in February 2007
AV: The Next Generation, Part 2
By Dan Ferrisi
Spotlighting more young industry professionals.
The future of the AV industry seems bright, what with exciting new technological developments and innovative manufacturers, as well as talented systems designers, consultants and integrators delivering effective systems to clients. But who’s going to take the reins in the future? Last month we talked with two young AV practitioners, and offer two more here. Do you know any promising young people we should feature? Send suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
• As a young adult, David Bateman, a senior consultant with Acentech, Cambridge MA, had a strong interest in music and computers, as well as theater. His tendency to blend his interests caught some off-guard. “I scared school faculty by having a computer on the stage with me during one of my recitals. They didn’t know where I was coming from,” he laughed. Nevertheless, his interest in all these subjects led him toward an AV career. “It was something of an evolutionary cycle, where I liked music, liked technical things and wanted to put the two together,” the 38-year-old said.
Bateman worked for five seasons at Busch Gardens in Williamsburg, involved in technical theater. It was three or four months of intensive work: five days a week, five, six or seven shows a day. Bateman stressed the value of the experience, commenting, “You were able to ask questions and learn quite a bit.” But, for Bateman, nothing compares to the experience one can glean from working on a cruise ship.
He went out on ships for five years, mixing shows and running the AV department. He explained, “It evolved, from where I was the only technician on the entire ship—granted it wasn’t a very large ship, but I was responsible for everything with an audio or video signal—to the last ship that I was on, where I was responsible for not only the AV but the other 10 technicians, as well.” During those years, he commented, there was always something to learn or do. He also added that, when one’s out in the middle of the ocean, one can’t help but become self-reliant and a competent troubleshooter.
This prepared Bateman for his role at Acentech, where he designs AV systems for a variety of venues, from high school or elementary school “cafe-gym-atoriums” to performing arts centers. “We’ve also started an initiative in the arena market,” he revealed, adding he’s not targeting 105,000-seat stadiums. “That would be nice, but that’s a niche market. Its players are pretty well established. But, there are tens of thousands of other schools, colleges and universities that are building or renovating rec centers, arenas, basketball courts and hockey venues.”
Bateman is enthusiastic about the state of the industry. “I’ll sum it up in one word: growing.” He added, “We have this proposal log for the whole office where you sign out a job number when you write a project proposal. They’ve been pre-printed up to a certain number. This year, we ran out of pre-printed numbers because we’d written so many proposals.” According to Bateman, the worship market is one of the drivers of this industry growth.
It started slowly, he explained, but its viability became increasingly evident to integrators. “The house of worship market has just grown tremendously,” he said. He dubbed it the new performing arts center in that, instead of a 2000-seat venue in which Yo-Yo Ma performs on occasion, worship centers have a weekly live band on stage.
Bateman discussed the balance between “street smarts” and “book smarts,” commenting, “I think young people who are interested in this industry should gain real-world experience when possible. Work a part-time job at a rental house, seeing how the systems are used daily, how they’re put together and taken apart.” He, again, returned to his cruise ship example, talking about their leading-edge technology. “I think the opportunities, equipment and exposure young people have access to on the ships now are hard to beat.”
• Rob Badenoch, senior associate, Shen Milsom & Wilke, Inc., New York, dates his passion for AV back to high school TV and radio broadcasting. “I always had a natural inclination toward taking things apart, and electronics in general,” he explained. “I loved playing around with equipment.” He explained AV always was an extracurricular pursuit for him but, luckily, he’s been able to convert that into a successful career.
He cited attendance at AES conventions, going to his first NAB show and Syn-Aud-Con as vital to his training. And, although Badenoch isn’t one to discount technical skills, he feels another crucial skill set often is undervalued: communication. “If you can’t communicate effectively, verbally or in writing, you’ll be at a disadvantage in the technology consulting world,” he explained.
After college graduation, he worked for Vistacom Inc, Allentown PA, as a senior design engineer. He then went to Shen Milsom Wilke. For the past 6½ years, he’s been at SMW. Being in New York City, he increasingly started to get involved in freelance production work, including theater sound design, location recording, and some small studio work with New York City musicians and area friends. “That extracurricular activity feeds into my consulting work at SMW. But it’s a balancing act, especially now that I have a kid!” he laughed.
Given the enjoyment Badenoch gets from his extracurricular activities, along with the knowledge it has helped him glean, it’s no surprise that he thinks it’s important for young AV practitioners. He commented, “I’m always looking for the prospective employee with a recording or live production background. In my experience, they’re more likely to know how a mic polar pattern works, and they’ll be more sensitive to the user’s perspective when designing systems.”
Although his industry forecast generally is positive, Badenoch has some concerns. “We’re seeing the convergence with IT, and if you combine that with the commod-itization of much of the AV hardware, telecommunications and consumer electronics dealers are going to start absorbing the work that used to be left for AV specialists. So the ‘state of the union’ is that a lot of this traditional AV presentation work is going to start leaving the realm of the expert consultant and installer.” So, in Badenoch’s view, consultants and integrators should diversify into the kinds of work that can’t be commoditized.
He continued, “There was a great quote on the Syn-Aud-Con listserv recently from Pat Brown, in which he said he thinks a smart designer would market his skills to provide sound system speech intelligibility. Designing speech clarity into a reverberant space requires an experienced specialist. It demands knowledge of how to design acoustics and loudspeaker systems for intelligibility. You’re not going to get that from Circuit City, ever.”
Asked to give advice to people contemplating an AV career, Badenoch said, “It’s trite to just say ‘Do what you love.’ But, it’s true. If you find yourself, on your own time, grabbing industry magazines and reading them cover to cover, then you have the level of enthusiasm to do well in this industry.” Then comes specialization: focusing in on what one really finds exciting. “If you get a kick out of doing it on your own time, then maybe it’s the sort of thing you should do professionally,” he concluded.
Dan Ferrisi is Sound & Communications' Associate Editor.