REDBAND: 3 Things I Learned About A/V from Watching Restaurant Stakeout By Stackhouse

I absolutely love food. It is truly one of my great passions. For a long time when I was younger I wanted to become a chef, which lead to me working as a server, a line cook and a manager before I became a technology professional. A few nights ago I was sitting in my home watching an episode of Restaurant Stakeout. It’s one of my favorite TV shows and even though I have seen the show many times, something in this episode made me sit up and pay attention to the uncanny parallels between our world and the food service industry. The world of A/V professionals is usually considered to be a part of the technology sector but we are actually a part of the hospitality business as well. This may not be obvious so grab a seat and get comfortable. I’ll be your server today and show you with these three tasty appetizers what some of those parallels are.

Flank Steak
Good training is absolutely critical to executing at 110% with every client. Imagine you’re out to dinner with your friends at the hottest new restaurant in town. Though you haven’t had it before you’ve heard that this place has amazing flank steak. The waiter asks you how you would like that cooked and you say “well done” while the waiter just says “OK” and puts your order in with the kitchen. The only problem is that flank steak is a different kind of steak that is best served medium well at most or it’s going to taste leathery and overly chewy. This experience is going leave a bad taste in the customers mouth and could have been prevented if the waiter had educated their guest. The problem here is that the waiter didn’t know, which is the restaurant managers fault.

Customers are three times more likely to talk about a bad experience than a good one and in this situation the waiter should have helped their guest to find the memorable dining experience they were seeking. Our roles as A/V professionals aren’t any different. Our clients trust us to be experts and know all of the subtleties of our trade. For A/V business owners execution is key to success and this means understanding that your front line people have to be sharp. Remember, the best staff are well trained staff and your company is only as good as the least educated and trained member of it’s team, so make sure you invest time, energy and money into keeping your installers, technicians and customer assistance people well trained and well informed….

Tonight’s Our Anniversary
Imagine that you’re out on the town on a Friday night looking for a special way to celebrate your love for your partner. You go to a restaurant that is supposed to have great food and amazing drink specials. When you arrive it’s particularly busy and once you get a table (after waiting 25 minutes) things start to go downhill. Your waiter isn’t around when you need him, he put your order in wrong completely ignoring your request for the chicken parmigiana to be unbreaded, and he didn’t even offer you a complimentary drink for your anniversary or comp your check for messing up your order. You feel like your special night was ruined and you won’t be coming back again or recommending this place to your friends and family.

If you approach A/V with an understanding that we are really hospitality driven, since our product is a luxury in many instances, you quickly see how this restaurant experience isn’t really any different from what we do on a daily basis. Whether you’re a commercial or residential company your clients are really looking for someone to make them feel special just as a good restaurant would. They want to feel as if you really care about them. Successful restaurateurs understand and help their people to understand that they are serving love on a plate. Why should a luxury product like A/V be any different? Remember that simple things make a big difference for your clients. Accommodate special requests, focus on the guest experience. Blow your customers away and you’ll not only make them feel obligated to come back to your company again and again, but you’ll also make them want to refer people to you.

Who’s In Charge?
Restaurant owners often mistakenly think that their staff performs up to their expectations when they aren’t around . Often this isn’t true but it’s not because people don’t want to work hard. In fact it’s usually the opposite and has more to do with absentee owners and managers who don’t practice solid leadership skills.

Imagine that you’re the manager of a busy restaurant but your often hiding away back in the office. It’s likely that without constant communication and feedback from you that your people wouldn’t meet your expectations of them. Worse yet you won’t understand what they need from you to succeed.

The world of A/V isn’t any different. Project managers need to be present and remember to lead their people. Remember they not only need to be directed they WANT you to do so, and when you do you help your bottom line and your people to stay happy.

