Most of the time, I find myself writing and making videos and reviews about gear. But today, I’d like to change direction a bit and highlight an amazing resource that we all have as audio professionals, thanks to an incredibly devoted and industrious peer.

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Thomas Popp is a Sound Mixer, Boom Operator, and Sound Utility in the IATSE local 695 Union. “My newest endeavor, and one that comes naturally to me is teaching. I teach a couple classes at the 695, have made many instructional videos over the years, have taught in China, as well as at a couple of the local schools; the list goes on. Now I am building Video Mantis.”

Sound Mixer Thomas Popp, a man who has literally written THE book on wiring talent (if such a thing is possible), created and developed the powerful tool that is Video Mantis over the past several years. If any of you have spent some time on blogs and social media, then the Video Mantis name probably will ring a bell. But given how incredibly powerful and useful that it is, I’m shocked that even more people aren’t aware of it. So before writing this, even I had to do a double take to look back and make sure that I am as comprehensive as possible when explaining exactly what Video Mantis is.

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If I had to summarize it down to a byline, I would call it a vast knowledge base for nearly all professional audio gear. But even that doesn’t do it justice.

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Courses

Video Mantis is broken down into different departments. On the website, you have quick access to courses that are taught by industry professionals and have vetted information. “Our goal with Video Mantis Course was to create the type of course that didn’t exist yet… Our courses focus on not only technicality, but also theory and communication to help build a more synergistic set.”

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Here’s an excellent example above for a course on a skill which every sound mixer who is serious about their craft should have: soldering. Being able to make and repair your own cables is going to save you a bundle over the course of your career, and this package will give you a solid introduction and overview into soldering that will make it feel so much less like the sorcery that it appears to be from the untrained eye. The courses are broken down into multiple (yet concise) lectures on the subjects, with plenty of resources and video guides.

Examples like this exemplify how this aspect of Video Mantis can be incredibly helpful to the newbie or veteran alike. We are never finished learning, and having a system like this, can ensure that we all can fill in any gaps in our knowledge.

But beyond courses like Soldering skills, Video Mantis is joining up with mentors all around the world (Thomas calls them his trusted allies in his quest for Sound ReDiscovery… or something like that…). One of his first mentors to sign on was Ken Strain, who has created a course called Boom Right Masterclass, which can literally take years of learning “off your shoulders”

 

The Vault

Next, I want to discuss the “Vault.” Essentially, it’s Yelp for production, with a lot of additional features that will blow your mind if you take the time to dive in…

Over the past several years, Thomas Popp has worked tirelessly to catalog as many pieces of gear as possible, and then place them in a database which Video Mantis refers to as “The Vault.”

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The Vault is a free resource available for everyone on our website as well as in our iOS application.

“Our Vault gives the user is able to search a massive list of gear which will return a comprehensive list of information about it, from manuals and photos, to short video tutorials and troubleshooting.”

When speaking to Thomas Popp about the goals of the Vault, he discussed them with me in terms of the working professional in a time sensitive scenario.

When you’re on a job, and you’re having an issue with gear that you’re not sure how to handle, you may phone a colleague or head straight to Google. Instead, the Video Mantis app can show you product page for every item in our industry (adding more weekly) and collects manuals, specification sheets and troubleshooting videos for many common (and not so common) issues.

But it’s not just about products, it’s also about community. Yes, it gets even deeper…

There is a Community Section built into every product in the vault. It allows you to favorite your favorite gear in order to be connected with other users around the world that love the same gear as you. Instead of signing into millions of Facebook groups, you can favorite the Sound Devices Mix Pre Series II, and when people post in the community section about the recorder, Video Mantis sends out a push notification to all members that are in the Mix Pre Community. Communal Learning Thomas coined for this process. If we all collectively add our knowledge into a database that cares about us and helps to archive it in a usable fashion, it helps us all.

One can and should make the argument that we should know as much as possible about our gear BEFORE we get on the job. The app is great for that as well, however we can’t always predict what will and will not go wrong in a real working environment. That’s why having a resource like this is incredible. Its quick, easy, and arranged in a very user friendly format. The goal is to make problem solving faster, so that you get back up and running like lightening. On your down time, learning about the products you care about is so easy with this at your fingertips.

