Recently, I attended the Fifth Annual Central Region Audio Student Summit hosted by the Webster University AES student section. This ambitious program attracts around 500 attendees for two days of immersion in all things audio. The energy, enthusiasm and dedication of these students are to be applauded.
Robert Scovill presented the keynote address at this year’s Summit, sharing insights from his perspective atop the live-sound world. As with many, if not most, audio pros, Scovill shared that while audio professionals may have a reputation as “techno geeks...caught up in the minutia of the technology,” his ultimate motivation is the music. “While technology fascinates me, its ability to make and contribute to the music process is what really trips my trigger.”
Currently, Scovill opined, live sound “is part of an industry that feels really disjointed and out of synch...There was a time not all that long ago when the high-quality listening experience, be it recorded or live, was the implied or even the stated goal...we were all in it—producers, engineers, promoters, fans—we were all looking for that really magical combination of performance and high-end quality audio.” But today, he said, “Very few artists spend any meaningful time honing their craft in front of an audience. In today’s music scene, I’ve actually worked with artists that go into pre-tour rehearsals with the express goal of learning how to play their own record.”
While digital audio was once presented as the Holy Grail, Scovill said you can today find “countless pundits, pointing their finger at digital technology as the direct, not indirect, the direct reason for everything from the decline in musical talent and creativity to the death of the music industry as we know it or knew it.” Yet, he countered, “I’ve never, ever, ever experienced a technology that has made any final decision... it’s always, 100 percent of the time, a choice that is conceived and made by the human as whether or not to say auto-tune a vocal in lieu of another take.
“On average,” he continued, “we don’t really hear that kind of negative rhetoric about concert sound technology or live sound in terms of digital technology being the path to the demise of quality concert sound or the death of the concert sound industry. And, in fact, I would say to you that it’s quite the contrary...My prayer though is that we as the livesound community really adopt and deploy digital technology, [we] stay focused on that core agenda—excellent audio for live performances.”
Recalling live-sound pioneers like the recently departed Bruce Jackson and Owsley “Bear” Stanley, Scovill cited a motivation to “simply to make the concert experience of the day the ultimate listening and cultural experience for the artist and again, most importantly, the fan. And my hope is that we as an industry never lose sight of those kind of values.” With a new generation of live-sound elite, Scovill’s own name amongst them, those values are preserved and being met.