Monday 23 April 2012

How about a Time Machine show?

Julius’s call for a “roadie museum” last CX issue got me thinking. Whilst my involvement with heritage and museums over the millennia indicates his dream will probably stay just that (a dream) unless a way can be found for it to sustain itself, it revived an idea I had years ago. The problem with museums is they’re very static things. In order to inspire, we need to really demonstrate things working – kind of like a steam loco shown cold and lifeless in a museum Vs. in steam and screaming down the track.

After reviewing Jands’ excellent growing section on their website ( on rock technology, my dream is a bit different and more specific. A show.

A charity show, with all of the gate going to (insert name of worthy charity here). But this gig will be different. Very different. For want of a better name I’ve called it “the time machine”.

How many “old rockers” are out there still belting it out today? Imagine if you could walk through a time warp and experience a show exactly the way it was done back in 1982? No line arrays, no digital, no wireless, no orange vests!

I think it would be possible to get enough “big names” enthusiastic about doing this kind of “once off” show. We’re talking outdoor, probably capacity between 10k and 20k, at a heritage venue (Fox’s Entertainment Quarter comes to mind, previously the old “Sydney Showgrounds”). Festival style gig, one day, about six main vintage rock / pop acts plus a few supports, maybe even one of them international.

So.. what are the rules? OK. Now obviously we can’t really use 30 year old gear exclusively to do this gig. A lot of the stuff coming out of the trucks is going to have to be much, much newer than that. But hey that’s OK because if we have just walked through a timewarp and it’s 1982, most of the gear on stage would only be a few years old anyway.

I’ve chosen December 1982 as our technology cut off point. I did this because this point represents a pivotal time when the tide of locally produced gear began to be overcome by imported gear and a lot of things soon after changed in the industry in a very short space of time.

Here in 2012 some things are going to be very hard to replicate. Others are still in daily use and we can buy them over the counter almost anywhere (take the humble PAR can for example.)

In 1982, three or four way ground stacked PA (W Bins, 4560s etc) were still the mainstay but composites (The S4 and Jands’ “Concord” box) were just beginning to make a stand. Amplification was still limited to around 300w per side with Jands dominating the local manufacturing scene and Phase Linear, Crown and ZPE the only other choices out there.  Lights too were all analog, two preset affairs with very limited intelligence. Generators were rare with power provided mostly from local grid hookups.

The overriding rule is:

“Every piece of equipment used must be of a type that was available for hire or purchase either in or prior to December 1982”. It would make sense also if the musical material on stage was subject to similar constraints although in this case the rule could probably be relaxed to include most of the ‘80s.

Obviously this rules out anything digital, anything that moves (except for followspots), anything LED, any sort of video and anything without wires. Chain motors? Hmm. Going to have to research that one. Token Patt. 23’s welcome.

Stuff which really will need to be 30 years old and restored to it’s former glory:

-       Mixing desks, Outboard, EQ, Compression, Crossovers.
-       Amplification & Backline
-       Dimmers & Lighting Control
-       Followspots
-       Speakers FOH & Foldback (if available)

Stuff which can be much newer but built to near original designs:

-       Speakers (if originals unavailable or not in enough quantity)
-       Talkback & Comms
-       Staging, Platforms, Scaffolding, Truss
-       Light & Power distribution

Stuff which should be new or modern (same style still available today):

-       Par cans (with 120v lamps & splitters or wielands)
-       Microphones & Stands
-       Leads, Cables & Multicores, Gels, Consumables.

Where is this stuff going to come from?:

Obviously the rig is going to depend on what’s available and plenty of prior planning to get it into tip top shape before show day. There’s a lot of old gear still out there and I’ll hazard a guess that laying hands on it isn’t going to be a problem, given time. Plenty of old timers are going to really like this idea and plenty will want their name on the credits.

Lighting controls will be the biggest challenge as this kind of gear has been well out of circulation now for over 20 years. Amplification is going to have to be restored and well tested. The potential to produce a documentary telling the story of “the time machine” is high, as is the likely media attention such an event will bring.

Who is going to produce it? At the end of the day whose bank account do the cheques have printed on them? And.. who will rise to the challenge so a generation can, once and for all, find out where it all began?

Paul Matthews.

Tuesday 17 April 2012

Tech Training - another view

This response to John Maizels’ “Toss the Dice with Training” (April CX) is by Paul Matthews.