 

 

Check out Joshua Stackhouse’s profile on LinkedIn and follow him on his Blog: Massive Stack . Oh yeah he’s on  Twitter too: @StackhouseAV

REDBAND: Remember to Listen by Joshua Stackhouse

I remember it very well. It was the first time I had ever heard anything like it. It grabbed me. The sadness and grief. The raw emotion. The melancholy. It was blissful and radically different than the European pop and (what now is considered “classic”) Hip-Hop plastered all over the air waves. I could have been no older than 12 years old, yet I remember. I had never before experienced a musical composition that so powerfully captured my imagination. It was a virginal experience. I had never felt music before, I had only…listened. It would be many years later that, as my appreciation of music grew, that I would understand that what I had experienced that day in my youth was true listening. You may ask yourself what song could have this sort of influence on a young man? The answer is simple, it was Moonlight Sonata. A Mozart masterpiece whose influence has lasted me my lifetime thus far, and I firmly believe it will remain my favorite piece of music above all else for as long as I shall live.

What I experienced that day was the universality of music. It was my first taste of understanding the connectedness of our species through our creative voices. Across time and geography, languages, cultures and customs divide us, but only a few things have the universality of music. It is easy to partake of, and costs us little if anything. It can be as simply as a human voice or as complex as an orchestral arrangement. Nothing, except for maybe food and the act of eating, binds us together as a species like music. Music is simply an expression of the human experience and the emotions which come with it…

Continue reading by clicking the link below:

http://stackhouseav.tumblr.com/post/48033219656/remember-to-listen

 

Check out Joshua Stackhouse profile on LinkedIn and follow him on his Blog and on Twitter: @StackhouseAV

REDBAND: Ain’t No Cure for the Job Huntin’ Blues By Joshua Stackhouse

Ain’t No Cure for the Job Huntin’ Blues By Joshua Stackhouse

I realize many salty AV veterans either didn’t go to college at all but instead learned on the job or went to school for something not related to AV at all. However, as some of you will know, this “kid” is probably the only person you have ever heard of who has a degree in AV. Yes, you heard me right. Let me say that again. I have an actual college degree in audio/visual systems and electronics.

Here, don’t take my word for it. Check out this video here of my graduation commencement.

See that right there, yeah, that’s me walking across that stage receiving an actual academic degree in audio visual systems. Your eyes are not playing tricks on you. Degrees in A/V actually exist, and I am one of only a handful of people in all of our industry to have one. That makes me special…and highly unemployable.

If the that statement seems odd, let me explain by plainly telling you that just having a degree in A/V doesn’t get you jobs. In fact, it has only served to make things harder in some ways. While you might think that I have the holy grail of education for our industry, many employers do not even really recognize my degree as a valid alternative to experience in the field. This is something in the industry which I am hoping to reconcile. As you read this, if you are an employer, consider that just because degrees in A/V are relatively new, it doesn’t mean that I’m not every bit as capable as doing the job as the guys who have been doing it for years.

Now as I stated, finding employment after graduation wasn’t necessarily easier just because I held an AV degree. I faced many challenges but we’ll just focus the big five. A pseudo sixth problem which I won’t discuss, but deserves mention is that I had to teach myself through research who the players in each market segment are in my local area and the industry at large.

The first obstacle I had to overcome in searching for a job was understanding what exactly employers call each job and what that job entails.  It is a disservice to our entire industry that we still have so many job titles out there and no standards. For example, some companies have dedicated “Structured Cabling Technicians”, whereas another may very well employ someone whose sole job is to install cabling but instead is only called an “Installation Technician”.

Figuring out what each job is called is really minor in comparison to the big two insurmountable obstacles of consistent employer demand for several years experience and the desire for employees with specializations. While I have years of IT and technical support experience behind me, I only possess the experience I gained from two years of school when it comes to AV. Well, that’s sort of true, I’ve been dealing with AV my entire life off and on as a technician, though from an employer perspective that doesn’t really count. Employers consistently asked me about my level of experience during interviews, and each time I had to defend the validity of hands on trade school training.

