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The Italian sound scene in 2017

Manufacture, distribution and live events step buoyantly into 2017 in Italy – in spite of everything...

Describing Italy’s political situation as unstable is definitely an understatement, with Italian voters recently dealing prime minister Matteo Renzi a stinging defeat on his reform referendum, triggering his resignation and galvanising the populist, opposition 5-Star Movement’s determination to gain national power.

The country’s overall economic situation is anything but rosy: during the referendum campaign, the risk of political instability in Europe’s fourth-largest economy triggered market reaction, with bank stocks sinking and borrowing costs on sovereign debt rising. Although improving in November, credit growth to firms still remained under the EU average. In December, the government established a €20 billion fund to support the banking sector. Canadian rating agency DBRS recently cut Italy’s sovereign credit rating to BBB (high) from A (low), a move that could raise borrowing costs for struggling Italian banks.

The natives, however, haven’t cut their spending on leisure, as is borne out by an increase in concert attendance: compared to the (already positive) figures for the first half of 2015, the number of concerts increased by 2.47%, ticket sales by 7.69% and turnover by 5.18%.

Theatre figures for the same period were also up, with 0.14% more shows, a 7.60% increase in ticket sales and 17,03% in turnover (Source: SAIE, Italy’s performing rights society).

An insight on how the pro-audio market is reacting and an insight on the effects (if any) of this situation comes from the key players in the distribution, manufacture and event production sectors.

Audio Sales (based in the province of Parma) is one of Italy’s most important distributors, with brands such as Martin Audio, Adamson, D.A.S Audio, XTA, Avid, Cloud and Powersoft, and owner Stefano Rocchi reports a constant upward trend in sales over the last three years.

The firm reports a big boost on the “live” scenario, thanks to the arrival of the new AVID S6L console, of which it has sold about a dozen (a couple of rental forms took two).

One such is Mister X Service of Grumello Cremonese, who took delivery of its second AVID S6L in the summer of 2016.

Davide Linzi, of Mister X’s audio department explains: “We used the first desk on FOH chores on the 2016 club tour by (top Italian band) Negrita and were extremely satisfied with the results, so when we took delivery of the second S6L, we used them both as resident consoles at the Assago 2016 Street Music Art Festival, then took both out on the indoor arena tour by pop star Francesco Renga. Monitor engineer David Bisetti says he was very impressed with the console’s sonic performance.

Adamson has also contributed to the positive trend and Rocchi confirms the brand’s increasing share of the market, mentioning the impressive rig fielded by Rooster Service for a concert by Nile Rogers and Chic and 60-piece Ensemble Symphony Orchestra in a city square in the centre of Rome (including 28 E15 and 24 S10 cabs, 20 E219 subs and 32 Spektrix systems).

Classical versus opera

A typically Italian phenomenon is the fact that, in recent years, audiences at classical and opera events have increased, but there has not been a corresponding rise in the number of venues suited to hosting such events. In order to draw crowds, sponsors and public financing and therefore reduce production costs, these performances have to be held in locations not normally used for such events, such as indoor sports arenas and outdoor venues.

An increasing number of pop and rock artists have also added an orchestra to their concerts (the Chic show above, and Luciano Ligabue’s concerts at Verona Arena, for instance (pictured. Credit Jarno Iotti). Here the acoustic instruments had to have mics to be heard over the amplified ones.

These considerations convinced industry veteran Gianni Fantini of the need to include a specialised course for orchestra miking technique and placement as part of the first edition of his Live You Play Educational program.

The full-day event (pictured) was held by Andrea Taglia, a well-known face on the Italian and international concert scene, due to his work as FOH engineer with tenor Andrea Bocelli.

Fantini confirmed that the majority of the forty attendees were freelance sound engineers, but there were also some rental company owners present. Taglia covered the close relationship between music notation and environmental acoustics; musicians’ position on stage; the effect of weather conditions on orchestras’ playing and recording; the principles of psychoacoustics, and much more.

“All the participants had a medium/advanced knowledge of the issues covered, probably due to the fact that they paid to take part,” he noted. “The majority had already faced mic placement and technique [problems] for pop/rock events, and almost all asked very specific questions.”

Taglia (pictured) was able to give practical demos of mic placement on the instruments thanks to the support of distributor Sisme aided Taglia’s practical demos by supplying a comprehensive range of thirteen different Audio-Technica mics plus various windscreens, clamps and mounts for the placement demos. Taglia concluded; “I’d like to congratulate Live You Play for the impeccable organisation and location!”