John brings quite a few issues to the forefront in his blurb about the reworking of CUE03. After having experience with both this and also the far more popular industry training courses for electricians, here’s my $0.002.

John mentions the need to “keep up with technology” in our training courses. Certainly it’s important for students to be exposed to current technology otherwise they’ll be useless in the modern workplace. However learning skills with modern technology is something quite different altogether.

To consider this more carefully. If you’re a 40 or 50 something industry veteran like me, take a moment to think back into your past career life and determine where you truly learnt your skills. Chances are, like me, most of your skill was learnt using grossly inadequate equipment (by today’s standards) in impossible situations with no budget or training whatsoever and surrounded by completely ignorant amateurs, many of them probably considerably less than sane or sober.

Things worked or you crashed and burned. When they worked, we learned. When they crashed we learned even more. We learned what things did by playing with them in an imperfect world. In many cases we learned that stuff could do things that the original designers never imagined (anyone ever used a disco strobe to light up the port a loos?)

Now fast forward to today. We shove the orange vests on,  “teach” our future crews on the latest equipment and strive for things to be as much like the “professional industry” as possible. They pop out the other end knowing how to push buttons, follow the bouncing ball and make it work. But they still lack the SKILLS which now separate generations.

Why? Lack of opportunity, that’s why. Our modern vocational training system is completely starved of the experience opportunities which existed in spades in the industry 20 to 30 years ago. It’s not about getting a bunch of the latest gear in a room, getting students to set it up and make it sound and look great. Anyone can do that.

Give them a horrible, noisy, heavy, unreliable, under powered and dangerous 20 year old stack of gear. Give them a deadline, light blue touch paper, stand back and watch your students rapidly gain the SKILLS THEY NEED to solve problems, work within limits and get the best results from what they have at hand.

Only by NOT HAVING everything at your fingertips, can you truly learn how individual components work, why they are there and why we still use the digital equivalents today. Imagine trying to teach 30 years of experience to a student in less than a year. That’s what you’re trying to do with students in CUE03 – and that’s why the industry is not responding to your calls to “fix” the system. It’s not just that you can’t squeeze this kind of experience but the fact that even if you could – the opportunities to experience them in today’s  perfect digital world have long vanished.

Now I’m not advocating that CUE03 include units of competency on how to tune Concord boxes or focus Patt 263’s. What I WOULD like to see though is a measure of ability to do the “impossible with nothing”. Sort of like “Here’s a pair of Mackie 12’ boxes, three mics, a 5 piece band and a footy field. Now make it sound good”.

Now that’s the sort of “competency” I am interested in as an employer. Let me worry about teaching them about the new stuff  - on our jobs. I need you guys to give them the opportunities that I can no longer give them myself because we just don’t do things that way anymore. The stuff that I learnt back when those opportunities were still everywhere.

Paul Matthews.

Wednesday 11 January 2012

These guys don’t know what they’re doing….

It’s ridiculous! (Massive ENTECH screwups)

As we wade though CX Roadshow registrations online and sort out seminar payments, we reflected on ENTECH FUBAR situations as a form of debrief to double check nothing goes wrong on tour in February.

Try this one. 200 industry people were into their second welcome drink outside the film studio in Waterloo, as the brilliant awards dinner team were inside freaking out because the caterer wanted a seating plan. It was ENTECH 1994, and our first go at organizing an awards dinner.

We never thought of the seating plan. Presenter and comedian Fats Thommo seized the moment, and threw open the venue doors. Standing there in his hot pink zoot suit, he yelled for attention. “I’ve got a table for 10. Come forward if there are ten of you. Not you, idiot, you can’t count….”

He quickly filled up the venue, with a table for 6 matched with a group for 4. Rowdy lighting guys from some company hassled him, “shuddup, dickhead. I’ll sort youse out soon….”

The value of a great presenter was never more obvious than the great Plaza Ballroom Disaster of 1997 in Melbourne. At that one, aside from the small matter of hiring the wrong Mclean audio firm (we got the ‘other’ one, not the ‘great’ one), and the video wall crashing, we had the seating plan sorted. But there were far too many awards.

Enter John Blackman, legendary Melbournian funny guy, who took one look at the running order and yelled for a bottle of Krug. Once practically lubricated, he threw out the list and said ‘Get the chick to sing first, then I’ll sort out your awards”. Yes Mr. Blackman, we said, but when do we tell the band to come on? “Tell them to be ready fifteen minutes after I start”. But what if you run longer, we said. “Just keep them off the grog, they’ll be ready when I’m ready”, he yelled.

