Springtime is Console-Time!

by George Petersen
in Editor's Note
George Petersen, Editor of FOH Magazine
George Petersen, Editor of FOH Magazine

Not sure if you believe in the prognostications of a certain groundhog named Punxsutawney Phil, but as of March 20, springtime is officially here — at least from a calendar, if not a meteorological standpoint. Oddly enough, for me, one of the first signs of spring is not new leaves on the trees and flowers starting to spring up, but the arrival of Musikmesse/Prolight+Sound in Frankfurt, Germany. Over the years, like Winter NAMM, this massive event has itself blossomed from an instrument-only show into an all-encompassing meeting of both the M.I. and Pro Audio worlds, with a healthy serving of DJ and lighting technologies thrown in for good measure.

In fact, this year’s Prolight+Sound was a platform for the launch of an impressive number of professional sound reinforcement products — particularly speakers and console unveilings, as reported in this issue on page 28.

Consoles = Big News!

This year, especially, it seems there has been an explosion of activity on the sound reinforcement front. I made sure to include the words “sound reinforcement” in that description, because the pulse of the recording studio console market has been almost non-existent now for nearly a decade. But on the live audio side of the fence, the market is, well… live. In fact, so much so that we recently produced an intensive reader survey focused entirely on the subject of console use and trends in the live event market.

And timing couldn’t have been better. So far, this year — and we are barely into Q2 2017 — we have witnessed a virtual explosion of new console products for the (ever-expanding) live audio market. And well, these are some very good times for sound reinforcement consoles, whether you are on the end-user or manufacturing side on the fence. Yet it’s not necessarily all about the “throw-away-and-buy-new” approach that is so common in industries like consumer electronics or computers.

I hesitate to even think back on the number of times I bought a computer CPU — whether Mac or PC — that was “upgradeable,” with a promise of a “future-proof” purchase. I’d just imagine that some time down the road I would be able to drop in a new chipset or daughter board and be up to date. Well, it was sorta true. Inevitably, I’d find out that the new chipsets would not be supported by the existing motherboard, thanks to a dozen or so issues (data busing, power supply inadequacies, etc.). As is often the case of Macs, an upgrade might be available, but would be buggy and cost nearly as much as a new machine. Thanks, but no thanks…

Now a digital console is little more than a central CPU, some DSP cards, a control surface, I/O and display sections — and of course some software to bring it all together. Yeah, it’s actually more (a lot more) complicated than that. However, in these days of consoles being based around FPGAs, you may find that, with just a low-cost (or free) firmware upgrade, you are able to enhance your console with more input capability, more buses and more (or new) plug-ins — even on models dating back a few years. I could not even imagine anything like that happening in the consumer world, but for pro console users, it’s no dream, and it’s happening today.

Survey Says…

Back to the console survey. The results (starting on page 38) provide a fascinating insight into defining who inhabits this community of sound reinforcement professionals we always talk about. And the great response we received from our readers is a testament to how passionate you all are about this topic.

For starters, the responses to the project as a whole — determined by both respondents’ level of interest in console technology and the industry in general — was very high. We love this industry and share a passion about audio. There were also a few surprises (at least to me). One came from our third question, which asked what markets you work in. Your responses indicated that more than half of FOH readers (52 percent) are involved music concert and/or touring gigs — not too surprising — but that nearly 37 percent are involved, in some degree, in the house of worship market.

Another question indicated 47 percent of FOH readers are 51 or older. That demographic may be eligible for an AARP membership, but many of these people also own or operate their own sound company, and the fact that they’ve survived in this biz for that amount of time says a lot in our highly competitive industry. There’s a lot more to be gleaned from the survey findings, and it might just be worthwhile to flip through it and see where you fit into this profession (obsession?) we call sound reinforcement.

...and a Whole Lot More

To be sure, this is one jam-packed issue. There are two very different tour profiles — Ann Wilson of Heart (page 32) and Greensky Bluegrass (page 34). David Morgan discusses the art of tom miking over the years (page 63). Dan Daley offers some predictions about the health of the upcoming touring season (page 64). Steve La Cerra has some tips on finding the “sweet spot” in any room (page 65). Vince Lepore writes about when a church should consider retiring its current console (page 66); and Baker Lee covers the complexities of visas and politics (page 68).

For George Petersen’s video introduction to the April 2017 issue of FRONT of HOUSE magazine, CLICK HERE.