With the high demand for people in live A/V, should we say hello to the A/V/L technician?

Midas Heritage audio console

As I wrote in my previous post, the return of in-person events has made the live-event industry very busy. As a freelancer, I have never felt so sought after: I wish I had the ability to clone myself so that I could say yes to all the job-offers I get. This is such a huge contrast to the months and years before which were quiet because of the Covid-restrictions. 
It is not so hard to understand why this is happening now: The Covid-restrictions meant that a lot of freelancers went out of work for a long time. Some of them decided to choose other career-paths with a more stable income. Now that the live-events are back, there are not enough experienced workers to fill the demand. Companies are struggling to find audio, light, stage and video engineers for their projects, along with all the other roles you need to produce a successful live event. 

The long-term solution to this problem is to get more people to work in this business. I don’t think we can rely on the passion for music and audio: we have to create better career-paths with proper education, mentoring, salary and working-conditions when people start a career in the live-event industry. 
But this process will take time. While we wait for the new generation we must solve more imminent issues: The coming autumn will be busier than ever with live events. We still haven’t caught up with all the concerts and business-gatherings that were delayed and postponed during the pandemic. How is it possible, with the current workforce, to meet this demand? And should this be the responsibility of those who have decided to remain in the live-event industry?

Introducing the A/V/L engineer

This autumn there will be projects where the A/V companies can’t find dedicated engineers for all the positions: there could be a show where they used to have an audio, video and light-engineer, but this year there will be no light-engineer available. Then it becomes very tempting to try to let the audio-engineer do the lights, or perhaps find someone who are willing to do all three tasks in one job. 

It is not uncommon for a live-event engineer to do different tasks: think of the position Audio/Video engineer, which literally means that one person is working with both audio AND video. In corporate live events, this is a well-established position: One person can be  responsible for both the audio sent to the PA/streaming device, and the video-content. Perhaps we can also introduce the A/L (Audio-light) or the A/V/L engineer? Would this work? 

Since this is a new position, we assume that we won’t find one person who has enough knowledge to operate both the light, audio and video console. And with only 2 hands at disposal, it would be impossible to handle all the 3 boxes at the same time. Therefore it would be necessary with some kind of controller that could remote-control all the equipment.

Companion comes to mind. With this network-controller you can operate the light, video and audio from the same box, and even create one button mutes the microphone, turns down the light and starts the video! This is the perfect tool for the new A/V/L engineer. You can also achieve something similar with ShowCockpitUniverse and Central Control
But unfortunately these tools are not robots that replaces the dedicated light, video and audio-engineer: 

First of all, it takes time and skills to set up these controllers with the different type of equipment. To control the light-console with Companion, you need a light-technician who both knows the board and has the network-skills to remote-control it. This person may not need to be on-site for the live-show, but the planning can take more time and effort than you expect.

Secondly, it’s hard to anticipate all the controls you need for the show. In the example above, we created a button which would work great if you wanted to show a video with nothing else happening on the stage. But what if you get a presenter that wants to talk on top of the video? Then you need another kind of button. If this button is not on your multi-controller, you may have to actually touch the audio-console to solve this issue. And yes, this means that the A/V/L engineer needs to know a little bit more about the video, light and audio-equipment on site.

Thirdly, there are some tools of the trade that are not solved with equipment: Knowledge of how the audio, light and video should look and sound. It takes experience and learning to recognize what is good audio and light, and this is what we are aiming for when pushing the buttons. 

So, to conclude, I don’t think that the A/V/L engineer is a very good idea. There are too many things that can go wrong when one person tries to do too many tasks at once. It takes years to master just one of these 3 fields (audio, light or video), and relying on positions where the engineer needs to use all of these 3 crafts is not sustainable. Personally I would also say no to such a job if I was offered it. 
But what if this means that an event has to be postponed because one can’t find enough technicians? Shouldn’t we then try to reach some kind of compromise? What if the event never returns, and the revenue is lost?
Well, I don’t think it’s the responsibility of the remaining live-event technicians to solve the issue of staff-shortage in the live-event industry. We can’t be superheroes with four arms and legs, that only leads to burnout. And we shouldn’t give our customers the idea that you don’t need the same number of technicians as before. By doing this we will only shoot ourselves in the foot when the new generation of educated engineers finally arrives ready to fill the missing jobs. If we have made all these jobs redundant, why did we educate new workers in the first place?

It will be very interesting to see how this autumn in 2022 turns out for the live-event industry. Last autumn was very hectic. For a few months there were no restrictions and lots of activity. I had a feeling that most companies and workers tried to work as much as possible to compensate for what was lost during the pandemic. There was not much time for holiday or family until the new restrictions for Omicron shut the society down again in December. This year I think it will be much of the same, but hopefully a little bit more relaxed since live-events have now been back for a while. 
At least there should be plenty of opportunities for the technicians to do what they are best at: working with rigging, audio, video and lights.

Written by Morten Brekke Stensland
Freelance A/V engineer and owner of PresentationTools A/S