You probably still remember the shock of the moment when you learned your studio would no longer be able to serve families live during the lockdown of 2020. And then what? As the bootstrapping, never-say-die entrepreneur that you are, you improvised and did the next best thing.
Along with thousands of other performing arts studios across the country, your studio made the dramatic shift from in-person to virtual lessons, but you likely realized that the needs of successful online classes were quite different than those of in-person classes. Your technology piece might not have been as strong as it could’ve been. Instead, video was spotty, internet connections were inconsistent, and the music sounded like it was under water.
But you made it! You ended the season with enthusiasm and earned your place as a strong finisher. Now it’s time to lean into the technology. How do you take it up a level?
Enter Tim Veurink.
Tim knows technology. In fact, he’s been living and breathing it for 32 years. He started his professional career as a CPA, but quickly found his passion in technology and music, building experience setting sound stages for concerts and other live events. Additionally, Tim once owned a music shop, is a professional musician, and installs audio and visual systems in churches, schools, and businesses. Oh … and he runs a performing arts studio in Illinois with his wife Lori.
When the mandatory shutdowns in the spring paralyzed most of the country, Tim went to work. The technology that became a headache for so many studio owners became his playground. After using his own studio as a testing center, Tim mastered the basics of a strong tech setup. Since then, he has helped hundreds of other studio owners equip their studio spaces with the proper technology for offering an upgraded virtual experience to students who are not able to attend class in-person.
Here at INSight™ Magazine, we sat down and talked to Tim (virtually!) to pick his brain about technology and get some of his top recommendations to keep us all up and running.
INSight™: What was it like for you at the onset of the pandemic and the mandatory business closures? What did you observe were some of the most challenging technical issues that studio owners faced when moving their classes online?
Tim: When things started to shift, I could see that we were going to need to go virtual. The fear of the unknown was evident, but the desire to conquer this became a real drive for me. I decided to put to use my technology expertise and my inventory of extra cables and devices! Both I have acquired over years and years of building a variety of successful live and virtual stages. I also went on Amazon and bought everything I could think of to test and find the easiest and most efficient way to bring our classes online.
INSight™: Audio was the obvious and most glaring challenge in creating a good experience online. What did you implement to solve this?
Tim: Yes, the audio side suffered tremendously and it was a problem that needed to be solved. I found a solution in three parts: First, using a mixer with the ability to connect to the computer solved the problem of competing sounds being drowned out. Second, I found that the use of high quality wireless microphones increases the professional sound of the instructor. Third, we connected our music to the mixer which sends it right into the speakers of the participant at home.
INSight™: What are some of the main ways to address poor video or audio quality?
Tim: First, you want to look at your internet speed. This can absolutely create problems. The goal is to get to 8 gigabits of upload speed per room that you are running, if at all possible. Also, I highly recommend connecting your computer to the internet using an ethernet cable as opposed to WiFi. WiFi will kill your Zoom quality. Finally, look at the specifications on your computer. Chromebooks are not built for doing what we need, so best practice is to use a Windows or Mac PC. Entry level PCs will run Zoom adequately, but I highly recommend that you dedicate that PC to running Zoom only if it is more basic. Limit other simultaneous uses of that PC.
INSight™: What can you share about video quality? Is one camera pretty much the same as another?
Tim: There are a lot of decent cameras out there, but I recommend getting your hands on a 120-degree high resolution webcam. Each room is different and so your camera will need to suit your room. I recommend testing out several to find the best fit. Equally important is camera placement. My staff prefers placing the camera in the back of the room and I recommend placing the camera six inches above the tallest dancer in the room. This will create the feeling of being in the room without being in the room.
INSight™: You’ve personally helped many studio owners get this far, but, you’re constantly learning and evolving. What is “next level” for you regarding audio and visual improvements?
Tim: I have moved from one mixer to two. I use one mixer solely for students who are online and another mixer solely for students who are in the room. This allows me to control each one independently and creates a higher quality experience for both. For example, my students in the studio do not need to hear me through the microphone, but my students at home do. As far as video, I am experimenting with a few things right now, one of which is installing multiple cameras at different angles in the room. When an instructor wants to get a close up of just their feet, or from the side, they can do so at the touch of a button. Additionally, I am working closely with developers to create a platform where students can actually control where they stand in the room or how they are viewing the class. This could open up a world of opportunity to see proper technique close up and with a more personal, customized experience.
INSight™: What are some of the unseen benefits you are seeing from having this upgraded technology?
Tim: The wow factor is real. Families are impressed by the effort and the technology. These upgrades also provide added convenience for families who can’t come to class one day, whether due to sickness or being out of town. Additionally, because of these upgrades, I don’t see us ever needing to offer another makeup class again. We can engage the parents in new ways as well. No more watch windows, and we can do parent watch weeks much easier without crowding the space.
INSight™: Do you have anything else to share to help studio owners with their tech?
Tim: The opportunity to upgrade our tech has never been more exciting or scary. The daydreaming question: “Wouldn’t it be cool if … ?” is now more accessible. You need to think of this tech as permanent, find ways to utilize it and take things to the next level, but manage your upgrades and ease your studio into it piece by piece. Some staff will jump at this, and others will not understand it. You’ve got to make it simple for them.
Take it from Tim: See your new tech as an opportunity to level up the experience for the students and families you serve. Start where you are and take the next step towards digital greatness for your students’ success. Opening the door to tech not only protects your business in case virtual classes once again become mandatory, it also creates endless opportunities to connect with your students and lift your services into the digital frontier.