While not quite as restricting as lack of experience, not having a specialty also made finding a job difficult. My academic studies were blanket program covering home theater systems, fire and life safety, surveillance, live sound, building automation, and more. Time after time I would be drilled on in my interviews about how deep my training went in each area. Without fail, I almost always didn’t have enough knowledge in one or two areas to satisfy them. It was constantly a “close but no cigar” situation.

Normally our personal networks provide us opportunities to interview with a company. Even if you lack a job skill or two knowing someone who can vouch for you helps employers overlook things like not having enough experience or a specialty. In my case, having no industry contacts made this door opening technique unavailable to me. Of course my professors had their contacts, but I am a significantly better designer than I am an installer, and sadly design jobs are rare. While I actively use social media and regularly attend networking events locally, the opportunity to meet A/V professionals is far and few in between.

Perhaps the biggest impediment to employment was that as a whole the A/V industry just doesn’t understand what a degree in A/V entails. Since Madison Media Institute is currently one of a kind, most of the industry has only begun to hear of academic A/V training. As the industry grows to become aware that formal education exists in our field, I believe that employment opportunities will start to open up more readily. Indeed, employers are beating the door down at my Alma Mater asking when our next crop of graduates will be ripe and ready. Each graduating class becomes more refined and better trained as the curriculum matures.

As a rapidly expanding industry that is heavily concerned with gaining recognition, we must concern ourselves with the challenges formal education creates.  Certifications will not take us all the way; we must develop academic programs that deal with specialties such as video conferencing or building automation. We should not be content to continue business as usual and be merely a trade, but instead a valid career field that colleges will find appetizing. We must embrace this change, and do whatever we can to help those entering our industry with solid education find their place in the great electron sea of A/V. The only question left at this point is what part will you play in helping that change to happen? This guy, well, I’m “Mr. AV Education” and will continue to push for formal education in AV for years to come. Will you become an agent of change and actively help or will you sit by on the sidelines as things fly past you? Which side will you be on?

 

Check out Joshua Stackhouse profile on LinkedIn and follow him on Twitter: @StackhouseAV

REDBAND: AVademics by Joshua Stackhouse

AVademics by Joshua Stackhouse

 I’ve been hearing a lot of talk lately about certifications in the AV industry. Some believe they’re critical to the growth of our industry, some believe they’re a piecemeal  solution to a bigger problem, a lack of formal academics. It is my belief that both parties have a lot of merit to their respective views, but both fall short of the big picture.

The future of education in our industry will look very similar to an electrician or engineer. Formal academics will become increasingly more common as the systems which we work with become increasingly more complex. Installers will go to school to learn their trade and then get certified just as electricians do. System designers will have formal degrees not entirely unlike a traditional architect in “AV Engineering”, a mixture of both structural and electrical engineering.

I’d like to take just a moment to point out that in less than one month I’ll be graduating with an Associates of Applied Science in Electronics and Audio/Visual Systems. Upon graduating I will have spent an intensive 18 months of my life learning everything from principles and methods of building construction to electronic circuit analysis and every basic AV principle in between.  So when I make this prediction I speak from an understanding of how powerful formal AV education is and how it will shape the future of our industry.

Which leaves me pondering, if very few other people in the industry have formal academic training in AV, what then is the value of my degree? Mind you this is not a judgement of the quality of my education, but rather a question about the recognition of its value by industry professionals. Since many in the industry have not yet heard about such a thing, then what does that mean for me as a professional? Does my degree mean anything to people in the industry?

As it turns out, yes…yes it does have meaning. However, that meaning isn’t exactly obvious. To really understand requires a bit of explanation.

I have dedicated 18 months of my life to learning the science behind AV, the electronics that makes them tick, how these systems are installed, and how to design them.  The depth of my knowledge surpasses that of an average apprentice. I could walk on to any of a dozen different AV or Low-Voltage job sites and easily follow the instruction of a veteran with little guidance.

The simple fact remains, however, that my actual hands on experience with many of the things I have learned is somewhat limited, which places me in this awkward position to be more than a noob but less than an expert.

