5Qs: Matthias Hinrichs, Product Manager, Elation Professional

After 14 years at Martin Professional, product manager Matthias Hinrichs has moved to Elation Professional, where the M Series consoles followed him in short order. He chats with Live Design about his career to date—from fixing lights at his dance school in Germany to the challenges of his new position—and offers a few thoughts about the future of lighting. 

Live Design: What was your career path to becoming a product manager?

Matthias Hinrichs: I was always interested in theater and lighting, and started fixing the lighting fixtures in the local dance school I attended. I was maybe 15 or 16 at that point. When I was looking for some spare parts, I got to know a small local rental company in my German hometown, and eventually started hanging out there learning the trade from the ground up. I spent all my free time in their shop asking lots of questions and finally did my first PARcan shows on an MA Lighting two-preset desk. 

Over time, I learned many lighting consoles until I moved to Berlin (after a brief stint in the German Navy) and started to program High End Hog 2s for events in Berlin while attending University for Theater and Event Technology. I visited an extended training class in Los Angeles during the summer of 2001, met my wife, and ended up moving to LA in 2002. I started out as a freelance lighting technician and console programmer and was asked by Martin Professional at the time to help with some demo and training on their new Maxxyz consoles they had just launched.

It turned into a full-time tech support job, and I became part of Martin’s group of product specialists. I met many great designers and programmers during that time. After fulfilling various roles at Martin, I took over product management of the controller systems in a shared position with my friend Paul Pelletier. We re-launched the console range as M-Series during that time, starting with the M1, then the M2GO, and finally, the M6. Once we did the consoles, we then added the quite innovative M-Touch and M-Play, which have their roots in music software controllers.

Martin was then acquired by Harman, which, a few years later was acquired by Samsung. In September 2017, I learned that my job there was being eliminated during a large restructuring, so after 14 years I found myself out of a job. Fortunately, Elation has been a steadily growing brand, and it didn’t take long to realize that it would be a great fit for me to be part of designing new products with them. In a way, it’s back to my roots as I now work again with Eric Loader who brought me into Martin 15 years earlier. I started as product manager in January with a focus on stage lighting, especially moving heads.

LD: When you moved to Elation did you think, or suspect, the consoles might come with you?

MH: No, that was not planned, and my position at Elation is quite different with a much larger focus on fixture specifications and market research. Of course, I am extremely happy that this happened. It’s great for the user base that this platform has found a new home at Elation, and I am excited to continue to work with the developers I have spent so many years with. Elation is very committed to reenergizing this product line globally, but it’s a bit too early to be specific how this will evolve. Elation needed a professional console range that offers something in various sizes and prices, and this was a perfect fit, as it’s a fully developed portfolio with some products just launched last year.

LD: What are your day-to-day duties in your new position, and how do you influence the development of new products?

MH: As a product manager, my role is quite broad. I do a lot of research and talk with designers, programmers, and other specifiers around the world to make sure our products meet their needs and perform to their expectations. I work daily with our developers as we are in a constant feedback cycle of products being developed or specified, so there are reviews of full fixtures to approval of changes that happen during the RD phase. The development depends a lot on my input from the specification, gobo and color choices to DMX layout documents. In every decision, I always put myself in the position of the end user and designer. Is the fixture performing well? Is it easy to maintain?  Is the DMX profile consistent and easy to use? Would I enjoy using the fixture on a show?

The final decision on products is discussed with a small group of experienced people inside Elation, and we are very fast at making decisions and implementing them. The speed of development is quite astonishing to me, and I enjoy the fast pace in my new job tremendously. Besides the technical tasks, there are website texts to approve, specification sheets to review, and of course, tradeshows and demos to attend. I have been almost constantly on the road (or in the air) trying to meet as many customers and Elation colleagues as possible. It’s been fun to listen in order to ensure we can innovate and provide the right tools for the market.

LD: What do you think will be the next development in lighting product development? Will the IoT have an effect on entertainment lighting

MH: I expect that eventually every lighting fixture will be connected to the cloud. Fixtures will communicate in wireless mesh networks and be almost completely plug and play. Devices will be “location aware” so rental houses will know at any given time where in the world their fixtures are and what their condition is. Fixtures will communicate such precise knowledge of their position, angle, height, etc. that possibly the task of focusing the show will be eliminated and take only a few seconds of math that is done on some powerful external server.

AI will help designers and programmers with mundane tasks that currently take a crazy amount of macro and scripting effort. I truly hope that we can focus less on the technology itself but instead utilize it to provide more time for the creative aspect of a show. It would be great to see more painting with light and visuals than typing lengthy command lines.

LD: What is your dream project? Is there something you would love to do, or invent?

MH: If I could get rid of DMX and all other lighting and video protocols and invent the easiest and most powerful show network system that is cheap and adapted by the whole industry instantly, I would be quite proud. Unfortunately, I am not smart enough for this, but I know people who are. I am confident we have just seen the start of smart lighting systems. Hopefully, one day setting up any sort of show will be as simple as logging into Wi-Fi at Starbucks so we can all spend more time playing with lights than setting them up.

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