Before having John Blackman save our bacon, there was the ticketing debacle for the Venue Management Association, whose convention we managed alongside ENTECH in Melbourne. They had 40 different events, and 300 delegates had selected some or all. So we printed 40 piles of tickets, and were still trying to match registrants with tickets when they started to roll up. It was ugly, very ugly.

One year we did our own seminar ticketing within the Hall (1998, Darling Harbour). Long lines formed at the last minute, as eftpos slowed to a crawl. People were late to sessions, or gave up.

In 2002 the external registration contractor messed up the conference and seminar ticketing, and really long lines again made people mad, especially us as we were paying more than 20 grand to the registration contractor.

The second show, in 1996 featured an ill-fated DJ Competition on the Sunday. Someone else had issued literally hundreds of free tickets without our say so, and we were suddenly overwhelmed with kids. The coat check ran out of tickets for skateboards. The venue security called for reinforcements. The actual sound level in the curtained off venue INSIDE the trade show hall had to get intrusive to work. It was steaming hot, there were probably 900 kids crammed in and many more outside getting rejected. Exhibitors were very unhappy. No one was happy.

The exhibitor fist fights, the accidents with fingers and forklifts, the drugged loaders, hangovers. We had them all.

Finally there was the great drink debacle of 1998 deserves a mention. This was where the event co-ordinator at Darling Harbour double booked the bar. Promised free drinks for an hour after the first day closed, swarms of ENTECH-ers walked down to the Cockle Bay Bar, only to find 200 suited Proctologist conventioneers already in there, in full swing.  They were paying for their drinks, ours were to have been on our tab, ie: we paid.  The bar staff were not informed. “How do we know who is who?” the beverage team leader yelled across the chaos.

“Well, they look like THIS”, I said, grabbing a nearby specialist. They pay you. And we look like THIS”, I said, indicating myself. “Our drinks go on my card”.

It was messy, it was embarrassing, and eventually it didn’t really bother most people too much. And we discovered what it is that proctologists actually do!

Tuesday 10 January 2012

Promoting the entertainment biz - school talk memories

To promote the entertainment industry and particularly working backstage in a technical role, I spent five years visiting high schools across NSW speaking to students. Each year we would write to the entertainment teacher, head of drama, head of music and the career advisor offering this free lecture - with 630 schools, that made a lot of letters.

Sure enough, the invites would come, and I'd do maybe 20 to 30 talks each year - often repeat visits for a new class. My target was Year 12, but given the school calendar I would end up with Year 10 and Year 11 as well. My preference was those enrolled in entertainment, or with an interest.

I got my presentation slick, a power point with pictures of me, old shows, disasters at shows, and simple keypoints about the length and breadth of the industry - $5 billion in economic activity, 6,500 full time equivalent technical roles nationwide, the breakup of the jobs. No one ever questioned my research, and the talks always went over well.

But it was the yawing reality of hope, fantasy, ambition, ignorance, wasted opportunity and hopelessness that surprised me. That was just from the teachers. The kids had no idea, and look to their mates, Youtube, rumor and fantasy to try to glean a career path. High school is usually not where decisions or fate determine a career anyway, and the pressure on kids to 'make a choice' is heavy.

In Year 10 kids are brainwashed into making some choice, so there are an ocean of career events. One Year 10 talk in Sydney's west,  the teacher before me labored on and on about his days with some forgotten band, as keyboard player. Sweating profusely in his stretched suit, and looking like he'd added 10 kilo's sometime recently, he bored the kids rigid with his war talk.

'Career Advisers' sadly appear to be misfits within the teaching profession, square pegs who maybe flunked curriculum tests. They do check teachers can read, write and add up, don't they? I mean, proficiency tests during their career? Of course I met some switched on Advisers, but usually not. One invited me all the way to the Riverina, a $400 Rex flight and a 4am wakeup, only to find not three schools consolidated but one confused group of Year 10 who'd been told I would run a workshop for three hours. Which is a far cry from the 40 minute presentation that I delivered, leaving the group shivering in the grey winter half light in a basketball auditorium with one feeble heater. The 'Advisor' was cross that I did not deliver three hours. I was incredulous that she was (a) deluded about the duration; and (b) too lazy to motivate the other two promised schools to attend.

