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State of the Industry 2019: Sound Reinforcement

By Clive Young. Pro Sound News presents its annual overview of the live sound world, examining how the industry is powering new trends and reacting to changing developments.

There are many facets to the sound reinforcement business, but one of the most visible has always been the summer concert season, traditionally the busiest time of year for production vendors. Last year, the hot months found the concert business around the U.S. happily skyrocketing, buoyed by hit tours, a strong economy and a historically low jobless rate, as the national average fell to 3.7 percent for the first time since 1969. With consumers feeling flush and relatively assured about the future, ticket sales were strong around the country. That, in turn, kept sound reinforcement companies at all levels busy, regardless of whether they were national providers providing full stadium and arena systems for megastars, regionals providing arrays and amps for mid-level tours passing through, or local audio shops tackling special events around town.

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But that was last year. A full 12 months on…things are about the same, if a tad underwhelming. Encouragingly, unemployment sat at 3.7 percent all summer long, but the Consumer Sentiment Index, reported monthly by the University of Michigan, wobbled a bit, reading 98.4 in July, only to drop to a three-year low of 89.8 in August, then rebound slightly to 92 in September—a considerable drop from the 100.1 hit a year earlier. Analyzing the changes, Richard Curtin, chief economist of the survey, noted, “While a recession is not anticipated in the year ahead, neither is a resurgence in personal consumption.”

Whether that sentiment will be reflected by a drop in concert grosses when year-end tallies come out remains to be seen, but before the summer even started, there were signs that the U.S. concert industry will likely have a stellar 2019.

Pollstar reported in July that at the mid-year point, the top 100 North American tours had grossed a combined $1.547 billion, up a staggering 14 percent over the same period in 2018. Some of those increased earnings were due to a rise in the average price of a concert ticket, which broke the three-digit barrier for the first time, hitting $100.64. Undeterred by that statistic, however, concert attendance was up 6.4 percent, with 16.8 million tickets sold.

“It’s been a great summer, and that’s rolling right into a great fall, too,” said Jack Boessneck, executive vice president of Eighth Day Sound (Highland Heights, OH), which provided audio for The Who, Jennifer Lopez, New Kids on the Block and other acts throughout shed season. “Everybody’s working. I can tell because I keep getting calls from other sound companies asking if we have gear available—and I don’t, because I’m calling other sound companies asking if they have gear available. We’re all busy.”

If live sound vendors can’t find gear, they can always bite the bullet and acquire more; they won’t be alone on that score. Both the mixing console and microphone markets are expected to grow considerably in the coming years, and live sound will be part of that expansion. The professional console market as a whole—not just live sound—had global revenues of $775 million last year and is on track to reach nearly $1 billion by 2023, according to AV market research firm Futuresource Consulting. “Many manufacturers are finding opportunity in targeting the installation verticals and some key hotspots in the market such as corporate and hospitality event spaces and venues,” noted analyst James Kirby.

Kirby likewise sees the microphone market getting a boost from the live marketplace: “With earnings from record sales declining each year, musicians are increasingly dependent on concerts and tours to generate income. The resulting growth in live performances is keeping the market buoyant. We’re also hearing reports from multiple regions that there’s a spike in construction and upgrade work to theaters, which is also playing its part in driving growth. On top of this, technology advancements in miniature capsule microphones continues to add to market success in some of these verticals.”

AVIXA, the trade association for pro audiovisual and information communications industries formerly known as InfoComm, released research on the live sound marketplace in recent months, and its predictions, too, are intriguing. According to the organization, live events—defined as touring and corporate events held in temporary facilities—are expected to continue a trend of strong global growth, with revenues from live event solutions growing at a CAGR of 5.2 percent, from $26.7 billion in 2019 to $33.7 billion in 2024. The Americas led, with nearly 36 percent of the revenues through the forecast period.

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Part of that explosive expansion is due venues themselves, whether clubs and theaters or stadiums and arenas, as many are revamping in order to get their house audio systems up to date. It’s an investment that pays off, however: AVIXA reports that in sports facilities, audio quality is the second most important factor to end users (audiences) in determining overall satisfaction. Perhaps unsurprisingly, when it comes to performances, it’s number one.

With trade organizations and manufacturers expecting continued strong performance in the U.S. sound reinforcement market, the coming years look bright.

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