While the USA certainly has it’s share of large trade events, those that are of primary interest to the pro audio community are dwarfed by the Musikmesse—Prolight + Sound extravaganza. NAB and NAMM may fill the Las Vegas and Anaheim convention centers, respectively, but the expansive Messe grounds run to eleven separate buildings and an abundance of outdoor venues. Some product categories (like keyboards and guitars) are segregated to their own buildings. Professional Audio is generally housed in the upstairs of halls 5 and 6, hall 8 and a bit of hall 9, the latter two being home to live sound products (along with lighting) and the former pair to recording, pro related MI and microphone products.
This is a world event—60+% of the 2339 exhibitors coming from outside of Germany and 128 countries represented in the 107,838 (as of 3:30 PM the final day) attendees claimed for 2010. Around 40% of the attendees were international. The continued effects of the recession include, by the reckoning of Messe’s management, sales declines of some 30% on average in both the consumer and professional sectors as compared to two years ago. In comparison, the number of exhibitors for the 2010 event was down only about 2% from 2009 and about 7% off the 2008 numbers. 2010 attendance by dealers, distributors and buyers (and the general public on the final day) was off less than 2% from 2008 and 3% from 2009. The slight decline in the population of Hall 5 (as you’ll find Craig Anderton noting in his own missive from Messe on page 28) was well countered by the swelling to the walls of the live sound exhibits, together with a generally upbeat and positive mood.
Three days of the four-day event are all most pros want to invest, the final day being complicated by the throngs of public attendees. It’s a daunting task, to make all the rounds in three days—there’s inevitably something or someone left unseen. Poor planning (or badly timed press conferences) can led to wasted time bouncing back and forth between halls (the jog between Halls 5 & 8, my main hangs, being a minimum half-hour round trip if you are really hustling).
Then there’s the pace of the event (as with many European gatherings), designed to slow you down. While we Americans are used to grabbing our food and beverage on the fly, a cup of coffee from a snack bar inside the Messe exhibits halls, for instance, will come in a real cup—no sippy lids to prevent sloshing as you rush to your next appointment. You need to sit down, relax and enjoy, then return your cup to avoid losing a deposit. Most exhibit stands include some sort of refreshment amenities, all but impossible in the US with limitations on outside food and drink by those who hold the concessions franchises. You’ll get offered a beer at 10 in the morning, and invited back for a last-hour-of-the-day happy hour.
In this April 2010 issue of PSN and subsequent issues, we cover many of the products debuted in Frankfurt. Products that highlight trends such as the continued downward application of the digital technology found in live format consoles. Some of the new small desks are so capable that at least one observer was opining on how manufacturers could be hurting their sales of mid-sized desks by the ample accoutrements in their new, less expensive platforms. Then there’s the ever more intensive and clever applications of DSP, the continued improvement in speaker materials and construction (leading one product specialist to quip that his new passive directional subwoofer used PSP—Plywood Signal Processing), and the ever burgeoning microphone industry where seeming overpopulation is a boon to the consumer as mic makers push to compete in terms of both quality and value.
The past 18 months have been as tough on the audio industry as they have on the world economy at large. That Musikmesse—Prolight + Sound has stayed healthy is a good sign for recovery, especially for a European event when their economies are healing so slowly. The pervasive optimism found in Frankfurt was as welcome as the first signs of Spring.