Commentary: Getting Started is Really Hard

Posted on by Sudd

The hardest part of learning any new hardware or software is getting started. And the hardest training to write and teach is to explain to new users how to get started.

This week, I’ve been living both sides of that equation.

We are in the process of moving into new offices, which includes upgrading a lot of our hardware, software and media gear. This means my team and I have a lot of new things to learn. Learning new things is generally fun, except we have some major deadlines staring us in the face which makes it much harder to concentrate.

TAKE A STEP BACK

I’ve been teaching and using Final Cut Pro and Premiere Pro for more than ten years. The way they work is both obvious and straight-forward – to me. But as my email makes clear every day, if you are new to the software they are neither obvious nor straight-forward. They are complex, confusing and scary.

Both Apple and Adobe work really hard to make their software as approachable and “learnable” as possible. But working with media is complex by definition and when you are new to the field, nothing seems to make any sense. Until, one day, you suddenly realize you understand it and you wonder why you were ever confused in the first place.

The challenge is that once you understand it, explaining it to someone who is new becomes really difficult. What is opaque to them is obvious to you. Because there is so much cool stuff to talk about, it is hard to slow down and take the time to bring new folks up to speed on the absolute basic fundamentals.

This is why, in my training and email, I take extra time to explain precisely how to get started and how to configure your system. There’s no value in showcasing a really cool effect, if the people watching don’t know how to create a new project and import media.

THE ROLES REVERSE

Last week, I found myself back in the newbie chair. As part of my new office, we are installing a Behringer X32 Producer audio mixing console with a Behringer S16 Digital Snake. This is a HUGE step up from the Mackie VLZ-1402 analog mixer I’ve been using for the last ten years.

Its my first big step into digital audio, programmable mixers, and mixer technology that I’ve been reading about for years. I was really excited about adding this new gear.

Until I slammed into the “You-Don’t-Know-Nothin’-Jack” brick wall. Nothing worked. My production team includes an Emmy-award-winning audio mixer and an extremely talented video producer – and none of us could even figure out how to turn on a mic.

Setting up a digital audio system was new to all of us. We needed help. Now.

The first thing we did was open the Quick Start guide provided with the mixer, but it assumed we had some digital audio experience. I’ve read that six page guide ten times. I understand the names of all the connectors and knobs, but have no idea what they do or how we use them.

Next, we went to the Behringer website to find the user manual. But, Behringer doesn’t provide manuals on their support page. Nothing. Do a web search for “user manual” and it lists every product in their catalog – but no manuals.

NOTE: I discovered, much later, that Behringer does not consider user manuals “support.” They are listed as downloads on each product sales page. Which makes sense only if you purchased the gear from Behringer, which you can’t.

We contacted Sweetwater Sound from whom we bought the board to give us some basic help in simple tasks like getting a mic to work. I discovered that a knowledgeable sales rep is not the same as support.

“You may have purchased the product from us, but we can’t really help you,” Sweetwater support told us. “You’ll need to read the manual.”

“How do we find the manual? Where can we go to learn how it works?,” we asked.

“Here’s a link to a wiki that contains the manual,” they replied, “We are not set up to provide training, but will try to answer simple support questions. Also, we don’t know anyone we could recommend that trains in these products.”

Time to go to YouTube to see what videos exist. Behringer has a lot of videos on their high-end mixer, the X32. In fact, much of their website is devoted to the X32, but no training that we could find on the model that we purchased. Naturally, the operation of the two is not the same.

There were no setup videos for this product on either the Behringer or Sweetwater websites.

In other words, the new user was totally ignored. Sigh…

RESOLUTION AND LESSONS LEARNED

Ultimately, we tracked down the user manual by doing a Google search. Then, because we were in LA, we hired an experienced audio installer to come out to explain and install the system. We have it working – sort of. But not everyone lives in LA, or has access to these resources.

We discovered that we probably bought the wrong mixer – it is inadequate for live mixing. But, now, two weeks have passed and we can’t return it for its bigger brother.

Buying this mixer is probably going to be a multi-thousand dollar mistake on my part. So I wanted to share with you the lessons that I’ve learned so far.

But I also have some suggestions for Behringer that would make life a LOT better for new users:

SUMMARY

This has been a very humbling week for me. It has taught me to do a much better job in finding resources that can help me get started with something new BEFORE spending the money to buy that new product.

It also reinforced how important it is that I not lose sight of the new user in my training.

I’m sure I’ll get this mixer working in time; or I’ll bite the bullet, scrap it and chalk it up as a dumb decision that cost me a lot of money.

But I will never forget what it was like to be a new user struggling to learn how to plug in a mic and get it to work. THAT lesson I’ll use every day.


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13 Responses to Commentary: Getting Started is Really Hard

  1. Eddie K says:

    Hi Larry-sorry about your trouble with the X32…coincidentally, we just started using one for our acoustic performances-each band member uses an iPad to adjust their own monitor mix-it’s really an awesome mixer. As you grow into it, I’m sure you’ll wonder how you ever got along without it.
    Cheers my friend! Eddie K-Bandleader/Montgomery Gentry

    • LarryJ says:

      Eddie:

      (smile…) I might have guessed that if anyone could figure this out, it would be you.