Installing for victory

As well as its increasing involvement in the international market, winning contracts in Rio for the Olympic Games ceremonies, supplying the audio system for Sochi’s Winter Olympics and Paralympics opening and closing ceremonies), Agorà is Italy’s leading audio, lighting and video rental company (and one of the largest in Europe).

From his HQ office in L’Aquila, where he’d stayed to hold the fort with a member of his staff,during a seemingly endless series of earthquake tremors, Vittorio De Amicis, founder of the company with his brother Wolfango, had do doubts as to whether the current economic situation in Italy was effecting business in any way.

“Some unnecessary technical ‘frills’ occasionally requested in the past – perhaps on a whim – by some artistes or their management have been eliminated, and the shows we are involved in have maintained our customary high standards. The total budgets available for tours’ technical production have risen, with the increasingly important role played by video, but the new breakdown has not resulted in any cuts in audio – producers prefer if anything to use a little less lighting – definitely not audio!”

On the contrary, due to the political situation at both national and local level, public spending on the installation of technology (in conference and meeting facilities, etc) has been hard hit, but corporate and private investment contines. Rocchi enthuses: “We’ve seen a particularly important rise in installation sales – a market we entered relatively recently – with brands such as Belgium’s Audac.”

One recent prestige install of products’ in Audio Sales brand portfolio was completed at the new Lavazza HQ in Turin. A family-owned business established in 1895, Turin-based Lavazza is one of the world’s most important coffee roasters and a leader in Italy with a share of about 44% of the retail market. The company reported a turnover of €1,473m (as in 2015, employs over 3,000 staff and has built over 50 training centres around the world. Twenty billion cups of Lavazza coffee are consumed yearly globally.

Nuvola (Cloud) is the name of the new Lavazza management HQ in Via Bologna, Turin. The building’s construction work, on what was once the site of a power station, began in 2014 and the new six-floor complex is linked with the Lavazza Museum by a large concourse and new pedestrian zones leading to large landscaped areas.

System integrator Acuson of Turin installed no less than 106 Martin Audio recessed loudspeakers, a combination of C8.1T, C4.8T and C6.8T two-way ceiling speakers, which are powered by a total of 35 Powersoft amplifiers: 24 four-channel 2404 DSP+D, 11 8-channel 4K4 DSP Dante and four 2-channel M14D. (Powersoft has just announced the latest step in its mission to further strengthen the company, with the appointment of former Lab.gruppen/Lake product research manager Klas Daljbörn as product manager.)

As far as manufacturers are concerned, professional loudspeaker designer and manufacturer Eighteen Sound of Reggio Emilia, has got the new year of to a great start with its announcement of the reopening of the CIARE loudspeaker factory based in Senigallia, Italy, whose brand the company acquired in late 2016, following a mutual business agreement in May 2015, whereby Eighteen Sound distributed CIARE Pro Audio product line worldwide.

After the Eighteen Sound 2015 acquisition, the CIARE brand was relaunched at the 2016 Prolight + Sound exhibition in Frankfurt, Germany, with a new logo and slogan: “To each their own sound”. a commitment to continue to take note of customer and market requirements when designing innovative new products for the three market sectors the brand serves.

CIARE has been bringing Italian-made quality sound to the world for over 65 years, following its foundation in Senigallia (Ancona) in 1947 by entrepreneur Dino Giannini, who named it “Costruzioni Italiane Apparecchiature Radio Elettriche” (Italian radio-electrical appliance manufacturing). Through time the company built up significant expertise in the design and manufacture of loudspeakers and amplifier components for the professional, home hi-fi and car audio sectors. A wealth of knowledge and experience which has grown and been consolidated through time to create the “CIARE sound” and make the company synonymous with reliability, efficiency and effectiveness.

“The reopening of the factory is a key step of our strategy to revitalize and strengthen the CIARE brand, enabling to position this historical loudspeaker manufacturer on the global market” stated Giacomo Previ (pictured), Eighteen Sound’s sales and marketing director.

“I am very pleased and excited about the new opportunities we can provide for Ciare to access new markets, as well as offering the evolving Pro Market manufacturers a broader range of solutions to their design needs”, says Pierpaolo Marziali, CEO for Eighteen Sound and CIARE.

Pictures: Top: Nile Rogers & Chic and the 60-piece Ensemble Symphony Orchestra perform in Rome. Credit: Giulio Tazini.