The video above shows you the process of using the app, and as you can see, its very intuitive. Also discussed in the video is how to create inventory lists for your own gear package which is stored in the Video Mantis Cloud for retrieval from any iOS app.

“Lets say that you own a Sound Devices 633, with a Sennheiser MKH-50 microphone, a Lectrosonics SRc receiver, two LT transmitters, and two Sanken COS11 microphones. In the app, you are able to search all of those items and then add them to your own gear list which is saved in the Video Mantis Cloud.”

 

From there, you have complete inventory management control. You’re able to catalog the serial numbers, photos, and details about each piece. You can even label them as our for repair or rented, so that you can easily keep track of where everything is.

We know that as sound mixers, the more that we grow in our careers, the more that we are going to acquire endless amounts of small pieces and backups upon backups. It can get extremely difficult to keep track of everything, especially if it isn’t something that we use every day. With the Video Mantis app, it all gets a whole lot easier.

That’s not even mentioning how helpful it is to have a single database for all of the info on your gear in case of an insurance claim or need to send something in for repair. The Video Mantis app can organize your equipment into kits, loan equipment to friends (with push notification reminders to get your gear BACK too), and even help you with your deductions for taxes.

The video above summarizes the process of adding gear to your personal list.

The Video Mantis App is free for all users to start, and allows you to add up to 10 pieces of gear in your digital inventory as well as store items in one kit.

There is also a VM PRO membership ($50 bucks a year) which unlocks all of the paid features of the app, like L&D, Receipt Saving, Offline Viewing, Exporting PDF Lists, and Helping with your Tax Deductions.

They are adding new features for our members regularly.

Social

In addition to the Courses, Vault, and App, Video Mantis also does live stream discussions with other industry professionals. These discussions are then archived on the website and social media pages for later viewing. The topics can range anywhere from the personal experiences of award winning and respected professionals, to on the job tips and tricks, to discussions on how to navigate the industry.

There are two main shows at Video Mantis: Mantis Discussions and Vault Talks. Mantis Discussions are all about theory and how we work together as a team and with other departments on set. You may even get the privilege of listening to one of many talks about which serve as autobiographical for some Sound Mixers you may admire. Vault Talks are ALL about gear, and these talks are added to the Vault for each specific item. They are part review, part how-to and very intuitive.

More and more talks are being added regularly and are great to watch if you have an interest in the perspectives of some of the great veterans of sound, or if you’d simply like to get others’ takes on things as simple as how to best plan a trip to a convention.

If you click on the Workshops section of the website, you will find a list of the upcoming in-person learning sessions either hosted by, or coordinated with Video Mantis. They are for newbies and veterans alike.

As was said above, we never stop learning. Even when we think that we have a subject down cold, there’s always another perspective, always another technique. We can only make ourselves better sound professionals by taking in as many methods as possible.

The Next Ten Years

When asking Thomas about what he plans on doing with Video Mantis, he said this:

“Video Mantis is always growing, and improving, The first ten years were an emotional ride. Long nights, broken code, learning learning learning. Now, we are at the point where I have to let Video Mantis go into the wild and let the community help it grow.

It is impossible for me to expel all of this knowledge myself. Video Mantis’ goal is to team up with others and delegate products to groups of people to dissect them and create content to give back to everyone. If you love a product, we would love to hear from you! Posting about it within the community, or creating a video would help everyone. We will take these videos and host them for free, keeping it organized as we go.

I created a platform that allows mentors to teach their viewpoints and knowledge for people to grow within their field. If you are tired of the constant back and forth you may find on social media, and want to help another community that is focused on positive growth, please consider helping Video Mantis grow the Vault or even becoming a mentor!

We are passionate about passing down the knowledge we’ve acquired. We hope you are too.

Summary

In short, I truly believe that everyone should be using Video Mantis. Proper education is key for any profession, and those who rest on their laurels are doomed to be left behind by those who continue to build their skillset.

Video Mantis is an invaluable tool which can help make that continuously moving goal post seem much closer. Whether you’re a beginner or a seasoned veteran, there is something for everyone here.


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Jared Elkin is a professional sound mixer located in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

https://www.jaredelkinaudio.com

papple04@gmail.com