By the Book: Pro-Audio Manufacturers’ Training Fills in the Learning Gaps

Dolby readies an object-based immersive training program

Pro-audio manufacturers have always offered some basic levels of training on their products and platforms, with the extent of that instruction generally commensurate with the complexity of the technology involved. But, overall, the amount and sophistication of that product-centric training has been on the rise. This is due in part to a more cluttered pro-audio market in general and the level of nuance that comes with a mostly digital market, one in which layers of software hide reams of additional functionality that’s not always intuitively available.

Dolby Atmos Training
Leading brands in broadcast audio have their own approaches to the issue, usually a combination of online and hands-on offerings, many of which are outlined below. Dolby is the main proponent of immersive and object-based audio, or Next Generation Audio (NGA), and its AC-4 audio format was recommended this year by the group testing ATSC 3.0 audio systems to be the next-generation TV-audio standard for the U.S. The company is in the process of formulating its own training program, which will include how AC-4 will be implemented in the live-broadcast workflow.

“Nothing has been formalized,” says Jeff Reidmiller, ‎VP, Sound Group, Dolby, “but the process is going forward internally on putting together a curriculum.” He says that the broad strokes involve how best to communicate the practical aspects of live mixing for Atmos, the consumer version of the technology, which viewers at home will use to decode and interact with AC-4 broadcast audio: “Standardization of workflows and best practices based on the trials we’ve done over the last year or so with immersive delivery formats.”

According to Reidmiller, the training format may take the form of the two-day seminars Dolby ran at its San Francisco Bay Area offices to familiarize broadcast-audio engineers with AC-3 5.1 surround sound two decades ago. However, he adds, it’s possible that Dolby may use a road-show approach, bringing training to selected markets. Reidmiller estimates that the training could become available by first quarter 2017.

Some training has already taken place, ahead of a closed-circuit transmission of the Opening Ceremony of the 2016 Rio Olympics, which was mixed in Atmos by NBC Sports A1s with Dolby assistance.

Melissa McDonell, director, innovative marketing, Dolby, says it would be important that immersive audio techniques and best practices be communicated clearly and correctly: “It’s very different than filed-based 5.1 mixing. And mixing Atmos live is very different than mixing it in postproduction.”

Lots of 5.1 Ahead
Even as the era of immersive audio looms, advances in 5.1 platforms continue to compel ongoing training for the tools of that format.

Calrec offers video tutorials about its Summa console online. In addition, the company has produced two documents, available in print and as a .pdf file. “Audio Primer” and “Networking Primer” are designed to provide an introduction to audio consoles in a broadcast application and to various types of audio-networking protocols and platforms. By the time of the IBC Show in Amsterdam in September, the company says, it will have a range of training videos published and available to subscribers for its Brio compact digital broadcast-audio console.

Soundcraft Studer Truck houses training modules for Studer’s Vista series of consoles.

Soundcraft Studer Truck houses training modules for Studer’s Vista series of consoles.

“Since we introduced the Summa training, over 9,000 names have been registered on the Calrec site,” notes Kevin Emmott, marketing manager, Calrec, adding that the company also maintains an “open-door policy” for freelancer training at its UK and California offices.

“As long as an operator gets to the office, we will provide free training and access to our demo room for them to play with and become familiar with,” says Dave Letson, director of sales, North America, Calrec. “We have seen a great turnout, and I estimate that, since the office opened in 2012, we have had between 40 and 50 operators visiting.”

Emmott adds that Calrec has also been holding free, one-day training sessions on its Apollo platform for freelance mixers for the past two years at its UK offices in London and Manchester and has trained about 150 operators there.

For the past decade, DiGiCo has been hosting onsite training at its UK head office, as well as in conjunction with various distributors at a number of locations around the world. In the U.S., its in-person Masters Series travels to various cities bringing consoles in for hands-on learning. Cities for 2016 are Nashville; Atlanta; New York; Baltimore; Dallas; Houston; Oklahoma; Las Vegas; Los Angeles; San Francisco; Durham, NC; Miami; and Orlando.

DiGiCo Online Training, the first tutorial of its kind for the pro-audio industry, broadens that access. Since a large percentage of the SD user interface is common to all products, the SD9 console is used as the subject for this tutorial. The tutorial is split into three sections: a quick start for those who have never used a DiGiCo console before; an intermediate chapter that shows all major setup, functions, controls, and parameters; and an advanced section for those wanting to learn enhanced features, such as remote control, mirroring consoles, and programming for complex shows and systems. Comprising about three hours of material, the content is divided into chapters specific to features and functions that users may wish to gain greater knowledge of. All movies are HD so they can be shown at full-screen size.

Lawo caches several dozen how-to and marketing videos on its YouTube training site. Like other manufacturers, the company also leverages the huge pro-audio–school infrastructure, making its regional product specialists in audio, video, and networking/control systems available to professional and technical schools. Attendance at its periodic regional training sessions as well as one-on-one sessions can be arranged.

Lawo also provides detailed product overviews and specific training on various product features at www.lawo.com and its YouTube channel, where users can view and follow instructional videos on practical application of its products. The company also makes extensive use of social media for training, with updates on the newest videos on its Facebook and Twitter accounts. Lawo also makes its regional product specialists in audio, video, and networking/control systems available to professional and technical schools in support of their efforts to educate and train the next generation of audio operators and engineers.

Studer’s Broadcast Academy certification events have taken place periodically at the company’s campus in Northridge, CA, for more than six years, with training modules for its Vista series of consoles aboard the Soundcraft Studer Truck, which also travels to other locations for onsite tutorials. More recently, Studer has added an online component, which can go where the 73-ft. truck cannot. Developed last year in partnership with Phoenix-based Conservatory of Recording Arts & Sciences, the online Studer Broadcast Academy is a lesson-based training initiative that uses Virtual Vista software to emulate the experience of working on an actual console. The school owns two Vista desks for classroom training.

The DTV Audio Group, which introduced its first online training module in 2013 — backed by funding from ESPN/Disney, NBCUniversal, Fox Sports, and Turner Sports, it focused on loudness monitoring and management — brought a second one online a year later addressing 5.1-surround mixing for broadcast. The online modules are offered without charge, and a skills evaluation done on completion of the course indicates to potential employers that an applicant has successfully completed the course.

According to DTV Audio Group Executive Director Roger Charlesworth, a third module, covering object-based audio mixing, is awaiting more clarity around that technology.

“It’s still early days yet when it comes to object audio,” he says, noting some tentative internal experiments by the major sports networks. “We just don’t have an idea yet about what the practical workflow for it will be. We’re just now getting more-sophisticated tools, so the workflow may be changing and adapting.”

Charlesworth adds that the shift to object-based workflows may compel closer interaction with manufacturers in the future — he cites programs like Studer’s Broadcast Academy as models — but that the four network underwriters will also remain on board for future online-training development. “The nature of freelance crewing tells us that this kind of training is still what’s needed by the industry.”