State of Live Sound

Apr 27, 2010 4:11 PM, By Blair Jackson

INDUSTRY KEEPS ON ROLLIN' IN TOUGH TIMES

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Each stop at U2’s 360-degree tour was sold-out, showing that music lovers continue to show interest in live performances.

Each stop at U2’s 360-degree tour was sold-out, showing that music lovers continue to show interest in live performances.






















Paul Owen, owner of Thunder Audio (Livoria, Mich.) says, “We’ve stayed busy by doing different levels of acts. We still have the megatours: Metallica has been out for over 18 months now; it’s going to continue on at least until December, and who knows if they’ll actually stop then. I hope not!” he laughs. “But the market is changing all the time. There are a lot of bands that people really want to go see that have been launched through YouTube and MySpace and things like that—those are great marketing tools for these new bands. We have one indie band that has done extremely well—Vampire Weekend, who have grown tremendously in the last couple of years and are playing some larger venues now. Bands are basically doing their own marketing for their own exposure, as opposed to when you used to hire a whole team from a record company, which handles distribution, marketing and everything else.

“We do a lot of rock, obviously,” Owen continues, “but for the past 15 years we’ve also taken care of what are called ‘chitlin’ players.’ We’ve looked after [African American film director/comedian] Tyler Perry for 15 years, and now that’s gone on to a full-blown arena tour of a play [Madea’s Big Happy Family] that’s been out now since January, finishes in May and continues on in September for the rest of the year. One of the big challenges with that one is it was always done in theaters and so the scale has changed in the arenas but you want it to have the same intimacy. It’s got full-on video, lighting, a Meyer audio package. It’s impressive. And now we have another one going out called Church Girls that has a similar theme but smaller. We’ve paid a lot of attention to that market, and it’s definitely reaping rewards for us.”

Another observation from Owen: “More people doing regional tours. With a lot of the large permanent installs that have gone into casinos and Hard Rock Cafés and other venues, and fuel prices being so high, there are a lot of bands that normally would have toured five to ten years ago with full production, will now tour with just two digital consoles, some racks and put it in a trailer behind a bus, where they might have had a full truck—or more—of production.”

Over at Eighth Day Sound (Highland Heights, Ohio), executive VP Jack Boessneck is finding that there are two main pressures being exerted by clients: They want more for less, but they still want the most technologically advanced equipment available. “I don’t know anybody who has walked into any place—even if it’s the local hardware store—within the last 18 months and not expected a deal. If a product and/or service is negotiable—and everything is negotiable—that’s the way it is. So, maybe your margins change a little. You work harder, you work smarter. But if you start cutting your product or cutting your service, or cutting anything, you lose. You can’t cut your edges. Why are we doing well? Because we’re competing in the marketplace.”

Like other live audio companies, Eighth Day has always sought a broad range of clients. They handle tours by everyone from Lady Gaga (“We’ve been with her from the beginning,” Boessneck says), to Tom Jones, Whitney Houston, Jay Z and the Lord of the Dance extravaganza. “I love them all!” Boessneck says. “I like to joke, ‘We don’t pick the bands we do. Satan’s Salad Bar is my very favorite band if they pay the bills!’”

Boessneck, too, is finding more tours not requiring full production, with an upside being that more groups can afford to tour: “I think it’s actually led to a little more work for everybody,” he says. Also, the smaller footprint of some of the newer digital consoles, and the increasing use of plug-ins (instead of racks of analog outboard gear) has meant less heavy equipment being lugged around, which saves money. “Let’s face it: Computers have changed everything,” he comments. “Sometimes we don’t feel like a sound company; we feel like an IT company.” Asked about the coolest piece of new gear that his clients are requesting, he immediately responds, “The DiGiCo SD7. People love ’em.”

Overall, Boessneck sounds remarkably upbeat. “Why wouldn’t I be upbeat? I’m in the sound business, not the auto or banking industry. The economy isn’t great, obviously. We haven’t totally turned the corner. But how many sound companies went out of business last year? Zero that I know of that even play on a large regional level. And last year was worse than this year is supposed to be.”






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