      It is also reassuring that a band with the credentials of Montgomery/Gentry selected this mixer.

      We will keep trying.

      Thanks,

      Larry

    • George Knochel says:

      Hi Eddie — the trouble was not with the X32. That’s the high-end model, but not what Larry had bought.

      If you’ll re-read the article, Larry had said “Behringer has a lot of videos on their high-end mixer, the X32. In fact, much of their website is devoted to the X32, but no training that we could find on the model that we purchased. Naturally, the operation of the two is not the same.”

  2. Eddie K says:

    Hi George-my bad, we are using the X32 Producer, I just referenced the X32 in my post.

  3. Ron Anderson says:

    I feel your pain sir. Sorry to hear about your problems.

    I couldn’t agree with your advice more.

    Recently I bought an intervalometer device to take time lapse with my Canon 5d Mark III. I did my research and found a highly recommended unit. Making it work was impossible. The manual was written generically using terminology that didn’t fit with my camera. The company website support let to an email to contact them. The company Youtube channel showed you how to unpack the thing, but no useful details. I found an independent YouTube that had an 11 minute “tutorial” a out unpacking and setting it up. But in the final minutes he admitted he couldn’t actually make it work! The process made me feel like an idiot and much less likely to buy any other products from that company.

    Having worked in web based training, I find your advice to be spot on.

    Assume I don’t know everthing an engineer does
    Show me pictures as well as text
    Customize your advice for my situation, don’t just refer me to someone else’s user manual
    Use the web to give me this information
    And if I do need to contact you by email, have the person answereing the email know more than I do.
    Geez!

  4. Billy Walker says:

    Larry, you have hit the nail on the head multiple times over.

    Manufacturers have no excuse in this area. With the internet you can provide so much quality material to your customer base. But most simply don’t do it. I imagine they can come up with their cost excuses but a buyer is entitled to information. The reason a manufacturer is in business is because of the buyer; not the other way around.

    There is no reason User Manuals cannot be found in multiple locations on a web site. The customer should not have to Google for this stuff. Both Support pages as well as Product Information pages should contain links for everything surrounding whatever product is being sold on that page. This is elementary, simple and filled with common sense. Perhaps that why it doesn’t happen. They’re so busy cranking out the latest trick product they can possibly devise they just assume the herds will have it up and running within minutes.

    Another pet peeve: Why do I have to download and pay to print my own manual? Shouldn’t it come with the product? Written in the primary language of a given country. Of course it adds an expense to the cost of sale. Include the manual as part of your total cost of goods and use your markup to retain whatever profit you feel is appropriate. But people actually need this as part of the purchase. Assuming it is well written anyway.

    Just a week ago I purchased a G-Technology RAID system. Looks to be an excellent piece of hardware. Although I didn’t buy it because of the warranty terms I was angry when I looked at the enclosed warranty sheet. The size of the sheet measures out at 8.5′ wide and 14″ long. It appears to include the warranty terms in every language on Planet Earth. And, the print is so small I can’t read it in my own language. Even with my reading glasses on. I don’t care about the rest of the world. I live in the United States and when I read documentation I expect it to be in English. If you have a customer base elsewhere around the world do the same for them; include documentation in that country’s primary language at the very least. Others can resort to the internet if they have a particular language need. And before anyone thinks I’m prejudice I have this to say: My wife is from Chile and didn’t move here until she was 19 so her primary language and thought is Spanish of which I know little. Whatever country you may reside in you have the right to read documentation in your country’s native language. In a point size you can actually read.

    Quick start guides are another example of common sense. Pay 10 newbies to come in and try to work with your equipment and then build a User Guide based on that experience. And I mean newbie; someone who knows nothing about your product. Assuming the quality is there your customers will rave about your company.

    You mentioned resellers and razor thin profits. They have no one to blame on their profit margins except themselves. So many try to eliminate any and all costs associated with product sales. And technology seems to be worse than anything else out there despite the phenomenal capabilities it provides. Get out of the China mode and do what it is right for people. Don’t produce crap and be willing to provide support for your products.

    Online support is another area that continually falls short. I love computers. Was in the computer business in Manhattan for 13 years. But we provided people-speaking-to-people support. Did it cost us money? You bet it did. But I built a business model to cover for those costs like any sane business would. The one thing computer geeks continually forget about is the customer needs help and sometimes that help needs to be via a conversation and not e-mail. It’s called taking care of your customer.

    Thank you. Please help me off my soapbox as I’m 60 years old and I am totally fed up with the very things that Larry rants about here. Business owners please pay attention: You earn a living and you pay your employees with customer money as opposed to your own money. It’s not difficult; just do what is right for your customer.

    Larry – right on!!!

  5. stu aull says:

    Larry – tough lesson indeed! thanks -as always- for sharing the Foibles as well as the Cool Stuff.
    Selfishly (for me) what this whole Drama has done is made you an even better instructor (if that is possible), for which
    we will all continue to benefit.
    Thanks for stepping out of the Frying Pan for us Sir!