Which is precisely where I want to be. You see I’m not actually following in the traditional path of career development. While many, indeed if not most, AV guys and gals started with an interest in AV and learned as they went along, I went to school first and have a rich understanding of not only the systems themselves but also the industry  before even making my career debut.

Which leads me to this conclusion. The days where just any guy with a van can pull up to your house, pull some cable in your home and call himself an installer is gone like the dinosaurs. For this industry to continue its growth the level of skill necessary for installers and designers must grow with it.

This is not an easy task, and companies who want to succeed will need to increase the knowledge of their employees to beyond mere certifications.  They will need people who are highly trained professionals, no different from a doctor or master electrician. It is here where our esteemed industry veterans must step up to the challenge of working with institutions of higher learning to create formal academics.  This is how my program was created and only by doing so can the next generation of AV professionals be born.

This second generation AV professional, or AV Pro v2.0,  isn’t coming, he and she are here already. Which is precisely where persons such as myself with a formal academic background come into the picture. It is my hope that this blog post serve as a wakeup call to the veteran AV professionals. Look to programs such as the one I am graduating from as inspiration and source material. Take your own approach, talk to your local higher-ed institutions and make something happen. Combine this with the efforts of organizations such as InfoComm and it’s certifications and I promise you that our industry will flourish. So, what are you waiting for Mr. Veteran AV Guy, don’t you have some phone calls to make?

Check out Joshua Stackhouse profile on LinkedIn and follow him on Twitter: @StackhouseAV

REDBAND: Future AV…Hello my name is Joshua Stackhouse By Joshua Stackhouse

Future AV – Hello my name is Joshua Stackhouse. by Joshua Stackhouse

 “There is no reason for any individual to have a computer in his home”– Ken Olson, CEO of Digital Equipment Corporation, 1977.

Olsen was wrong; I need technology like a zombie needs brains!

I’ve been around computer technology my entire life, exposed at every turn as a child. My mom was an electronics repair technician and it was common for me to watch my mom take apart and fix everything from VCR’s to arcade machines to animatronic robots. I watched her control industrial robotics and design software. My earliest childhood memories involve playing with robots she constructed. Watching her solder them together component by component, I was completely fascinated. As time went by, I quickly discovered that I was a “digital Doolittle” able to just understand anything computer-based with very little effort.

As I got older, watching became doing. I used computers in school and computers at home. Heck, I was programming in BASIC on a Commodore 64 my grandmother gave me when I was just ten. In high school I was a computer geek hanging out with other geeks doing stuff like building online game worlds for early MMORPG’s and hacking game consoles. Leaving home at 19 to join the U.S. Navy, I then professionally worked as an IT administrator for a network that spanned a fifth of the country. Tech had been with me all along, and had become a career.

I burned out after a few years and left tech for a little over half a decade. I didn’t stop being an end-user, but the notion of certifications and academics being more important to hiring personnel than actual experience had left a bad taste in my mouth.

Eventually, however, I got over myself and enrolled in a high-tech trade program at Madison Media Institute in Madison, Wisconsin. It has been there in the Associates of Applied Science in Electronics and A/V systems (EAV) program that I rekindled my passion for technology. Adding to my IT background and lifelong passion for tech, I learned everything from methods of construction to electronics at the component level to project management and a slew of systems including life safety systems, home theater systems, CCTV, distributed audio/video and more.

My instructors went above and beyond the role of instructor and rose to the status of mentors. During my tenure as a student at MMI they molded and shaped me into a professional ready to reenter the tech world and take it by storm. To my instructors, my kids, and loving fiancé who have supported me through the process, I am truly grateful.

My time at MMI is nearly over. In just ten weeks I will graduate with my degree, ready to charge into the A/V world and shake it up. My time spent there has reinvigorated my inner geek inspiring me to go beyond a career to build and play with electronics and computing as a hobby with tools such as the Arduino and to take former Harvard Professor Shimon Shocken’s NAND2Tetris course. It has given me a desire to become a LEED Green Associate, pursue my Cisco CCNA, and to obtain my Certified Technical Trainer certification from CompTIA. All of these are, of course, in addition to industry certifications like ESPA and CTS.

