common questions like “Where’s the EQ On button?” or “Where’s the Aux Send knob?” to more complex things like “How do I send this input to an effect?” or “How do I patch this input?” These simple little questions could pull up anything from a simple text window of instructions to a step-by-step walk-through highlighting locations on the screen. At a bare minimum, I feel like I should be able to pull up a PDF of the user guide and search right there on the desk seeing as how just about every console these days has some kind of hard- or software keyboard attached along with a mouse/trackball or touchscreen of some sort.
Now I realize we’re talking about professional equipment here so maybe some folks are a little hesitant to have something on the desk “hold their hand” and help them out. Personally, though, I’m just at a point where I don’t have an issue asking for help. I regularly ask manufacturer reps, other users, and techs who are on site. I know how to do my job with a console, but the reality is not all of today’s technology is intuitive to use at first.
I have no problem getting into manuals, and I regularly read and thumb through them, but the trouble with manuals is they are often a little thick when you’re doing a one-off. Some manufacturers have some fantastic videos available on their websites and YouTube, and while these can be helpful they tend to be time consuming to watch and are often unavailable when you’re actually on site needing help. On board help from the console, however, would solve these issues and help engineers solve their problems a lot faster without the need to find a tech onsite or to get on the phone with a friend or rep.
So what do you think? Is help already there on consoles, and I’ve just been blind to it? Would you use a Help System on a digital console you were unfamiliar with?