Backstage Software: Xojo Powers Entertainment Behind the Scenes
Very few in the entertainment business are in the glamorous position of appearing on the stage. Most are behind the scenes creating a spectacular event with lighting, scenery, sound, video and special effects. If not for the efforts of the anonymous souls back stage, even mesmerizing entertainers would seem lost on the massive stages they perform on in stadiums, theaters and arenas worldwide.
One of the unsung heroes of the entertainment business is Xojo from Xojo, Inc. In the hands of Drew Findley, Xojo has been helping wow crowds at shows as diverse as Tina Turner and Nine Inch Nails, U2, Pearl Jam, the Rolling Stones and Radiohead.
Findley, founder of Los Angeles-based Findley Designs Inc., is a lighting and sound designer by training, software developer by necessity.
In 2000 Findley was working for one of the largest lighting vendors in the professional concert world - Light & Sound Design, known as LSC (now known as Production Resource Group). "We built our own lighting hardware, but there were never interfaces to setup and configure these things," Findley recalls. People would sit at a serial terminal patching interface units and resetting automated lights from a command line.
LSD's engineering team, which was in Birmingham, England, would sometimes assign small programming tasks to Findley in L.A. "But I wasn't creating whole applications, just small pieces of code," he says.
Findley wanted to create a better user interface for LSD's hardware, but with his limited knowledge of programming he felt discouraged. Despite having graduated from Carnegie Mellon, with its renowned computer science department, he had never taken a computer class. "I went to art school," he laughs.
Surfing the Internet for a development environment he thought he could master, he found Xojo. It looked easy to learn, and he liked the fact that Xojo is cross-platform. With a little bit of effort and a lot of motivation, Findley taught himself Xojo and created GUI applications to program LSD's lighting interface hardware and manage custom parts of inventory between warehouse locations.
Then he started writing other applications for his own use. They were so easy to use he decided to incorporate as Findley Designs Inc., give the products names and prices and sell them online. Two have become commerical successes. iPod Access, an iPod/iPhone music and video transfer application for the Mac, has about 150,000 paid uses. Movie Montage, also for the Mac, gives users quick access to all the Quicktime movies on their computer in one window so they can view and export them.
He also sells a version of iPod Access called PD+Rescue at online and bricks-and-mortar shops through his other business, TastyBytes Software Inc.
Findley hasn't lost touch with the entertainment business, either. He works as a freelance video director and programmer for touring concert productions and is currently on the road as Jay-Z's Video Director. In the past he has worked as the Lighting Director for Pearl Jam and was the Lighting Programmer for the Dixie Chicks and Sade. He also was the Video Projection Programmer for the Broadway production of Anne Rice's Lestat. Even though he now works as a freelancer, Findley still uses Xojo to create custom applications for individual shows when necessary.
Findley says he's very glad he made the decision to go with Xojo. In the eight years since he discovered it, Xojo "has come a long way," Findley says, although he jokes, "I'm not sure if it's my programming ability or the environment itself."
Developing software grew from a sideline to what Findley does for a living, something he attributes to Xojo. "It wouldn't be possible without it. If I had to learn all that without Xojo I wouldn't have the time."
The art school graduate naturally thinks of writing software as an art form. "The thing I love about Xojo is that producing software is really creative. I love troubleshooting, and that's what building software is all about."
Findley calls Xojo his "Swiss army knife, because it is so easy to quickly create applications that use Ethernet or serial connections. It's very useful to write an application to do something on the fly."
Findley relishes the balance between the solitude of writing code and the frenzy of back stage life. "It all keeps me really busy. At different moments it's one or the other, and I enjoy them both. When I'm out on the road I wish I was at home, and when I'm at home I wish I was out doing some shows."
But on the road or at home, Findley always appreciates the Xojo community. "It's really one of a kind," he says. "I hope that kind of atmosphere stays around the product forever. It's an incredible resource for new people to come in, and the attitude toward newbies is very welcoming."