The pithily accurate comments of Brit Row MD Bryan Grant on how audio is undervalued in last month’s PSNLive supplement reactivated some dormant thoughts of my own.
I have felt for many years that the single greatest challenge facing the modern live sound industry is that audio – even great audio – is taken almost entirely for granted. Outside of our little world there is virtually no understanding of what it takes to fill a space with powerful, controlled and intelligible sound. There is not the slightest grasp of any of the underlying technologies nor the skills of our practitioners and this manifests itself in a total lack of ‘How do they do that?’. The fact that, as just one example, a festival-goer can rock up to some remote off-the-grid location and enjoy fabulous audio miles from any utilities is not considered in any way remarkable.
It’s at least partly our own fault. The rugged yet modest pragmatism on which the industry prides itself means that jobs just get done with the absolute minimum of drama – no matter where or when or under what conditions, the show will go on. The live sound industry is filled with people who are totally focused on doing whatever it takes to make sure that it all happens, and that is a truly remarkable yet brutally undersold thing. On top of this, we are guilty of creating something of a closed shop. Historically the industry did not give up its knowledge and secrets easily, though the doors are much more open than previously with many more avenues of entry available to younger people looking to make a career in live sound.
Further, and especially in recent years, we are obliged to compete with visible technologies that make a greater immediate impact on the senses. Lights, lasers SFX and video are now simply extraordinary, forming hugely important parts of many larger shows and their ability to dazzle and impress, even if only fleetingly, always seems to make a bigger impact on our punters. But, the central fact remains, no audio equals no show, no exceptions. Until there is a much greater understanding of this absolute value, our profession will continue to be regarded as the poor production relation.
It’s in all our interests to get this done, and in my view there is no one better placed to lead this vital awareness-raising exercise than our trade associations. In much the same way that the BEIRG has done an amazing job of fighting our corner for radio frequency space, so PLASA, the PSA and perhaps others could lead the charge?
As SSE boss John Penn once wisely said to me, “No-one goes home whistling the lights...”
Dave Wiggins is a freelance marketeer and pro-audio pundit