Mainly I met a legion of failed thespians, musicians and dancers who took a teacher job when the band broke up or the auditions flunked. Sure enough, their main focus in their entertainment, drama or music classes was their own specialty, and their own place within the past. Shades of Mr. G, the gay Type A personality nutbag in Summer Heights High.

A few of the teachers actually had good things happening - Cerdon College, Picton High, Blackwattle Bay come to mind.

I probably spoke to 2,500 kids over that five years, and enrolled about 40 of them as a consequence. Considering the course cost them $12,000, that's almost half a million dollars of revenue over five years, in exchange for 100 hours a year, including travel time.

I'd like to think that many more kids than enrolled took note of my message: 'the hours are long, the work is freelance, skills are paramount. Success is not guaranteed. You cannot be a fan, get autographs or go to parties. You will sweat and get dirty'.

Moreso I hope many of the girls got some encouragement when I said they could and should take it on, and we saw a gentle upswing in female enrolments over the time, albeit still never more than 15% female in a class.

But mainly I like to think a lot of kids decided not to chase the dream, because I told them how it was. They probably have rewarding or at least sustainable jobs right now, in some other vocation. At least they didn't waste money and years of their lives.

Friday 30 December 2011

Messing with the CX brand

We almost killed CX in 2010.

The brand has resilience and respect which came from the Channels and Connections Publishing lineage that started in 1990. But by the time 2010 rolled in, structural problems threatened to topple the whole business. At the 20th birthday bash on 21 August 2010, Doug Parkinson and a cast of dozens laid on the fun for several hundred subscribers and supporters at the JuliusMedia campus. Forty college students, signed to JuliusMedia's tech production college business, helped to deliver a great night.

Hours later, the management team met to overhaul the business metrics. Forward enrolments at the college were at all-time lows. Part time school holiday courses, once a given, were being cancelled due to low numbers since high schools had somehow started delivering the Certificate 3 in Live Production, Theatre and Events to Year 11 students. In large numbers - IBSA say there were more than 1000 kids enrolled in 2010. That was a big knock to our college.

On the other side of the empire CX was slowly losing readers and advertisers, and the treasury was looking sad. Especially when the party catering was settled. The only thing left on the horizon of optimism was the government funded Priority Placement Program. See the Feds PR, below.....
The primary objective of the Productivity Places Program (PPP) is to provide targeted training to support the development of skills in Australia to meet existing ...

This new program gave us $1,500 for every eligible student start, in a part time training course that should produce qualified crew after several years of night school. Trouble was, the 32 places left for 2010 were hard to fill. Who would think? The Fed's fork over all but the TAFE equivalent fee, and people get the best we can deliver. Which we did, two nights a week with serious intent. A rump of forty worthy people were already in the classes, and all we had to do was recruit the latest hastily awarded bunch of 32 (the NSW cohort emailed unfilled spaces to us very late) for the 2011 classes. Problem was, to unlock the $1,500 start funding, they had to - umm - actually start in 2010. Try to make that work sometime.

So the college was rendered dead in the water, like an aircraft carrier with no juice.

Don't misunderstand, we were extremely thankful of the opportunity to supply funded training. Before PPP we mainly made do with user pays. The only funding out there was the state subsidized trainee-ship funding. But over the years (2004 - 2010) we discovered in our drifting, ethereal Petri dish, that the entertainment biz did not embrace indentured trainees. Who would know? We found out the very hard way, that you can't encourage our cohort to hire youngsters so someone like us can train them. This could be interpreted as a lack of confidence in (our) structured training. But we think the issue is more generalized than that.

All of this is history - we shut down, we refunded money, awarded Competencies up to the end of 2010, finished all the paper work. With some quiet tears and angst, we wrapped up and quit a facility that cost us $1.5 million over the time since we first had the starting idea. Our lovely, generous landlord Greg Kean took back his building. The whole dream started strangely enough on Sept 11, 2001 - as the Twin Towers crashed. The thinking then, on that most horrible day was that it was time to unfurl the training dream since the media company would (correctly) suffer a downturn, which it certainly and rightly did in that terrible climate. I (Julius) apologize to anyone upset, because there I was thinking of the survival of my stuff, when the world seemed to be collapsing. At the time I had four girls at school, so that is how I thought.

Back to the headline - CX was suffering death by a thousand cuts, with a lack of love and attention.

