VENUE Software is a Learn Once, Use Everywhere Approach

By in Live Sound, Topics

I wonder how many of you have ever considered this thought:

“Is software the servant of hardware, or is hardware the servant of software?”

By this I mean, generally speaking, does one get conceived and designed first and if so, which one? Do we design hardware to support the software vision, or do we design software to support the hardware vision? Or even, is it a singular, all encompassing design?

During the time of conception for VENUE live sound console products, competing manufacturers were developing console control software and hardware with what appeared to be a “one console at a time” mindset. By them doing so, logic dictates that it would then require dedicated development resources for each and every new product—in this case mixing consoles—that would be developed moving forward over time. That also meant that as time went on, for all of the different versions of software and their associated console to continue on a path of development, it would then require its own team of software specialists to be focused on that software and console until it reached the end of it’s life. Once a new product was conceived, so was the new corresponding control software and on we go to the next new product.

No big deal really, right? Well, on a  white board this looks viable and maybe even preferable on some counts because it’s always something “new” coming out and multiple teams can remain focused on one single product without the need to be bracketed by other products by the same manufacturer.

But as I’ve come to learn in my nearly 15 year stint behind the curtain of product manufacturing—the white board is many times the gateway drug to working in a vacuum where all decisions can find rational if you work on them long enough. Because of this, there is always the need to grab a big bucket, fill it to the brim with reality, and heave it right at that ideals driven white board and see what it washes away.

During the concept and design phase of the VENUE Live Sound Environment project, there was a concerted effort to change that new and emerging paradigm of how software interacts with hardware with regard to live sound products, file portability and their ongoing development and longevity.

Here are a few of the realities of the live sound market as it existed before we set out to make VENUE. Our goal was to recognize and plan strategically in order to positively address these realities for the live sound market before embarking on how VENUE software would be conceived and live what we hoped would be a very long and fruitful life.

Reality one of the day; all mixing consoles of that time (dominated by analog) had a tendency to have an extended and distinguished shelf life and remain viable to the sound for hire vendor for a very long time. Honestly, probably much longer than any manufacturer would ever want to concede. The change over to brand new technologies, or new versions of existing technologies, was traditionally a long drawn out crossfade.

Reality two, the traditional demands on the people mixing on these consoles were that they could regularly be asked to move from one console manufacturer to another when working on tour, especially touring internationally—and more importantly— sometimes change from one console size and architecture to another while with the same act—all in order to accommodate small venue sizes and space restraints for example. Sometimes they would be required to simply use what was available.

Thirdly, digital console designs by many manufacturers (and as they currently exist today by the way) stood to throw a formidable learning curve challenge to the live sound mixer if he or she wanted to stay operationally fluent on many different manufacturers consoles. With digital, the idea of moving to a different manufacturer mid tour was considerably more daunting in that it not only required a complete rebuild of the data on the new console, but then also in turn, have to relearn and reorient themselves to a new tactile environment that was oft times wildly different than what they were currently used to. This situation was exacerbated by the concept that show files were incompatible between consoles—sometimes even between consoles offered by the same manufacturer.

The VENUE design team was determined to address these challenges, along with many others during the development of VENUE software and hardware. There was a concerted effort to be as “eyes wide open” as was possible at the time and under the circumstances.

Our model centered around the idea that once VENUE software was put in to play, it would continue in development not only for the first product that we released; D-Show, but would be central to the power and functionality of every VENUE console design moving forward—even including next generation products if at
all possible.

Our model centered around the idea that once VENUE software was put in to play, it would continue in development.

To do so requires an intense and long-term commitment from a manufacturer to pull this sort of thing off and there’s even one itzy bitzy caveat to consider as well, the software has to be successful and looked upon positively by the end users from day one, otherwise there is little point in moving forward with future development.

Now, don’t easily skim over what was just said here and in turn lose sight of the “gold” in this concept for you the end user.

Consider that all Avid live sound mixing products use a single team developing a single application of VENUE software. The advantages of this for you the mixer are multi-fold. Consider the following.

First, portability.

With Avid live sound mixing products you can build a show file on any of our systems—even if that system is running a software versions dating back to the very early days of VENUE software—and load it on a system today running the latest version of VENUE software and use it. You can also go the other direction as well, meaning; build a show file on the most recent version of VENUE software and deploy it on a console that is running a very early version of VENUE software. This is true for even a next generation product such as the Avid S3L System. I challenge you to name a computing product or digital audio product, let alone a live sound product where you can actually pull this off. This requires long-term vision along with an intense development and testing commitment from Avid engineers to pull it off and have it actually work.

Secondly, extended life span for Avid live sound products.

Because VENUE software development is not constantly starting, stopping and then restarting from scratch for a new product, an updated release gives all VENUE products the ability to gain feature enhancements as the software improves and further develops. This also bodes well for building test grids for the software, as it simply requires the addition of grids for new hardware based on existing grids for the previous hardware. Subsequently,  it’s not nearly as daunting of a task or demanding on resources as is building test grids from the ground up for very new product released. Metaphorically speaking with regard to the software; when the water raises for one VENUE product, it raises the water for all VENUE products.

Thirdly, and maybe most importantly IMO is knowledge portability.

I characterize this in my presentations to end users as “learn once – use everywhere” with regard to VENUE software driven products. With this approach, you as the end user get the added bonus of, from a software perspective, needing to only learn one software application for any given Avid live sound product. This is enormously empowering, stress reducing and time saving when regularly moving from one product to another within the Avid live sound line.

So as you can see, we are now most definitely in a different time and reality where hardware can regularly pass us by and live in our rear view mirror while an ongoing and long standing software development legacy serves as the bridge to future live sound products. All the while providing you the means to hold on to expertise and refine what you already know and have mastered. All of which should give you great confidence moving forward when using Avid live sound products. Happy mixing everybody!

I am a 30 year veteran of live sound and 6 time TEC / 2 time Parnelli Award winner for Sound Reinforcement Engineer of the Year. I serve as Senior Market Specialist for live sound for Avid and regularly work as Concert Sound Mixer and live recordist for Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers.