Ian Gilby collates the more interesting responses to his editorial request for manufacturers and retailers to look towards the 'video manual' as a complement to printed equipment manuals.
Wow! My editorial plea last month for hi-tech instrument manufacturers to start to consider using video manuals to overcome the inherent limitations of printed matter seems to have touched a nerve amongst advocates of hi-tech music — Sound On Sound readers, manufacturers, and video production companies alike. As this issue went to press, I have yet to receive a single letter or phone call arguing against my suggestion — everybody seems to be all for it!
Here at SOS, we feel strongly that something must be done to improve the bad equipment manuals. There are some very good manuals about, admittedly, but these tend to be written for products that, frankly, are not that complicated or difficult to understand. In my experience, the worst offenders tend to be manuals for sequencers, synthesizers and samplers, as these instruments tend to introduce new concepts and new working practices, more so say than drum machines or tape recorders. Lack of comprehension can often be attributed purely to the bewildering and non-standard terminology used in manuals, eg. voice, program, algorithm, operator, patch, partial, oscillator, tone, song, section, pattern... the list is endless.
Several readers suggested that we should run an owner's manual 'Top 10', where people could vote for the best and worst manual they have ever encountered. I quite like this idea, what do you think?
We received many letters about equipment manuals and video manuals, so I have selected the most appropriate ones to publish here. They present most sides of the argument, and put over the views of all parties concerned. What I find most baffling is that Alesis, for instance, have had video manuals available for a while yet very few (if any) retailers appear to use them in their shops.
You can hire a VHS recorder and colour TV for around £25 per month, so what's stopping them? If you want to see videos being used in your local store, then tell the shop manager you think it's a good idea. By asking your dealer for videos, there's a fair chance he'll demand them from the manufacturers. As David Etheridge says in his letter, "the manufacturer that goes ahead on this idea will be the one that gains the undying loyalty of their customers".
You invited responses to your August editorial in Sound On Sound, so here goes...
The use of video has long been a wish of mine as I tried to teach myself about synths. Making videos to accompany instruction manuals need not be an expensive exercise — it's not the production of the video that's important, only its effectiveness in demonstrating the action and the sound, and the effect of that action.
Manufacturers could easily recover the costs of including a video with each machine. Think of the sales promotion opportunities were the retailers, say, to offer a service of making a video copy for any prospective equipment purchaser to take home and peruse the instrument's features/applications at great length and at their own pace. It would solve the problem of never getting enough time/attention from a sales person when you want a demo of an instrument (it would also save the sales staff a lot of aggravation from giving endless demos!).
All that would be needed is for the customer to provide a blank video tape [the shop could stock these, too - Ed] and the retailer to make the copy [it's easier to sell prerecorded tapes - Ed]. There'd be no expense really to the retailer, and then if the customer had any questions, they would probably be pertinent and informed questions.
County Galway, Ireland
Having received your magazine since the second issue, and in view of the fact that I spend my existence producing various types of moving image material, from TV commercials to instructional videos, it is time for me to break silence and sound off about British society!!!
Several years ago (six, in fact) I was becoming so fed up with the inability of synthesizer manufacturers to teach me about their latest monolith that I suggested to a couple of them that it would be worth their while to either replace, or alternatively supplement, their functionally useless manuals with instructional videos. The logic was there, you can see it. However, the idea was too far thinking for hi-tech companies to see the use. At that stage in the British marketing game, and sadly still today, marketing personnel were rarely properly trained executives; people taught how to create a constructive forethought.
So what happened? Well, the usual. Smaller engineering firms, which employed marketing personnel with the correct training, started delivering their heavy equipment to manufacturing firms throughout the UK and Europe, accompanied by video tapes. These not only taught the customer how to install the monsters upon delivery, but also how to use the machines and maximise their potential.
Stage two; the ubiquitous. The US wings of the synth companies also failed to see how they should get involved in the burgeoning instructional video tape world, and so a host of third party producers began creating and marketing a range of 'How To...' videos geared to the major synthesizer product ranges.
"What a bloody good idea," I hear you shout. But before you get too excited, just remember one thing, Mr Ed. You and I both live in the UK. If at all, it will take a further five years before our own local marketers will see the logic involved.
Promise: if one of these manufacturers actually makes a video for distribution with a product within five years, I will offer you a juicy business lunch on your next visit to London.
I do hope that this little diatribe is of interest to you. If nothing else, I feel much better having got it off my chest.
Magnetic Image Ltd, London
Your editorial in the August issue certainly bit the bullet. Never in the history of music has such a wide range of sounds and textures been available to the musician through modern computer-based instruments. At the same time, the confusion amongst musicians has never been higher when confronted by the manuals! (The manual for one piece of Japanese gear — not Roland, I hasten to add — seems to have been written by the ghost of Salvador Dali. As a result, I am using it in a very basic mode and have given up trying to explore its more advanced capabilities.)
