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Live sector upbeat despite threat to growth

The industry survey contained in the 2011 edition of PSNLive – published later this month – indicates that rapid changes in technology and working practices are giving sound professionals cause to pause.

The industry survey contained in the 2011 edition of PSNLive – published later this month – indicates that rapid changes in technology and working practices are giving sound professionals cause to pause, writes David Davies.

Providing an illuminating industry snapshot from the perspective of manufacturers, rental companies, sound engineers and venues, the 2011 PSNLive survey offers plenty of positive commentary on the current health of the European live sound market. Nearly half of rental companies anticipate a rise in the number of paid rental days per system this year, while an emphatic 95% of manufacturers (vs 87% 2010) expect their activity levels to increase – and there is no shortage of other examples from which to choose.

But delve a little deeper into the survey results – documented in full in the new edition of Pro Sound News Europe’s annual standalone live industry publication, PSNLive – and it is clear that many audio professionals have reservations about some current trends affecting the business on multiple fronts: practical, logistical and technological.

The theme of ‘more work for less or the same money’ is common to our hire/rental company and sound engineer reports. While activity levels might be solid or rising, there is little expectation of greater income per project. Moreover, with more last-minute dates being added to the schedule, an increasing number of commitments are being accomplished on ultra-quick turnaround, with rental companies frequently required to negotiate challenging logistics and “long, long hours” to bring events to fruition.

There are also concerns about the impact of new technologies on live sound practice. As one respondent warned: “Engineers are mixing with their eyes and not their ears far too often.” Others expressed reservations about the skill-sets of some younger engineers and called for more training to help users get to grips with new digital technologies.

The venue survey also makes for revealing reading. While a multi-disciplinary approach has helped to keep many venues busy, there is concern about over-saturation by the same bands plugging away on the live circuit year after year. The decline in income from recorded output and concomitant boom in touring activity can only be good news for venues, but some harbour doubts about the longevity – and credibility – of newer acts.

While recent media debate about a possible plateauing of demand for live sound events is undoubtedly reflected across the category reports, there are also plenty of optimistic flashes. But easily the most upbeat bunch are the manufacturers, who report burgeoning demand across the board and the active exploration of newer, emerging markets, including those in the BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, China) economic grouping.

The maturation of audio networking – and all its (many) associated technologies – is contributing to a positive outlook for manufacturers. Elsewhere, however, one or two questions are raised about the ‘real world’ crossover of networking into the live domain. For example, significantly fewer engineers expect it to impact significantly on their day-to-day working life over the next 2-3 years than was the case in 2010. Technology developers might wish to take note…

‘Upbeat about the present and slightly apprehensive about the future’ would suffice as a handy capsule summary of our 2011 survey of the European live sound market. But the full report offers plenty of subtle and surprising details, so don’t miss your copy of this year’s PSNLive, published this month.

For more information on PSNLive and to access Digital Editions of previous issues, please visit