Networking: A need for a better connection

Luminex CEO, Bart Swinnen; Audinate Product Marketing Manager for Audio, Greg Kopchinski.

At TPi, when visiting crews out on the road, we spend most of our time darting from department to department to get the full 360 story of each production. As we jump between teams, we often pitch questions to crew members about some of the trends they are seeing within the industry. Naturally, the trends they often talk about tend to focus on the issues facing their specialisation. However, there is one overarching theme that seems to crop up again and again, no matter where on the crew list you sit: networking.

With more and more data being sent all around the technical skeleton of a tour, we are increasingly hearing from crew members that there is quickly becoming a need for a dedicated networking engineer to come out on the road with them, such is the importance of this element of the show.

With so much focus on this shared resource, we spoke to some specialists who focus on delivering these solutions to tours to get their thoughts on how productions might best deal with this new future.

Speaking of the changing nature of the live show was Greg Kopchinski, Product Marketing Manager for Audio at Audinate, the maker of Dante and one of the networking systems of choice for the AV and live events market. “We’re now seeing audio engineers having to learn more about IT networks,” he stated.

During our conversation to get to grips with the development in the demands of networking, Kopchinski drew parallels with several live venues that have upgraded their in-house system in recent years. “The pressure on venues to offer more things as technology improves further is where the whole AV over IP space is going. With Dante for example, we see it as being the complete platform.”

Moving to a networking platform also allows for a more simplistic plug-and-play scenario for artists. “It’s interesting to see that the trend is moving so that tours need to spend less time getting things set up – they want to make sure they have time to do their soundchecks and everything is right. What Dante brings is one ethernet cable and you can have 256 audio channels ready to go with all your patching set. It’s a very simple system.”

Kopchinski went on to express how he’d seen a change in the expectations of crew members coming into the industry to have some working knowledge of networking. “Almost every major console manufacturer supports Dante and new guys coming in almost expect it. It’s true that those that came from an analogue background sometimes feel something is missing, but in this modern age it would be very hard to have a true end-to-end analogue rig.”

That said, with the movement to digital, Kopchinski explained one of the key goals for Audinate is to make to process as simple as possible. “Simplifying those tools is making it easy so that anybody can step up to it if you have general computer knowledge,” he stated. “We’re not asking our engineers to do the 1s and 0s on the network; we’re just asking them to patch it.”

With the ever-growing reliance on networking and a digital backbone, the question remains, who should provide such a system that could be a shared resource between departments? “I think capability – the experience and knowledge of how to do it properly – is going to get better within tours,” stated Kopchinski.

“All the rental houses are going to be able to say they have it nailed; they are going to set up their infrastructure in a way that works for their tours and just like the tour gear, networks are going to be customised.” He furthered: “I think there’s an open space and someone coming out of AV, that understands the market but has a knack for networking, the sky is then the limit as I think the clients will want to go to a person who understands the system technology and usage properly.”

Entering the conversation and giving his personal experience with the adoption of networking within the live touring setting was Luminex’s CEO, Bart Swinnen. In his mind, one of the key advantages with this move toward networking is the ability for touring departments to work from one system.

“Look at communications for example,” he began. “Everyone needs comms, and they are running one network, and everyone is linked to each other. We are strong believers in working towards convergence. With Luminex technology today you can already run multiple disciplines on one network infrastructure. We know the mindset that people don’t want convergence as there is that question of who is responsible for it. Also, we understand that an audio engineer might not want to sit on a lighting network, but the fact is that a network can be the glue that holds everything together.”

He believes that due to the strides Luminex has made with its product portfolio, network engineers do not need to be well versed in IP management. “There have been several tours where we have seen convergence,” stated Swinnen. “Take Coldplay and their audio team – all of them will tell you the importance of networking. However, there are a lot of people in live touring who are very creative but as they don’t know the principles of networking, they are not confident in applying it in the live space.”

Swinnen also expressed how the focus from manufacturers on networking options has made it easier for crew members to get to grips with the principle. “MA Lighting, for example, creates network-based products and as such lighting designers and operators seem more knowledgeable about networks,” he stated.

While many major PA manufacturers are taking a significant interest in Milan/AVB in recent years, Swinnen believes that there is still work to be done with its management system. That process is clearly underway, with d&b audiotechnik and L-Acoustics’ announcement that they were jointly developing a software platform designed to change the configuration and management of Milan AVB networks surprising many in the industry.

Born from the companies’ shared commitment within the Avnu Alliance, the co-designed software platform will address some of the challenges that currently discourage widespread adoption of Milan AVB technology. “This ground-breaking collaboration underscores our shared commitment to advancing technology that improves workflow and delivers a memorable experience that connects artist and audience, and a safe and comfortable experience for crew and neighbours,” stated Hervé Guillaume, CEO at L-Acoustics Group at the time of the announcement. Amnon Harman, CEO at d&b audiotechnik, added: “We are excited to be cooperating on technical standards that will provide value to our industry. This new form of competing on one side and cooperating on the other side results in higher quality products, faster development times, and better functionality for all our customers.”

This dramatic news for the industry demonstrates how more and more, manufacturers are providing solutions for an industry that is moving into a ‘networked’ landscape, bringing the live events and AV markets closer together than ever. TPi is excited to see what this next chapter brings for the industry.