Most of the problems would seem to lie in the fact that a computer-oriented approach reigns supreme, particularly in the ergonomics — eg. the much despised data entry sliders, increment buttons, and the love of some manufacturers never to use one word when 357 sound better! Oh for the days of Moog modular systems and carefree experimentation (he says, showing his age).
With the current speed of development of new products, particularly synthesis and sequencing, even the industry's top musicians and programmers are having to run faster and faster simply to stay in the same place. Thus, many musicians are forced into taking musical shortcuts simply because it takes too long to get to grips with new sequencing programs and new forms of sound creation. As a result, hackneyed riffs, rhythms, and arrangements walk hand in hand with presets. Exhortations from dealers to 'trade up for the '90s' don't really help matters when you're just getting to grips with gear from the '80s!
Hence the need for the educational video. It's already being used with great success by some American companies, with the majority of current videos aimed at guitar and drum circles. Bill Bruford's words of wisdom on all things drum related, Joe Pass showing you jazz licks on guitar, etc. Why not a series of videos on MIDI, synths and samplers?
A fledgling approach to this end was the MIDI section of BBC TV's Rockschool series. Though hampered by the restrictions of trying to fit the proverbial quart into the pint pot (eg. FM synthesis in 30 seconds), it fulfilled a crying need amongst musicians. Unfortunately, commissioning editors at TV companies are probably inundated with proposals for 'How to be a pop star in 10 easy lessons'. There is a tendency for them to regard all programmes dealing with modern musical technology as coming under the aegis of 'youth' programmes, and not 'educational', which is where it should be. My own outline for a series on the arranging and orchestration aspects of MIDI foundered for this very reason.
As one can safely assume that TV companies at present aren't interested in such programming, it's now up to independent video companies, in association with manufacturers, to make videos for promotion and for direct sale to musicians.
Five years ago this might not have looked like a workable idea. However, in the past five years, MIDI has become a fact of life to the great majority of musicians, so that the potential market for educational videos is literally everyone with either a workstation, or a computer and some modules: thousands in this country alone. How could this work in practice?
Videos could cover subjects such as: basic/intermediate/advanced MIDI sequencing, and all manner of synthesis. Possible presenters of such videos could be luminaries such as Will Mowat of C-Lab, or Yamaha's Dave Bristow, just to name two. This way you get the gen from the guys who demonstrate and use the gear, who really know the product inside out, and also circumvent any problems with translation from the Japanese.
Even with the better written manuals, the author pre-supposes some (and occasionally a lot of) knowledge about the subject. While such authors may have heen working in this field for at least the last decade, for the customer such instruction has to be taken back to 'the cat sat on the mat' style basics. That way there's no room for misunderstanding, or disillusionment on the part of the purchaser.
Presentation of such educational videos must be kept simple; and that means no flash-bang-wallop type of computer graphics, as overused by production companies the world over. A simple two or three camera setup, with one video line Genlocked to a computer screen to give constant display of all editing functions, and the other two cameras concentrating on the presenter and/or the keyboard/modules, and you have the basic presentation style.
The cost? This should be very competitive, as manufacturers would not need to contract out to the likes of Wardour Street's HARRY-equipped video studios. When you think of Soho rents, no wonder these guys have to charge £150 per hour (if only I could charge the same for my MIDI studio!).
Such a video approach would be a permanent record of the type of demo master classes normally given to small groups of people at music fairs and trade shows. Using video, this information could become available to all, be easily updated — and the potential market for such videos is phenomenal.
It should by now be clear that this kind of approach can, and indeed should, be both economic and flexible, to cope with new software revisions and new products.
So why hasn't it been done yet? Perhaps because nobody in the manufacturing companies has yet fully appreciated the communicative power of a properly made video. If video is the medium of the future, the manufacturer that goes ahead on this idea will be the one that gains the undying loyalty of their customers.
Right Track Studios, Marden
I read with interest your editorial comments in the August issue of Sound On Sound concerning the lack of use of video to complement instruction manuals for computer-based sound equipment.
You ask why manufacturers don't produce such programmes for distribution with each new piece of equipment sold. The answer, in all probability, is either they didn't think it was necessary or they thought the cost would be prohibitive.
If, however, as your own enquiries seem to indicate, users find their manuals laborious and time-consuming, and perhaps lacking in more of an overall 'get the best from' approach, then obviously something needs to be done. After all, the purchaser is also a customer, and any self-respecting supplier would want to ensure the best possible service to his customers — if not, that customer will soon become someone else's customer.
So, is a 'video manual' worth a second (or even first) look? Well, as a Video Producer I am bound to say yes, but with qualification.
The great benefit of video is its 'storytelling' advantage. Whereas the best printed manual can only show visually a frozen instant of time, ie. a photograph, video allows you to see the before and after, and can therefore make even complicated sequences easier to understand. And at the same time, the presenter can explain in everyday language what is being seen, negating the need to wade through pages of highly technical, brain boggling information.
More than this however, video allows each individual the advantage of his own personal and comprehensive demo of the equipment he has purchased — with all the repeats he needs until he's confident (and conversant) with its operation and use.
