by Clive Young.
Live sound companies have spent the last few years assessing where they stand, figuring out how to make the most of what they already have today. As the economy starts to rebound, however, SR pros are beginning to look towards tomorrow, charting strategies to come out of the recession ahead of the pack. For many Northeast regional sound providers, the Audio Engineering Society Convention in New York City will be a crucial factor informing their decisions during the economic recovery.
"We're pretty diversified, doing a lot of design, build, installation and rentals, so we're going to be looking for the trends, to see what we'll have for our rental department," said James Cioffi, co-owner of Boulevard Pro (New Milford, NJ). "Obviously, we never want to have anything in our warehouse, so we want to keep abreast of what's the newest and greatest. We're going to see the offerings that everyone has; we're pretty aware of what's around, because we read Pro Sound News and the other trades, but it's nice to see equipment and touch it--and maybe we'll be surprised here and there."
The surprise of the unexpected is definitely part of the AES Convention's appeal. In an information age where detailed facts on every range of equipment are available in an instant, SR pros may go to the show with a list of gear to size up in person, but they also look forward to stumbling across new, ingenious solutions while combing the aisles.
Joe Light, CEO of RSA Audio Services (Edgewood, NY), illuminated, "Some years, I've looked for specific things, like if we're redesigning and I need a new cable, a new connector, wedge or horn, but I always look for something weird and unique that nobody else wants: 'Hey, my rep didn't even tell me about this!' Usually the stuff I find isn't from the big guys; it's a little thing from a smaller company.
"Another thing is, there's nothing wrong with going to a convention and talking to somebody who's reps a product, but AES takes it one step further, because you usually get someone who's on the product's design team there. If there's something you want to know in particular, you get to talk to them direct."
Of course, AES also provides an opportunity to not only eyeball equipment but also manufacturers, fellow live sound pros, industry leaders and more. Abraham Viera, owner of Abe V. Systems (Bronx, NY), remarked, "We try to keep in touch with people all year around, so we don't go strictly for the networking, but it's good to put a face with a new name, or say 'Hey, how have you been?' We've worked a lot with our JBL VerTec rig and that's an arrangement that's worked out very well for us, so we'll be talking with them." Cioffi echoed those sentiments, noting, "We go for networking--absolutely. We're very active in the community anyway, but you see people that you haven't seen in a while and we see all our other friends in the industry; it's a good time all around."
Networking is important at all stages of a career, but for those just entering the live sound arena, it's particularly crucial. Marvin Welkowitz, director of audio operations at Starlight Express (Syosset, NY) and live sound educator, noted that he has always encouraged his students to take advantage of the AES Convention to make connections, learn about emerging technologies and get a better sense of the pro audio industry as a whole. "The exhibits are there, and that entices you to go to the workshops," he added, referring to the multitude of educational offerings at the convocation.
When many of today's industry veterans were starting out, a live sound education meant picking up ideas and concepts piecemeal over the course of a few years. While the process is often far more formalized today, back then, a visit to the AES Convention was just as informative--and occasionally life altering.
"I started going to it in 1979 when it was held at the Waldorf, because the guys at my local Sam Ash told me about it," laughed Light. "My dad drove but didn't want anything to do with it, so he vanished and just left us there. I was a 15-year-old kid let loose on an AES--it was great! Now I've been going to the show for 30 years and I still find it useful."
It's been two years since the audio event graced the Jacob Javits Convention Center in New York. Since then, the pro audio industry has had its ups and downs, but one constant has been that the words "AES Show" still evoke a sense of excitement to the region's sound providers. Maybe anticipation for the big event is a bit stronger this year because the economy is starting to recover. Perhaps it's because manufacturers have started announcing the cool gear they'll be bringing along with them. Most likely, it's because, well, it's the AES show.