State of Live Sound

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

INDUSTRY KEEPS ON ROLLIN' IN TOUGH TIMES

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Geoff Shearing of Masque Sound (East Rutherford, NJ) comments, “We’re doing better than a lot of people because of the diverse group of clients we have, and, fortunately, Broadway seems to be holding its own.” Masque was started in the mid-’30s by a trio of Broadway stagehands—including Shearing’s grandfather—and both New York-based and touring musicals and plays still constitute a significant part of the company’s revenue; among its current productions are such hits as Mamma Mia!, Billy Elliot, The Phantom of the Opera, Jersey Boys and the recently opened American Idiot and The Addams Family.

“We’re still facing a big transition in terms of finding any sort of standard for digital consoles [on Broadway],” Shearing offers. “It used to be that Cadac was on probably 90 percent of the shows; now it’s a mix of different platforms with no clear best choice. The other thing about digital is it goes obsolete so quickly. It’s a whole new paradigm in terms of pricing models for us; honestly it makes it more difficult to earn a living. So we have to pay very close attention to inventory levels. In my grandfather’s day, he could rent a piece of equipment for 30 years, literally. Now we’re lucky if we get three.”

Masque does a considerable amount of broadcast work, “and we’re also doing a lot of installations now for performing arts spaces and churches. We have a lot more to offer than your typical audio-visual contractor. We have a facility that’s capable of going 24/7, so we always have support available, we have a large inventory of items, we have trucking and a full-time staff of people who know audio. People want to deal with a company that’s been around for a while. We also own Professional Wireless. Some of the corporate stuff has gone away, but it’s creeping back a little bit now. With installs, the budgets have been approved and they are in the pipeline, so that’s been very good.”

Don’t get Dave Shadoan, president of Sound Image (Escondido, Calif.), one of the largest SR companies in the world, started on the subject of the shrinking corporate-event market: “It’s way off, and you can thank our government for that. They got on TV and chastised corporations for having jets and big parties and everything else. I understand talking to someone like General Motors, who’s losing $4 billion a quarter, for throwing a big soiree, but what happened to the corporate market is everybody got put on watch and they’ve stopped spending money on corporate events. If you go to Vegas, they’ll tell you it was the government because they started chastising these large corporations. Call Orlando. Call San Diego. They’ll tell you the same thing. For example, a large corporation used to put on 15 corporates a year worldwide; they’ve downscaled it to three. And they were very big corporate shows. The end is nowhere in sight because the economy has yet to stabilize. You have a bunch of people who are apprehensive to do anything because they’re afraid the federal government will accuse them of squandering funds. But they were never squandering funds—the reason they had their big corporate events is they brought in their sales teams, they familiarized their personnel with one another and formalized their business plans for the upcoming year; they had a purpose to them. Yeah, they had some fun. And they should. It’s their money. Our own government scared these guys out of doing their job.”

That said, Sound Image isn’t exactly hurting. They continue to handle many big and small tours—Rage Against the Machine, Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers, Jimmy Buffett, Lenny Kravitz, Santana, Elvis Costello, Billy Idol and Heart, and the lion’s share of big country tours, including Brooks and Dunn, Taylor Swift, Brad Paisley, Toby Keith, Rascal Flatts and Easton Corbin—and “our contracting department grows gradually every year and we’ve invested multiple millions of dollars in touring over the last two years. In one year we bought 1,200 Crown HD 12000 series amplifiers, we bought another 72 VerTec boxes this year, and we also bought a K1 system from L-Acoustics [for the Tom Petty and the Hearbreakers tour]. We put a purchase order in today for six new digital consoles when we already have a substantial inventory—this particular purchase was Digidesign Profiles and VENUE consoles. We also continue to purchase Digidesign SC48 and Yamaha M7CL boards, which are basically band-in-a-bus consoles.

“Now is the time you want to grow your company because the touring business has been pretty good, and when [this economy] comes out the other end of the tunnel, the people who continued to invest in technology, people and services are going to be the big winners.”

Finally, at Clair Global (formerly Clair-Showco, Lititz, Penn), which M.L. Procise says “at any given time probably has 45 percent of [the touring] marketplace on the conservative side, to 60 percent,” things keep humming along: In March alone they had nearly 50 tours going, including such names as Paul McCartney, Guns N’ Roses, Black-Eyed Peas, Eric Clapton and so many more. “We’re continuing to develop new and diverse products that meet the needs of any kind of venue. We’re truly a global company, so all our equipment, our AC systems, crossover systems, cabling systems, our crew philosophies are standardized worldwide, whether you’re in Sydney, Tokyo, Basel, London, Toronto, Nashville, L.A., Lititz, Chicago. You get the same equipment, you draw from the same crew pool to operate that equipment, so everybody is on the same page. That’s important.” Clair (and Showco) were, of course, responsible for numerous touring sound innovations through the years, including the Prism, S4 and more recent i-5 systems, among others, and they continue to mix proprietary gear with thousands upon thousands of pieces by dozens of manufacturers for their ever-growing worldwide business.

“Of course equipment is important,” Procise says, “but it’s still a people business in the end, and it’s the responsibility of the sound company to bridge the technology gap on field service. I like to think our guys are the best in the world. We go to the finest vocational schools and musical engineering programs to recruit the best people with the highest aptitude and best grades—people who want to do what we do for a living. Because this is our life. Maybe you can’t be on the softball team or in a bowling league or have a family right away. This is hard work that requires a lot of commitment. This isn’t just repairing a bad module in an analog console anymore. There’s a ton of different things to do. And in this day and age you have to have people who can do it all.”


Blair Jackson is Mix’s senior editor.






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