Sound Image Expands

by Kevin M. Mitchell
in Company 411
Dave Shadoan (front left) wields the ceremonial scissors for the opening of the company’s expansive new warehouse in Escondido, CA. Also present, from left, are Sound Image’s Ralph Wagner (CFO), Rob Mailman (director of production), Mike Sprague (director of touring), Dave Paviol (director of operations, contracting division and NAMM’S Joe Lamond. Absent are Michael Adams, VP of engineering, and Larry Italia, VP of the contracting division.
Dave Shadoan (front left) wields the ceremonial scissors for the opening of the company’s expansive new warehouse in Escondido, CA. Also present, from left, are Sound Image’s Ralph Wagner (CFO), Rob Mailman (director of production), Mike Sprague (director of touring), Dave Paviol (director of operations, contracting division and NAMM’S Joe Lamond. Absent are Michael Adams, VP of engineering, and Larry Italia, VP of the contracting division.

It’s a beautiful Friday afternoon in August in Escondido, CA, one of the oldest cities in San Diego County, and Dave Shadoan is wandering the main hallway of his new warehouse trying to gather his top lieutenants for the ribbon cutting ceremony. See, he let the day get away from him and now it’s 4:30. “What do you mean Larry [Italia] left? Call him and tell him to come back!” (Turns out Italia was already 30 minutes out headed for home in infamous Southern California traffic; jokes about Photoshopping him in ensue.)

The sound testing room

But it’s understandable how the laid-back Shadoan lost track of a little time, because NAMM’s oral historian Dan Del Fiorentino and his assistant Mike Mullens are here getting Shadoan’s fascinating life story (so far) on tape. NAMM’s CEO Joe Lamond also shows up, as he and Shadoan have a long history together: In the early 1980s, they crossed paths when Lamond was production manager for Todd Rundgren and Utopia; and since taking over NAMM, he’s appreciated Shadoan unwavering support of the NAMM show (“I go every year,” Shadoan says). When the filming for NAMM’s Oral History project wraps up, Shadoan leads all the visitors on a tour of his warehouse, which inspires more questions, more stories, and more appreciation what Shadoan and his team has achieved.

“Dave Shadoan and his team at Sound Image have defined the live sound and touring industry as we know it today,” Lamond says. “Just as Bill Graham ushered in the modern live concert era, Dave had the vision — and the work ethic! — to create what we now take for granted, studio quality sound in a live concert setting. And he did it with a common sense, down to earth style that helped build the touring business one of the most fraternal and loyal parts of our whole musical ecosystem.”

The room of wires

‡‡         Gutted and Rebuilt

The new 100,000-foot warehouse is spitting distance from the old 40,000 one. “We were splitting at the seams for a long time, so we were looking for a new building for 10 years,” Shadoan says. He had actually made an offer on this building as early as 2005, but alas it was busy being used to make missiles. When they finally ceased, Sound-Image nabbed the building and a move that was anything but easy followed. “Everything you see, we put in or redid,” he says. They essentially gutted the place to make it completely their own, including tearing out all the old wiring and creating eight load-in bays.

And “Murphy’s Law” figured in. “We were pulling our hair out as, of course, we ended up having to do this move in the height of touring season,” he chuckles. “We had systems leave in April from the old building and come back in October to the new building. Meanwhile establishing the work flow in the new building and dealing with the rigging took a lot of time, and then every time some other system came back here, it was like starting over again.” Then there were the challenges of making the building ADA compliant and all the other regulations needed for a building in California.

Sound Image still makes its own propriety speaker boxes

Shadoan is a rare breed that is respected and liked in equal parts because while he’s always taken his business seriously, he’s never taken himself seriously, and readily makes fun of himself. Sitting in his corner office, he points to a small section that juts out seemingly randomly. He points to it and laughs, saying: “And some of this I had to redo. Like that — I was like, tear that out! I don’t like it! Well, they tore off the plaster to that and it turns out there was this big ugly beam there. [Laughs.] Then I was like, ‘Okay, now put it back the way it was!’”

Asked what the biggest advantage of being in the new warehouse is, he pauses and says, “I can breathe!” It is a spacious, well-organized space that now has every aspect of his Southern California operation under one roof. Prior to this move, for years he was renting other buildings in the neighborhood. “The metal shop was in another building, and we had annexes to hold our equipment.”

The air conditioned outboard room

‡‡         The Tour

There’s much one learns with a tour of the new Sound Image warehouse. First is that, although Sound Image has an extensive touring division, which serves hundreds of music acts, including a few he’s been working with for three and four decades, like Jimmy Buffett, Brad Paisley, Brooks & Dunn and Neil Diamond, among others, a large portion of the expanded warehouse’s footprint is dedicated to the company’s Integration Division, which has additional offices in Phoenix and, and is one of the largest full integration company in the nation. Established in 1991, they work with commercial, industrial, and institutional customers for house of worships, stadiums, colleges, casinos, theaters, and of course clubs like the House of Blues in Vegas. (Italia is VP of this division.)

