Revolutions are about disruptive change—an instantaneous, obvious shift in the way things are—but evolutions, slow and often due to widespread factors, are far harder to spot. Things seem to be keeping on keeping on, but only in hindsight are the gradual shifts visible. The current state of the live sound industry seems to be in a similar situation, where things are moving forward and significant steps are being taken for the future, even if the year so far has been strong, though unremarkable.

The U.S. economy has continued its recovery from the recession, with output and employment both now better than they were before 2008, unemployment dropping to 6.1 percent and the economy going on a six-month streak creating 200,000-plus jobs a month until this past August. The catch is that the median household income has dropped 4 percent since 2008, so while the recession may be over, it doesn’t feel that way for most people. That, in turn, has a very direct correlation as to how they spend their money on the concert tickets that keep tours on the road and production vendors—like sound companies—busy.

At the half-year point, Billboard reported that North American tours had grossed $1.2 billion so far, down 16 percent off 2013, even as the number of shows was up 7 percent, and hand-in-hand with those stats, attendance was down 23 percent at 17.2 million. The result was that acts were playing more shows to smaller audiences. It appears that a portion of the potential audience were staying home due to higher ticket prices. If they were going to go out for a show, it either had to have a reasonable ticket price, or it had to be something special.

“Something special” has many definitions, but a big spectacle ranks up there for most concertgoers; fortunately, the summer touring season— which took place after those half-year stats were compiled—offered plenty of bang for the buck in the form of stadium shows. While every year has a few stadium gigs, 2014 had a bumper crop of them, with artists like One Direction, Jay-Z and Beyonce, Paul McCartney, Billy Joel, George Strait, Blake Shelton and Jason Aldean all rolling through the bowls. This kept the major sound companies on the move, with Clair supporting McCartney, Joel and Shelton; Eighth Day Sound looking after Jay-Z/Beyonce and One Direction (the latter with UK-based Wigwam); and Spectrum Sound and Onstage Systems traveling with Aldean and Strait, respectively.

The rise in stadium shows points to a potentially brighter future ahead for the concert industry. The industry has long been concerned about what will happen when the Baby Boomer rock acts, who have been such a mainstay of touring, retire from the road. With the splintering of the music scene into a million small niches with equally small niche acts, and fewer dollars available to develop major mainstream career artists, it has long appeared that the days of arena and stadium shows were numbered due to a dearth of new artists popular enough to fill them. The continued rise of festivals in recent years has only served to bear that out as promoters have repeatedly thrown dozens of small acts on a bill to attract crowds that, coincidentally, match the size of a stadium audience.

While the rise in stadium shows surely lined a few pockets—concert promoter Live Nation is hosting more than 70 stadium shows around the country this year—it also highlights a number of trends: Baby Boomer rock acts were in the minority among the artists playing stadiums, and country music would appear to be staking a greater claim on the bowls in the form of Shelton and Aldean, even as Strait closed out his two-year final tour and perennial stadium-filler Kenny Chesney took the summer off. So we may be seeing not only a generational shift as younger artists start to fill the stadiums, but also an evolutionary one as well, as the genre of artists change, too. If those shifts can keep moving forward, there may be more to major live sound vendors’ futures than just supporting festivals.

No matter what sized venues artists played, however, some things remained universal. Financial lessons learned during the recession have taken root permanently, with many theater-level tours continuing to carry only control gear, opting to pick up local stacks and racks instead. Sound companies, too, have continued to follow paths forged during the worst of the financial crisis; having diversified during those years, they’re now making further inroads into installation, corporate sound and more.

Of course, as the old saying goes, it takes money to make money, and in recent times, with an eye to the future, many of the major sound companies have looked to evolve and expand their reach. Creating locations in multiple music-oriented cities has long been a way to expand; in recent years, Canadian-based Solotech opened its Las Vegas office and Livonia, MI-based Thunder Audio started a Nashville office, and both worked this year to further establish those satellites. VER Tour Sound, founded in early 2013 by its parent company Video Equipment Rentals, has likewise further developed its brand, tackling numerous major festivals and touring with Outkast and Dierks Bentley among others this year.

In the wake of a number of successful years making its presence known in the urban and pop music touring market, Eighth Day Sound has quietly put an expansion project on its plate, which will include a $1.3 million renovation on its headquarters in Highland Heights, OH. Elsewhere, Clair has taken expansion to a new extreme with its co-development and deployment of Rock Lititz, a new complex in Lititz, PA that aims to bring various noncompeting event production vendors— video, lights, staging and more—together to create an ambitious industrial hub.

Looking to the future and preparing for it is not just the purview of the national touring companies, however. The trends of mid-level tours traveling light and the growth of festival culture continue to benefit regional and mid-level audio providers as well, and have them likewise figuring out how to capitalize on that progress. Underlining that is InfoComm’s Economic Snapshot Survey, a bi-annual report that the organization began in 2008 when the economy plummeted, regularly takes the temperature of the AV industry, including rental and staging companies, measuring not only their levels of recent performance but also gauging how they expect to do in the near future as well.

The latest edition, which came out in June, found the rental and staging market feeling optimistic. Gauging their previous six months’ business performance on a 100-point scale with endpoints of “bankruptcy” and “record growth and profits,” rental and staging companies gave themselves an average of 71.8, but placed the second half of 2014 as 75.8. These sound providers also underline the necessity of being diversified, as, according to InfoComm’s report, their “revenue from sound reinforcement is more often from the provision of services (such as systems integration, installation, design and consulting)…. On average, 44.6 percent of the revenue/turnover from sound reinforcement activities is from services; 41.1 percent is from equipment sales; and 14.3 percent is from equipment rental.”

The summer touring and festival season was strong, and the fall touring season seems to be shaping up enough that year-end tallies will surely say it was a solid year. With changes afoot both externally—with the deluge of stadium gigs and festivals— and internally—with major live sound providers further entrenching and expanding their reach—2014 hasn’t been dramatic (or traumatic), but it’s certainly been an interesting year, and more importantly, an evolutionary one as well.