So if there's a moral to this story, it is that any business or venture or endeavor needs all the attention of its founders and visionaries to succeed.

At the end of 2010, we had $50 in the bank and it looked like CX was headed for a final edition.

What a difference a year makes. We really turned CX around in 2010, with new layout, CX2 APP, CX-E and CX-TV. We moved into the studio at Chatswood, and hit a heap of goals with expose articles and better impact. The subscribers voted with their Paypal and the advertisers returned. (Thank you everyone!)

The plan is that in 2o12 we will keep adding on value for our readers and advertisers - and importantly, support our constituent industry even more strongly.

- Julius

Friday 9 December 2011

Lunch with Robby and Steve

Where do I start?

30 years ago I first visited Rudi and Max at Stuyvesant House in Crows Nest. The food was (and remains) very much to my liking. The wine list and cellar are legendary. The antics and umm, floorshow by Rudi are infamous.

But yesterday (9 December 2011) was my last lunch there, because Rudi banned me.

Here's what happened:

Robby and Steve from ETF joined me, I wanted to buy them lunch to talk about the turbulent trade show war and also because they are good guys, it was the end of the year, and a Friday.

So Rudi does his usual rude greeting, full of the F bomb and delivers beer.

The young waitress gets her first snap from Rudi because the butter is not on the table. An hour later, she has been abused in and out public view, and on the way to the toilet I pass Rudi almost towering over her, in a highly threatening manner, called her 'stupid' and 'dumb' and other things.

In between, Rudi's brother Max delivers the Pork Knuckles, in his dirty apron. He always has a very, very dirty apron, and always, always reeks of cigarettes.

Rudi grabs Steve's knife and fork and saws open his kunckle. Then he grabs it with both bare hands and reefs it open. He shakes a liberal dose of salt on top. "That is how you fucking eat it", he declares, before repeating the act of kindness for Robby.

Everything thus far is fairly normal at this disfunctional throwback establishment. Being slight unreconstructed and not at all politically correct, and a hard drinking media man with a roadie pedigree, I've almost seen it all before.

Except for the abuse heaped on Mylene.

She ran out the door in tears soon after, and I took off after her down the road.

"Listen, that was over the top, you don't deserve any of that", I told her. I got her number and sent her a text: I am Julius. I took your number. I will speak to Rudy about his behaviour. Please dont hesitate to contact me if you seek further action. I am very sorry to see how he was."

She replied: "You're so nice and your business friends are too. It's a shame for Rudi, he just keeps losing great customers."

Robby and Steve were concerned. "What will we do"? We decided to invite Rudi to sit down to talk about it, but there wasn't a fourth chair at our table and he was running around delivering huge, enormous oversized Steins of beer to tables. A bunch of women opposite us arrived after he described how they make the Pork Knuckle so tender.

Warning! The following paragraph is extremely offensive

"We find a virgin and we insert the knuckle into her" (censored, he used graphic language).
"Then we have intercourse. That is why it is tender" (again censored).

When the ladies arrived, he toned down the profanities, and set about breaching his liquor license by plying all and sundry with copious quantities of booze. The ladies scored an ice bucket with a bottle of Jack Daniels and a bunch of cokes inside. Of course you get charged for everything, including the Pretzels that arrive on the table, that you do not order or eat.

So at the sad and embarrassing end of what should have been a nice lunch on a nice day, I told Robby and Steve I would remonstrate with Rudi in private at his little bar down the end, and if they would wait outside then we could be on our way.

"Rudi, you are over the top. You've gone too far", I said as he added up all the little bar chits and made my bill. "Whatever" he grunts. "What is up with you? Too much to drink, eh?"

"Actually Rudi, this is it for me. I am disgusted with your ways. You cannot deal with staff that way".

"What do you say", he yells? "I'm not a fucking Tafe. She didn't have experience. Good riddance!"

"Fine Rudi, then have your own medicine you dinosaur. I'm not paying your lousy bill. Call the Police, do what you like, you miserable old idiot", and I walk out.

"Max! Max!" he yells. They chase me outside.

Standing outside the door, Steve and Robby in full witness, they start abusing me for doing a runner. "No Rudi, I told you, I'm not paying you to punish you for being so miserable. Anyway, what do I owe you?"

"Two hundred" he says. "Here is $150", I give him the cash. I always pay for what I eat, and I am just making a point about his unbelievable conduct.

"Don't come back", he snarls.

We walk away.