Pursuing my somewhat Orwellian vision of a future live sound industry leads me into uncharted waters, where things could look very different to today. The structural, commercial and operational differences would be profound, perhaps most notably in the people who would lead these operations.
If (say) 80 per cent plus of international concert touring was handled by just four or five operations globally, each of them would likely be a sizeable venture in general industrial terms. Turnover, profit, personnel, assets, corporate taxation, legislation, capital funding requirements and even flotation opportunities would be very different from almost anyone we know today. Added to the fact that the first generation of pro-audio entrepreneurs are leaving us, the career opportunities for ‘professional’ business people (by whom I mean those who have trained and qualified for a career in commerce, as opposed to starting out in hands-on roles within live sound) could be attractive. In this future the strategic direction of the biggest players in pro audio could very well be determined by bankers, lawyers, MBAs and accountants who couldn’t tell a DI box from a hole in the ground.
The business would also become much less gear-centric; in fact, it is already becoming so. Any of the major players could deliver the equipment of choice to engineers and production managers from enormous inventories that pay no historical allegiance to particular manufacturers. The composition of hire inventories would be based solely on demand and ROI – this is a very good thing, because it means that ‘premiership’ providers would compete on level terms, with their success based on performance and relationship management rather than on the kit they own.
This obviously changes things for some pro-audio manufacturers too, especially those who specialise in premium concert touring products, as they would be dealing with a customer base that is small in numbers but large in spending power and market control. The working relationships between these manufacturers and the major players would become much closer and the latter would have a much greater input to product development. The market would become polarised, too, as manufacturers would be divided into those who supply the majors and those who do not – the latter would have to make a living selling kit to everyone else.
The good news, though, is that ‘everyone else’ would actually be better off, because if the big players own all the major work they will not need or want to dabble in anything much below a certain level. That would create a healthy and potentially more profitable ‘first division’, able to focus on tailoring their businesses to specific markets.
Scared? Me too.
Dave Wiggins is a freelance marketeer and pro-audio pundit.