    Stu Aull
    Alaska

  6. Kirby Fong says:

    Hi Larry, I understand your frustration but fortunately did not as exasperating an experience. My church did a sound system upgrade this year that included a Behringer X32 Compact, a different model than what you got. The work was done by a sound contractor who not only sold us the mixer but installed it and gave us basic instruction on how to use it (and the S16 digital snake). His opinion was that Behringer equipment was relatively low priced because they don’t spend money on documentation and training; they leave it up to customers to help each other via YouTube videos. Indeed, I’ve spent a lot of time watching YouTube videos made by other customers. I was at the NAMM show in Anaheim this January, and there were throngs of people asking questions about the X32 at the Behringer exhibit (this was before we bought ours), and I now know why! At the NAMM show Behringer proudly announced the new features in the upcoming release of version 2 of their firmware. I’ve updated the firmware on our mixer, but I’ve not seen any documentation about using the new features. The on-line manual for the X32 Compact is for version 1 of the firmware. However, one of the new and very simple features is being able to display two banks of 8 input channels rather than one bank of inputs and one bank of mixes. (This is useful to my church since the S16 inputs come in on the first two banks and wireless microphone on a third bank.) Just press two input bank buttons simultaneously. Anyway, I wish you good luck as you climb up the long learning curve.

    • Billy Walker says:

      Quoted from this comment:
      His opinion was that Behringer equipment was relatively low priced because they don’t spend money on documentation and training; they leave it up to customers to help each other via YouTube videos.
      End quote from this comment

      Is this insane or what? How many companies do this type of “support”? How could any individual in charge of a company actually think this is a good way to get your customer’s going? However, this is an excellent example of saying “I couldn’t care less how you learn to use our product!”

      Really manufacturer’s and resellers…? This is the best you can do? Get out of China mode and show some respect to the customer base. China doesn’t care about what they produce and you don’t care if we struggle in an attempt to learn your product. How absurd!

  7. I remember buying gear from Ampex. Art that time, no equipment was priced less than $30,000! You could call their engineers in several cities for excellent support. They answered the phones immediately. No answer tree. No charge, no time limit. You could spend an hour discussing their equipment. Manuals were included with the equipment and you even had support docs mailed to you if a new update was available or some bugs were squashed.

    Extra charge schools were available that taught everything about a piece of equipment. You could get that class thrown in for free if you pushed a little.

    Times have changed. Seems you are on your own.

  8. Martin says:

    Wow! I bought my X32 four months ago and I barely understand what I am doing. I am full of questions and, I just realized this, I am writing a reply to a 2014 post… It is summer 2018 for me. Still no help from Behringer to get going. Of course, there many videos on YouTube by now, but, then again, each video explains a very specific situation (scratching the surface) that never applies to the situation I am dealing with. If they do hit the subject, the authors assume you already know your way around the console. There are the forums wehre many people trying to help, but it often ends in confusion: “I think you should try this, it might work…”. Then, it does not.

    The Ins and Outs from the back panel, the Aux Ins, the virtual Ins and Outs through the console’s card, the settings to match what your PC soundcard can do in the chain of settings… Then, the DAW’s Ins and Outs, the sends and receives.

    A friend of mine came over with his analog knowledge to help with the console. Together, we got confused and ended up sitting down having a beer that tasted like confusion.

    I go to bed at night trying to deal with my confusion. I usually find my way easily around settings (thinking of the Boss ES-8 switcher as an example), but this time, it is like there is no reference to articulate the notions around. No deductions involving certainties.

    I KNOW I have a great console with almost infinite capabilities, I know I should love it, but I am so despaired sometimes thant I can’t make a little “easy” thing work that I am considering reselling it and buy a very simple audio card.

    The more I dig, the deeper I get, right? Yeah. Right. My brain is melting.

    Infinite possibilities… Hum… Infinity is a large place to get lost into.

    If someone could make a step by step guide explaining (not assuming) the setup (like when you explain something to a child – because I feel like a child trying to understand the adult world with the X32) and the reasons for using those setup configs, then it could be nice and helpful to all the new users. Or am I too stupid to understand simplicity?

    Anyway. I just needed to let some steam out. Frustration is a heavy thing to carry around.

    I hope you guys resolved your problems from almost four years ago. I am exactly where you were then.

    Have a good day.

    Martin

    • Larry says:

      Martin:

      Behringer makes great gear that is impossible to use. I COMPLETELY sympathize. What we ended up doing was hiring an audio engineer for a day who had deep experience with Behringer gear. It cost us money, but the stress and time it saved was immmeasurable.

      What I find MOST interesting is that in the four years this article has been online, I have not had a single comment from Behringer.

      It is obvious, since your situation mirrors mine, that they are not interested in enabling new users to succeed, but in providing gear to people that already know how to use it.

      Larry

  9. Martin says:

    Yes,

    What a shame! I will have to do as you did. I’ll try to find someone to help in Montreal or surroundings.

    Thanks for the moral support. 🙂

    Martin

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