Olsen was wrong. The AV systems designed and installed by AV integrators empower us to have more enjoyable lives and therefore are desirable. We rely on them so much that I believe that IT and AV are beyond merging and are now irreversibly intertwined.  The symbiotic nature of this business relationship is so significant that only the integrators who understand this vision of the future will remain relevant.

I am “young” AV. My name is Joshua Stackhouse and I am what the future of this industry looks like.

Check out Joshua Stackhouse profile on LinkedIn and follow him on Twitter: @StackhouseAV

REDBAND: The Shock & Awe Playlist By Christopher Neto

What you will read may shock you. 

Chances are it will appall you. 

But the fact is we all do it when no one is looking.

Admit it!

We all play our music on someone else’s soundsystem.

Typically you try not to bring your musical stylings into the mix. So we find ourselves buying Smooth Jazz CDs or Bland Music that may/could be technically solid  to play while at a customer location. But Every so often we get a window of opportunity to put our own tunes into that freshly installed soundsystem. To tag it with “I was here” !

So Last week I put a call out to REDBAND to send me a playlist that they would use to drive a soundsystem (sans customers) and leave it gasping for air. It’s a new system and let’s see what it can do. It’s like test driving an italian sports car in at rush hour. You know what you’re working with and you want to go full throttle.

You kindly and professionally wait till none is around. You check the halls and the parking lot and rush back in to get your MP3 player connected. You file through your playlist and find that Special Mix and not the mix tape you made in High School for your sweetie. No disrespect to your  Sweetie, your formal audio training or your well-trained ear. This is unadulterated Ear Candy so hit the gas!

NETO

Underworld – Born Slippy (Single)

  • From the Trainspotting Soundtrack will build into a 100 mph Dance Anthem. Searing describes it well.

Rage Against the Machine – All 4 Albums.

  • Songs like “Killing in the Name“ , “Bulls on Parade”,  “Pistol Grip Pump”, “Renegades Of Funk” will make want to keep an eye on the speakers and their warranty.

Guns N’ Roses - Appetite for Destruction

  • Start to finish it’s one of the greats.

Gipsy Kings - The Best of the Gipsy Kings

  • A change of pace and a personal favorite of mine . Anyone who can appreciate Spanish guitars plucked away with a pulsating beat will enjoy their music.

Cake

  • I love everything this band has put out. The rhythm and the horns are infectious.

The Cult

  • Electric and Love Albums are 2 of the best and very high on my most played list.  The Riff just flood the room with sound.

TUCKER

As I have gone back to my roots and re-entered the  Event Staging world I do not have many opportunities to tune up and perform test drives on media room systems these days.

I do not hate surround sound  -(regardless of the fact that I once caused a virtual right in 1992 on a BBS board by calling it “… Quad without the thrill nostalgia…” ) – but I am ostensibly a two channel guy with romantic tendencies toward the lo-fi genre.

Still there are times I am asked by a friend to help out for a few beers and dinner and when the manufacturers bring over a new system to test I have a few discs that I know all too well and provide a means to show off the capabilities:

The Creatures – Boomerang

  • Siouxsie Sioux and Budgie from Siouxsie and the Banshees side project of evocative middle eastern rhythms and instruments all bundled into a post punk tent revival.  The ,music swirls up into crescendos only to build up again and again  layering in goth inflections with dance beats, electronic pace and arabic prayer like calls.  While this does have a rock bottom heavy sound it is not so deep as to overwhelm the intricate sub melodies nor counter the subtle lilting opposition beats that crash around the songs like a tipsy musically adept  conductor stumbling his way around the brass section.  This is my go to desert island disc.

