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A Show of Our Own?

by FOH Staff • in
  • January 2018
  • The Biz
• Created: January 16, 2018
Stock Photo courtesy AES

For all of its greatly enhanced significance in the music industry and elsewhere lately, live sound continues to live a somewhat rootless existence (much like many of its road-warrior practitioners), at least when it comes to having the centering effect that an annual symposium can bring.

Historically, Audio Engineering Society shows have focused mainly on the recording-studio side of pro audio, with varying degrees of nods to the touring side over the decades. Meanwhile, the annual InfoComm (now AVIXA) show has grown in importance for tour sound, with the largest presence yet of manufacturers at the last show in June. This included 19 suites occupied by major P.A. manufacturers including L-Acoustics, Meyer Sound, Harman/JBL, Renkus-Heinz, Martin Audio, Bose Professional, K-Array and EAW — but it’s still mainly focused on installed audio. Broadcast’s sprawling NAB Show is even starting to show a bit more love for the category, as the stadium and arena sound become part of the increasingly immersive in-venue experience that sports offers, but at the end of the day, it’s all about TV.

But a dedicated live-sound expo has been elusive, and success finding a foster home with other events can vary; for instance, the LDI Show’s allure for pro audio companies has dimmed in recent years, for a variety of reasons. However, this year is live sound’s best shot, thanks to the co-location of an AES event at the annual Winter NAMM Show this month in Anaheim. The inaugural four-day AES@NAMM Pro Sound Symposium: Live & Studio event, which will take place at the Anaheim Hilton next door to the convention center on the same dates as the NAMM Show itself, intends to be technically ecumenical, addressing wireless and studio environments, as well as AES’ historical strong suit of academic technical papers, but it’s putting a lot of emphasis on live sound. (And of course, it’s also where this year’s 18th annual Parnelli Awards will be held, at the Hilton Anaheim on Friday, January 26.)

‡‡         Enter the Academies

The AES event is divided into subgroups called Academies, to underscore its educational nature, with plenty of familiar names. The Line Array Loudspeaker Academy comprises a starting line up of Adamson, Bose Professional and EAW. QSC and Yamaha are supporting the Live Mixing Console Academy, while Lectrosonics and Sennheiser are supporting the Entertainment Wireless Academy. The In-Ear Monitor Academy will spotlight the installation and operation of earpiece monitoring systems, and Main Stage: Live Sound, with its focus on setting up and using contemporary live-sound systems, offers instruction on configuring and interfacing key components in real-world applications.

These new training courses are accessible for a separate admission: Advance registration costs are $69 for a half-day session and $99 for a full-day session; prices for non-AES members are $169 and $199, respectively. Attendees can also register for NAMM Show badges for $25, a 50-percent discount. (Not surprisingly, AES is also using its seminar at NAMM as a recruiting opportunity — non-members who join AES prior to purchasing access passes for the symposium program will receive a discount of $100 for each day they sign up.

‡‡         “It’s Nothing New”

David Scheirman, who took office as president of AES in mid-November, tells us that live sound has been one of the organization’s foundational verticals for a long time, along with music production and broadcast. “It’s nothing new to AES,” he says.

Although the emphasis on live-sound training is new. The AES@NAMM Pro Sound Symposium: Live & Studio comes a few months after a similar pairing with an NAB expo in New York City. That NAB outing was relatively new, a hybrid of two other technology shows, CCW and SatCom, which NAB acquired in 2014. AES, which rotated its U.S. solo conventions between New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco, had seen slipping numbers over the last decade: the number of exhibitors dipped below the 300 mark for the first time in 2015, and attendee numbers fell to 13,000 last year, down from over 18,000 in both 2013 and 2015, and less than the 20,000 reported for the 2005 event.

Registration numbers for the NAB-paired show were reported as 15,563. However, the co-location with the NAB event saw the AES Show draw increased numbers of attendees and exhibitors, who leveraged the combined events’ synergy. That will likely happen again in January in Anaheim. (And again, later this year, when the co-located AES/NAB event returns to New York.)

‡‡         Reflecting the Trends

Scheirman says the connection with the NAMM Show also reflects a change in the nature of AES’ membership, with more new members ticking the live-sound box on their applications in recent years, he says, a reflection of the changing economics of the music industry, where artists and those who work with them are finding more of their revenue on the road.

This AES president predicts the training event will increase overall pro-audio attendance for the Winter NAMM Show, which has been seeing that component of attendance steadily increasing, and that their proximity will attract a wider range of live-event/touring specialists, including lighting and staging workers, as well as more educators — an emphasis on education of all sorts has been a NAMM organizational pursuit for decades.

‡‡         New Faces

Scheirman says early registration data suggests that many of those signing up for the AES@NAMM Pro Sound Symposium have never been to a NAMM Show before. He also sees Winter NAMM’s timing as serendipitous: January is the swing month between holiday shows and the beginning of serious rehearsals for the year’s upcoming spring touring season. And while most of the media-arts schools like Full Sail and SAE have integrated live-sound classes — and in some cases full degree programs, into their curricula — those mainly benefit college students (and student-loan lenders).

Scheirman also feels aggregating hands-on training from leading manufacturers’ on their own platforms in a single location across multiple days yields more value than the manufacturers’ one-offs that touring professionals often have to make do with to learn about new gear.

More importantly, he hopes the event will help foster a sense of community for those in the live-sound sectors. That’s something that AES had historically been very good about creating for the studio side. Whether that same kind of communal sensitivity is as readily available to the peripatetic road rangers of live sound as it is to the landlubbers of music production remains to be seen — there are reasons live sound hasn’t managed to sustain its own major annual trade shows.

‡‡         Crossing Over

On the other hand, one of the insights coming out of NAMM’s strategies is that the lines between once clearly defined roles in music technology continue to blur: NAMM’s core-constituent musician is now also his or her own record producer and recording and (increasingly) live-sound engineer, as well as their own record labels, tour promoters and marketing departments. In many ways these days, if you’re not doing it all, you’re not doing anything. So AES’ new contribution to this and other music-technology shows is another piece in the puzzle that is the new entertainment business.

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