What Gear Should I Buy? Tech Support

The eternal question on lighting chat groups is What Should I Buy?  Many will tell you to buy their favorite item, some will ask you what you need the item to do and what your shows and budgets are like.  I suggest you call tech support at 2am while standing in a field the night before you open a festival.

I was on a first-year EDM festival (side note- be very cautious agreeing to do ANY first year festival) and I was programming through the night in a field on the West Coast the night before we were supposed to open at noon.  I had a problem programming and it was preventing me from moving ahead.  This was my first “big” show with this console and I had been in contact with tech support off and on the past couple days during business hours.  So I called…and they picked up.  They helped me through the issue, wished me a good show and hung up.  That is the kind of service people in the live entertainment industry need.

A contrasting story.  A company I was Production Electrician and Programmer for had just purchased over 1200 LEDs from a reputable manufacturer.  On power up, they were fine for about fifteen minutes, and then they would start strobing uncontrollably.  The show loaded in the week of Thanksgiving.  By the time we realized the issue, we were a couple days before Thanksgiving.  Calling Tech Support, they had no idea what was wrong.  No matter how many times I called and who I spoke to.  I asked for replacement gear and they said they could get me fixtures in two weeks.  Not the answer I was hoping for.  The whole show would be closed by then.  I realize that mistakes happen, and no one can be perfect.  But when a client purchases a large amount of gear from you, you should be ready to solve a large-scale problem.  The show eventually happened because of two very smart (and tenacious) crew members who noticed that the leads on the fans were reversed, so the fixtures weren’t being cooled.  They cracked open the cases, reversed the leads and everything functioned.  IATSE: plus 1, Manufacturer: minus my business.

Unsurprisingly, I suggest you extend this to your local sales and rental companies as well.  Does the company offer 24 show-emergency service?  How knowledgable are their staff members?  How responsive are they when there is a problem- regardless of who made the mistake?  

Notice I’m not naming any names here.  That’s deliberate.  I don’t want to tell you who or what to choose.  I’d like to suggest that what you buy or rent isn’t only about what features they have and how much the cost is, it’s about who has your back.

As gear debatably becomes more homogenized in their feature sets, I find what separates the Greats from the DON’T BUY THATs is their dedication to customer service after the sale.  Ours is a 24 hour business, and if a company is not set up to support the user around the clock, regardless of where in the world you live and light, I would think twice before doing business with them.  Or three times.  Basically, rethink until you decide to go with someone who will be there for you.

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