For instance, a video could be produced in four 10-minute sections on one tape, with an introduction and three increasingly in-depth sections, so that the viewer could improve in stages at a speed to suit himself.
There could even be a 'commercial' bit at the end, to introduce him to other products he might be interested in. And with the flexibility of this modular approach, sections could be updated easily and economically.
How then to get this video produced?
Video production companies abound these days, and no longer do you need to spend a telephone number budget to get a decent programme. But beware, because with the explosion in domestic format video gadgetry, every man and his dog can now be seen in the small ads, offering Spielberg epics for the cost of a six-pack. So you need to look for quality, but with cost-effectiveness, and a company you can trust to deliver the goods. And that's where RS Video (and a few like us) come in.
Three years ago, RS Video recognised a need within industry and commerce for professional video programmes which did not cost a fortune, and geared itself up accordingly. The recipe was simple: out of London studio (cheap rent), small but skilled team of production staff with no company Porsches, and in-house shooting and editing facilities. And above all, a desire to serve our clients to the best of our ability.
From humble beginnings, the company has now established itself firmly, producing for a wide range of clients including Yamaha (not the musical division, the motorbike bit!), Marks & Spencer, and K-Tel International to name but three.
Our studio, based in Hereford, comprises mainly of a three machine edit suite with DVE, etc, based in U-Matic High Band SP format. In addition, we have our own shoot kits, duplication bank, sound booth, 8-track audio and computer graphics. So as you can see, we're serious about what we do.
The point of all this advertising, however, is not to blow our own trumpet particularly, but to alert would-be clients to the type of services available to them outside London. And when you consider that many of our programmes are produced on budgets well below five figures, surely that is reason enough to add video to the serious list when looking at promoting, training, or selling?
There are, of course, other production companies out there who are equally capable of producing good programmes, but we like to think we have an edge. So, if there is an enterprising manufacturer out there who hasn't got £40,000 to blow on manuals but would like a decent video to go with his package, he could do worse than to talk to us.
RS Video Productions Ltd, Hereford, (Contact Details)
I was interested to read your editorial comment in the August edition of Sound On Sound regarding the use of video in the music industry. You suggested that the "Yamahas and Rolands... set up a division dedicated to producing training videos."
Here at Alesis we have been producing videos for the past two years, for use both in stores and by the owners of our products. When we began our video project three years ago in the US, only seven stores had the equipment to play our material. Now at least 75% of our dealers have a video program.
At present, the videos available from our UK distributor, Sound Technology plc, include A Video Tour Of The Quadraverb, The HR16/16B Drum Machine System, and a general MIDI Products video in two parts.
We do not limit ourselves to English-speaking nations, either. At present, many of our videos are translated into French, German, and Spanish, and we have plans to possibly expand this further still. You may have noticed in Frankfurt last year that we had three different videos playing, all with German subtitles. Our Alesis office in London gets requests for these videos from all over the world, from places as far away as the Soviet Union, Poland, and the Far East.
We also produce in-store demonstration videos covering the product line, including a special on the new 1622 Mixer/Monolithic Technology, giving a detailed explanation of the new technology and its benefits. Also, since we are now utilising new manufacturing processes, there are bound to be problems training service personnel around the world in the new repair techniques that they will have to learn, so we also produce service videos for the authorised repair centres in each country.
With regard to the owner's manuals for our products, we actually try to write them as clearly and concisely as possible, giving as many practical applications as we can. Obviously, we can never cover every aspect of every product in a manual, so this is then taken further by our newsletter The First Reflection, which goes into detailed explanation of our products, their applications, and also provides a 'Letters to the Editor' page where the individual can have his/her particular problem solved by our staff experts.
The Alesis Corporation is not only (in your words) "...a brave manufacturer...", the difference is that we care deeply about our customers. Videos are one more way that we can assist them.
Chief Operating Officer
Alesis Corporation, Los Angeles
Further to the continuing debate on owner's manuals and training videos, you and your readers may be interested to learn what Alesis can currently offer to assist our users.
At the present time, our UK distributor, Sound Technology plc, can provide a rapidly expanding library of videos both for use in stores and by the end-user. Certainly the most popular of these is the Video Tour Of The Quadraverb, which covers the many applications of the product and suggests ways in which to use it to its full potential.
As you know, we are releasing a new software update for the Quadraverb which will provide many new and powerful features; in view of this, we are currently re-shooting the Quadraverb video to incorporate all the 'Plus' features, and this will be available in the UK very soon.
Also, Alesis produce a newsletter called The First Reflection, which compliments our owner's manuals and provides a forum for the exchange of ideas and information between our users. Our plans for the future include an international edition of this newsletter, focusing specifically on UK and European users and encouraging direct participation from them.
I understand that a proportion of your readership is overseas. If anyone would like to contact us about our videos or newsletter, please write to us at Alesis UK and we will be delighted to assist you. Alternatively, if you live in the UK and require more information, please contact Sound Technology or your authorised Alesis dealer.
James A. Roth
Sound Technology plc, (Contact Details).
Alesis UK, (Contact Details).
Review by Ian Gilby
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