Meyer Sound's Education Program: Growing High-Level Professional Training

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An Idea Germinates
While on-the-job experience alone was sufficient to make one an expert in the craft of live sound in the ‘70s, today technical training is necessary in order to become a true sound reinforcement professional.

In its early years, sound reinforcement was often an ad hoc pursuit. Approximation was a primary method, system setup and tuning were done by eye and ear alone, and less than stellar sound quality was accepted because no one had experienced better. In the last 25 years things have changed. Today, measurement is a standard part of sound system setup, computer technology is used in everything from system design to signal path, and sound systems have grown in complexity to encompass hundreds of input channels, dozens of output channels, and precisely aimed arrays hung high in the air.

Early SIM seminar with Bob McCarthy

While on-the-job experience alone was sufficient to make one an expert in the craft of live sound in the ‘70s, today technical training is necessary in order to become a true sound reinforcement professional. And yet, though the state of the art has become quite technically sophisticated, highlevel professional education in sound reinforcement is still in surprisingly short supply. Even at the university level, it is extremely difficult to find comprehensive curricula in the theory and practice of modern sound reinforcement.

The need for and lack of high-level technical training on sound reinforcement was clear to John and Helen Meyer when they founded Meyer Sound in 1979. The Meyers saw the quality of tools and the level of technical understanding in practitioners using the existing tools as twin impediments to raising the quality of sound reinforcement. They immediately set about remedying the first of these, and soon ran up against the need to confront the second.

The issue came to the point of action when Meyer Sound introduced source independent measurement with the first SIM analyzer. Source independent measurement was an entirely new method of measuring sound systems in use and presented never-before-seen challenges in technique and interpretation. In 1984, then-Meyer Sound employee Bob McCarthy (now an independent consultant) conducted the first "SIM School" to train professionals in use of the SIM analyzer. Thus began an ongoing program of educational seminars that today spans the globe, providing science-based training on a wide array of topics of vital interest to sound reinforcement professionals.

A Flower Grows in Mexico

While the seed of the seminar program was planted in Berkeley, its flowering occurred further south. In 1996, Meyer Sound was distributing a book written by McCarthy, called Meyer Sound Design Reference for Sound Reinforcement. At that year's Audio Engineering Society convention in Los Angeles, Scott Gledhill, a Meyer Sound sales manager who had established a Meyer Sound office in Mexico, gave a copy to Mauricio "Magu" Ramírez, a well-known FOH engineer for Mexican artists like Maná and Azul Violeta. Ramírez, who owned and operated an audio school called "Dynamix," had been trained by McCarthy two years earlier. Now he read the book Gledhill had given him and felt opened up by it to a new world of technical understanding.

Meyer Sound’s education program started with the introduction of source independent measurement in 1984.

At the time, there were virtually no Spanish-language audio texts, so Ramírez asked Gledhill if he could have his students translate the book for use as the primary text in his classes. Gledhill suggested that Ramírez not only translate the book, but also join Meyer Sound Mexico's staff and teach the book's lessons there. Ramírez accepted the offer.

In 1997, Meyer Sound Mexico moved to a new facility, where a room was dedicated to seminars and equipped with a small sound system and basic video projection equipment. By late summer, Ramírez taught the first course: a two-week class covering the entirety of what was being called "Bob's book."

In the first year, Ramírez trained more than 200 people on the ideas in the book. (The number of people trained in Mexico by Meyer Sound is now in the vicinity of 4,000.) In 1999, the success of the program carried Ramírez to Spain to conduct seminars there, with the same results: strong enthusiasm and swift growth.

Low frequency directivity demo, part of a seminar held in Nashville, Tenn.

With Ramírez traveling Europe steadily, Salvador Castañeda, an experienced audio educator, was hired to take over teaching the seminars in Mexico. While Ramírez became certified as a SIM instructor and expanded his curriculum, creating his own system optimization course, Castañeda created a course to teach the audio basics many engineers seemed to lack. Once again, the educational effort met with enthusiastic response.

By 2002, the program had expanded to the point that both Ramírez and Castañeda were teaching in Asia as well. With both of them so far away much of the time, Meyer Sound Mexico needed to fill the big hole their absence left in its teaching staff at home. Oscar Barrientos joined the staff and became Meyer Sound Mexico's new educational mainstay, teaching system design all through Latin America, as well as a highly respected eight-week course in audio basics at the Mexico office.