Another aspect one appreciates while walking through the new space is not just the sheer volume of gear Sound Image has, but the variety. Where many might have maybe one or two systems, Sound-Image pretty much has them all, lending credence to their claim of having the most diverse loudspeaker inventory in North America. Adamson, EAW, JBL, L-Acoustics, Meyer, QSC, and VUE Audiotechnik are all here.

Knowing Shadoan’s history as I do, I had to ask: “Off the record, which is your favorite system?” Little did I realize I walked into what apparently is one of his favored retorts: “I get asked that a lot, and I always say my favorite system is the one I can’t see — the one that is out on the road!” The building is also home to 120 consoles of all kinds, a whole air conditioned room of outboard gear, and of course their own proprietary speaker boxes.

Dave's corner office

Sound Image has always been more than a mere supply house, and since its inception has created cutting edge new components and systems. Shadoan and his founding partner Ross Ritto got into this business when there was little off-the-shelf equipment to be had, and if you wanted it, you built it. (Ritto passed away from cancer in 2009.) Their contributions to the whole live event industry garnered them a Parnelli Audio Innovatory lifetime honor in 2012.

These days, they are still building monitors and speaker boxes, and from the very beginning of the company’s history, their R&D department collaborated with other companies like JBL, QSC and others, and their innovative work in pro audio continues to this day.

Another thing companies do is bring their beta products into their warehouse and let the Sound Image team check them out. “Then we tell them what we believe needs to be improved, and usually even how to do it. We’re not alone in doing that, though we are brought into other’s development of products a lot.”

Head Carpenter Martin Ruiz

‡‡         More Expansion

The concert touring business continues to get more competitive, and margins continue to be tighten. So it’s all the more impressive that Sound-Image continues to grow. “At one point, whatever gear you had you made it, and you kept it a secret,” he says. “But since everyone has more or less the same gear, we have to be head and shoulders better than the rest.” They apparently are doing that as, in addition to their Nashville warehouse and office, they just opened a third location in San Francisco, which is headed up by longtime Bay Area audio pro George Edwards.

After spending the day with him touring the warehouse, Lamond summed up some key factors behind Shadoan’s success: He keeps his word; he runs a clean, well-organized shop; and he doesn’t ask anybody to do anything that he wouldn’t do. (On that last point, Shadoan tells a story where one of his employees didn’t want to drive a truck into San Diego. Shadoan got in that 24-footer and drove it himself.) Shadoan also knows that keeping up with all the new gear is key, so every January and February, Sound Image holds training sessions for his technicians so they are able to stay on top of running the latest consoles and systems.

Dave Paviol, director of operations, contracting division, talking to Joe Lamond (l) and Dave Shadoan (r).

“I’m happy with what I can control in our business, but as I’ve been saying lately, it’s been spiraling as the venture capitalists get into our business,” he says. “They don’t understand it and wreck an entire pricing structure for all of us.”

Shadoan at one point tells Lamond that he’s looking forward to NAMM’s further expansion into the live event world, and in bringing the Parnelli Awards to its January show in Anaheim. “For me, having the Parnellis at NAMM is going to be great, because there’s so much more traffic,” Shadoan says. “I’ve gone for years and see how more vibrant it gets every year. And having it in January instead of October or November [like LDI] is so much better for touring professionals. I’m looking forward to it.” He might even pick up some more gear … he certainly has the room for it.

Joe Lamond in the paint shop with Tony Dominguez

Sound Image: A Company Timeline

As a company, Sound Image can trace its roots to March 1971, when co-founders Ross Ritto and Joel Silverman launched Silverfish Audio Associates, in Rochester, NY. Founded as a tour sound rental company, Silverfish landed Jimmy Buffet as a client back in 1976. After opening an office in Burbank, CA back in 1978, the company continued to expand, and in 1980, opened its new headquarters in San Marcos, CA, north of San Diego.

  • In 1983, Dave Shadoan, currently CEO and President, became half-owner of the company, newly named Sound Image.
  • In 1985, Sound Image’s PhaseLoc custom loudspeakers, the basis for the company’s G5 enclosure, was developed.
  • In 1991, the company formed its Contracting Division for permanent installation projects.
  • Also in 1991, Sound Image first expanded to the Nashville market by acquiring office and warehouse space.
  • In 1993, Sound Image formed ACE (Audio Composite Engineering), with a focus on composite manufacturing.
  • In 1995, Sound Image moved its headquarters to Escondido, CA.
  • In 1996, Ross Ritto is awarded a patent relating to composite technologies used in speaker design, licensed to JBL.
  • In 2001, ACE becomes a separate company with its own manufacturing facility, with its technologies incorporated into products sold under the QSC brand.
  • In 2003, Sound Image’s contracting division opens an office in Scottsdale, AZ, near Phoenix.
  • In 2004, the Touring Division and Contracting Division both grow with prominent client artists and a rapidly expanding project engineering staff.
  • In 2006, the Arizona contracting office relocates to nearby Tempe, AZ.
  • In 2012, Sound Image’s Dave Shadoan and the late Ross Ritto are jointly honored with a Parnelli Audio Innovator award.
  • In 2017, Sound Image opens its expanded Southern California warehouse and opens its Bay Area division, led by GM George Edwards.

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