Black Pearls

  • John Coltrane – Hackensack NJ 1958.  While not considered one of the best Coltrane records it is  remarkable for the space and presence of the pieces.  Long before surround sound was a pipe dream and Quad was losing out to the long play records, Black Pearls achieved a sense of transporting the listener into the room.   The album, recorded by the renowned Rudy Van Gelder -(if you do not know of this gentlemen I suggest looking into him, his work is a revelation)- on a three track wire recorder dubbed ‘bandsaws’ by engineers at the time. A quartet Be-Bop band recorded live with three microphones onto a three track wire recorder -  If this cannot be called F’n brilliant then nothing can.

Tori Amos Crucify: Smells Like Teen Spirit

  • Tori Amos’s cover of Nirvana’s ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’  is what will make the original stand the test of time.  The cut from the limited EP ‘Crucify’ lifts the veil of noise from the song and exposes the sheer craftsmanship of songwriting – the lyrical playfulness and dexterity Kurt Cobain had.  Recorded with only Piano and Voice the song is all about the quiet, the space.  Ms Amos’s version can give me chills each time I hear it but in a good room my skin flashes into goosebumps and knees literally grow weak.  Audiophiles may rave on about capturing transients of the strings but I thrill at how a system handles the empty spaces just as well.

Gogol Bordello

  • Crazy gypsy dance music – crash, boom, bang music.  but that voice is recorded BeAuTiFulY!  Modern rock recordings tend to subdue and strangle the vocals. Granted this could have a lot to do with the quality of modern singers (need I say more than Auto-Tune?).   The vocals in the Gogol Bordello songs are pushed right up into the forefront with a sound that I have only heard on the great Frank Sinatra albums.

Lucero – Nobody’s Darling

  • Think of a genetically modified love child of Hank Williams junior and John’s Children and you might come close to describing the sound of this band. The sound is raw and jangly with harmonies and harmonics that shift from Sonic Youth squeals to the band X channeling Patsy Cline.  Nobody’s Darling starts hard and flirts with being swallowed up in a rain of distortion but keeps the breakneck pace. Ben Nichols raspy voice is so present cutting through the chaff and providing a steady hand to the music which fills the room and leaves no corner untouched.

Metallica – S+M with the San Francisco Symphony (DVD surround)

  • I have to admit that I am a secret Metallica fan.  Despite some of the anti digital rhetoric  from Lars Urlich the band knows how to nail down the accelerator.  Metallica has always had fantastic production of their material, sometimes running right up to the line of too much but never over.

Sitting down to listen to S+M is a good surround system is an experience not soon forgotten – When Phil Spector talked about the ‘Wall of Sound”  I am dead sure this is what he was hearing in head.  (the disconnect between what he created and what he wanted may very well be what unhinged him.  It’s a personal theory at least).    This concert DVD does not envelop you in the standard sense but brings you right into it. The sound is raucous but never shrill , it is warm without being cuddly.  The Strings pop right out, the vocals are direct and clear,  the audience is with you.   Play this loud and no one will be free of its draw.

The Video Vandal

The Sugarcubes – Birthday
Massive Attack – Exchange
Neil Young and Crazy Horse -  Oh Suzanna
Frank Zappa -Watermelon in Easter Hay
Jefferson Airplane -Embryonic Journey

Play’em if ya got em. Rock on!

John Sciacca

The Crystal Method - “High Roller”

  • Has an awesome bass line that can be completely missed or turn to mush on poor systems.

Talking Heads “Love (Building on Fire) – Live”

  • I just love the energy of this song and the horn section

Fiona Apple “Get Gone”

  • Soft, brush strokes on cymbals, piano and Fiona’s great, sultry voice…

REM “Nightswimming”

  • I just love the lyrics and pain in Stipe’s voice

John Mayer “In Repair”

  • Awesome.

What’s on your personal Playlist? Share with us your personal mix in the comments below!

 

Since you got this far into the Post let’s commend your patients and provide a well deserved bonus.

Utah Saints – Something Good 2008 (Single)

  • I  included this song in the list not so much for its sound quality but its funny video that surely will give you a good laugh or have the song echoing through you head all day. ENJOY! … Click Here - Chris