Looking at the increasingly international success of the seminar program, Meyer Sound decided to create a more unified program that included an increase in training activity in the U.S. The company undertook an effort to expand the program, while also formalizing it with more consistent curricula and better materials.

Though grounded in a strong theoretical basis, Meyer Sound seminars are oriented towards real-world applications, the realm in which practitioners work.

The program needed guidance from people who intimately understood the jobs of sound reinforcement professionals. Meyer Sound turned to Gavin Canaan, who had earlier spent several years in the company's Customer Service department. Canaan was hired back from his position as Operations Manager at Ultra Sound to become Educational Programs Manager under the direction of Customer Service Manager Pablo Espinosa. Canaan immediately began staging more seminars around the U.S. and added more instructors, including the late sound reinforcement legend, Don Pearson.

The seminar program also draws on the knowledge and skills in Meyer Sound's Technical Support and Design Services departments. Technical Support Manager John Monitto, Design Services Manager Todd Meier, Technical Support Representative Steve Bush, and LCS Series Technical Support Manager Richard Bugg all teach seminars, in addition to their respective primary duties.

Sound Reinforcement Education Blossoms in the 21st Century

Today, Meyer Sound's seminar program operates with four fulltime staff (Ramírez, Casteñada, Barrientos, and Canaan), plus contributions from Meyer Sound's technical support and design services staff and others. The seminars educate audio professionals from rental companies, venues, production companies, consultancies, venues, and sound design firms in system design, loudspeaker behavior and interactions, measurement, audio show control programming, subwoofer deployment, and even mixing.

SIM seminar, Korea

The emphasis in the Meyer Sound seminars is on science, not marketing, and on the real world outside the classroom. Meyer Sound seminars are hard-core, intensive courses of cutting-edge techniques and electronic and acoustical fundamentals.

Meyer Sound seminars operate from the perspective that high technology is always built from basic concepts. Phase is a topic that receives thorough exploration, as it is crucial to understanding the performance of loudspeaker systems. Loudspeaker interactions, both constructive (such as arraying techniques) and destructive (such as comb filtering effects) can be grasped and manipulated with a knowledge of phase. In the electronic domain, equalization and other filtering applications all exhibit phase behaviors must be comprehended for the tools to be best used.

Other first-principle system concepts like proper grounding, gain staging, and polarity are taught, because lack of understanding in these areas can seriously compromise system performance, undermining all of a sound engineer's technical and creative efforts.

Meyer Sound holds seminars on an ongoing basis in locations around the world.

Though grounded in a strong theoretical basis, Meyer Sound seminars are oriented towards real-world applications, the realm in which practitioners work. The use of MAPP Online Pro acoustical prediction software for system design (as well as general understanding of loudspeaker behavior) is taught, and measurement using the SIM analyzer trains attendees in how to recognize acoustical and electronic problems at a venue and what can—and can't—be done to remedy these issues.

In 2004, Meyer Sound further increased their commitment to education with the construction of the Pearson Theatre (named for Don Pearson) at the company's Berkeley, Calif., headquarters. The theater is a unique venue containing numerous features aimed directly at training, including a retractable desktop, Internet access, and AC power for laptops at every seat, a seating arrangement providing each student with an unobstructed view of the front of the room, control of all projection and audio systems from an instructor's podium, a steel U-beam with the capability of rigging up to six tons of loudspeakers, highdefinition video projection capable of accepting input directly from an instructor's laptop, and even seats chosen for their comfort over a seminar lasting several full days.

Line array seminar, Pearson Theatre, Berkeley, Calif

The latest additions to Meyer Sound's education program have been legendary FOH engineer and Meyer Sound Tour Liaison Manager Buford Jones's Mixing Workshop, which covers more aspects of the FOH mixer's job than technical issues alone, and the Matrix3 Training and Applications seminar, which delves deeply into the tremendous power of Meyer Sound's digital audio system for theatrical and other applications.

The necessity for high-level sound reinforcement education continues to become more acute. The advent of line array systems and digital audio technology in sound reinforcement are only two recent developments that have brought new challenges and a greater need for solid information. After well over 20 years of working to meet this need, Meyer Sound remains dedicated to providing a comprehensive series of seminars that present applications-oriented, scientifically rigorous information—available few other places—and promoting better sound through applied knowledge.

For more information on Meyer Sound’s seminar program, see: http://www.meyersound.com/education/

 

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