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Get Some Help

Brad Schiller • April 2020Feeding the Machines • April 8, 2020

In 2020, it is very easy to get various methods of help regarding programming, syntax, and other console related functions through a multitude of resources. Knowing which to use and when to call on each is essential. We will all experience a time when we can’t figure out how to make the console achieve something, or find ourselves wondering if there is a better way. Every lighting programmer needs to understand the best methods to quickly get desired information and assistance.

‡‡         RTFM

One of my favorite acronyms is a reminder of the best way to learn information about most anything. Read The Freakin’ Manual! Most lighting consoles and fixtures have very detailed user manuals that provide abundant information about the systems. Yes there are some vague manuals, but it is always a good place to start your search for information. Most lighting consoles have a Help file built in that is often a single button press away. Once pressed, the manual will open up on the screen and might just provide the data you need. In some cases, the help file is contextual and will actually open right to a page related to what you are currently working on.

If you don’t have a help button, or wish to not be obvious about your education, then you can read the manual on your phone or tablet. Head to the console or fixture manufacturer’s website and find their support downloads. Download the manual and use a search function to find the area you are interested in. Chances are, the user manual will have the details you need to continue your programming.

‡‡         Phone a Friend

As a lighting programmer, you should have friends that work with the same equipment and program as you do. They can also become resources for sharing information. If you can’t figure out how to stomp an effect on a particular console, call or text your buddy and ask how he or she does it. They may be able to describe the function in a few sentences and get you going on your way. Having a couple of people you can depend on is always helpful as your primary source may not be available. Once you get the help you need, be sure to thank the source and let them know it helped. Don’t ever leave your friends hanging and wondering if you figured it all out.

Also be willing to return the favor. If you have been programming for a while, let your friends know that they can reach out to you if they ever get stuck. This sharing of information helps everyone in the industry and can also further enhance your networking. It might even lead to a new gig in the future!

‡‡         Crowd Support

Some people are very comfortable with social media and will post questions pertaining to programming problems for the larger community to assist. While this may be useful for beginners not in a time crunch, it is not an ideal choice for immediate, expert advice. Use caution and common sense when reaching out to the masses in public.

Often the best use is on dedicated product social media pages or forums. Here you will find a large user base that is familiar with your product and the programming procedures. Furthermore, with a dedicated forum you can often search for keywords related to your problem. You might just find that others have already inquired on the topic and that the answer is right there ready for you to read.

‡‡         Contact Support

There are instances where reading a manual or talking with other programmer just will not resolve your problems. In these cases, it is best to directly reach out to an official support team for your product. Often you can find phone numbers, email addresses, or even a live chat on a manufacturer’s website. Nearly every console manufacturer has people standing by to assist in major and minor situations. You may need to leave a message and await a call back, but generally it is not too tough to get an expert on the phone.

When you do connect, be polite and explain the problem clearly. Do not ask for basic information (such as how to open the patch window). They will likely just tell you that you should have read the manual. When they do start explaining or troubleshooting, follow all their suggestions and thank them often for their assistance.

‡‡         More Resources

Manufacturers may have additional resources on-line such as videos, FAQ documents, tutorials, and training resources. Each of these might provide a solution to your current problem. Make sure that you familiarize yourself with the resources available to you before you start programming your show. Bookmark the relevant videos and documents that you think might be helpful.

In addition to manufacturer-based knowledge, you can find YouTube videos and websites setup by programmers who are interested in sharing their gained knowledge. Here too you may find detailed instructions that will help you to get out of your jam.

‡‡         It’s Just Help

Remember that relying on any of the above for assistance is great, but utilizing these as a key aspect for your programming is detrimental. I remember an LD telling me of a programmer that would step away from the console every few minutes to make a call. It turned out that this programmer had much less experience than he let on and was calling a buddy to get programming advice for nearly every cue! Once this was determined, he was fired rather quickly.

You must be knowledgeable about your console and fixtures before you take on a gig. Of course you will run into some area that you may not be familiar or problems you have never seen before. Those are great times to seek assistance. Never rely on support to help you actually perform the majority of your job duties.

‡‡         Help Is On Its Way

As you learn about new practices or procedures, be sure to make note of them so that you are not stumped again in the future. I have a list of shortcuts and other notes in my phone for each console type that I program. I can then refer back to this list if I need to remember that special 3-button sequence that helps me program faster. These notes sections also contain contact names and phone numbers of people that I can reach out to, should I need additional help.

Modern lighting consoles are amazing machines and I suspect that as technology increases they will become even more difficult to understand. Hopefully, new systems related to artificial intelligence should assist in our learning the routines and solving problems. Until then, make sure you understand the current assistance available to you during your next programming session. Take the time to read the user manual/help files, know who you can call, and ask for help when you need it. As you learn and improve your skills, share your knowledge with others and make note of important routines.

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