'Change consistently': Show director Michael Biwer talks Prolight + Sound 2019

From April 2-5, Frankfurt am Main will host Prolight + Sound and Musikmesse 2019 in what looks set to be a pivotal outing for the annual pro audio and MI show. Daniel Gumble hears from Messe exec Michael Biwer to find out what’s in store for this year’s audio contingent
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Michael Biwer

Michael Biwer

The past five years have been something of an endurance test for Messe Frankfurt’s Prolight + Sound and Musikmesse shows. Since 2014, the joint pro audio and MI trade events have been subject to a number of changes, from senior personnel comings and goings to the shifting of halls, dates, and opening hours. Inevitably, the success, or otherwise, of these alterations depends very much on who you speak to. For some, the lack of consistency and stability has been problematic, while others have continued to do good business and praise the event's continuous ability to attract a variety of customers and leading pro audio solutions to the table, in spite of the upheaval. 

These changes to the Prolight + Sound and Musikmesse platform have been further highlighted by the overwhelmingly positive noises coming out of LA and Amsterdam over the past few years. With the NAMM show significantly upping its audio game of late and ISE expanding at a devastating pace that still shows no sign of slowing. 

For the organisers at Messe, however, the fact that Prolight + Sound and Musikmesse have endured is a testament not only to their continued appeal but also to a market that is seeing unprecedented and unwavering demand for gatherings of this kind. Ultimately, the high profile gains seen by the likes of NAMM and ISE point towards a healthy market that relies on platforms like these to thrive. All of this presents Messe with a real opportunity to reinforce its status as one of the industry’s most vital forces.

 Here, Messe Frankfurt group show director, Michael Biwer, tells PSNEurope why 2019 is set to be a crucial year for Prolight + Sound and lets us in on where the biggest growth opportunities lie for the event in the coming years… 

What can audio exhibitors and visitors expect from Prolight + Sound 2019? 

A particular focus this year will be on the complementary programme for audio professionals. Here, there will be numerous new highlights: as part of CAVIS – Congress for Audiovisual Integrated Systems, Prolight + Sound will be offering a whole-day Dante Level 3 training course, plus a number of presentations covering IT-based transmission technology. The Immersive Technology Forum, having enjoyed great success at its premiere, will be expanded, providing specific expertise on the key and coveted elements of 3D and spatial audio. 

For the first time, we shall be collaborating with the Music Tech Fest, and realising the MTF labs, where innovators in music production can pass on their wisdom. Another new partner is the minds behind the Sample Music Festival, bringing a top-notch session to the fair that looks at every aspect of DJing, controllerism, and turntablism. The seminar programme on The Future of Audio + Music Technology from the Advanced Audio + Application Exchange (A3E), and the workshop setlist in the Sound & Recording Lounge are also entering a new round. 

Our new Vintage Concert Audio Show, with over 200 exhibits, is set to reveal the milestones in concert sound systems from the last four decades, with daily audio panels and get-togethers, at which legendary sound engineers of the various eras will also take part. 

A decisive change, which will benefit both exhibitors and visitors, is the new hall concept. Thus, Hall 8 will bind together the whole general product category of audio, sound, and recording under one roof, and this will ensure shorter distances between, and a higher footfall at, the stands. In the biggest ground-floor hall in the Fair and Exhibition Centre, key players of the industry will be doing their showcasing, including Adam Hall, Adamson Systems Engineering Europe, Allen & Heath, Amptown System Company, AudioTechnica, Bespeco Professional, Coda Audio, Craaft Audio, d&b audiotechnik, dBTechnologies, DiGiCo, ES-Pro-Audio, FBT Elettronica, Fohhn Audio, Funktion One, HK Audio, Kling & Freitag, Klotz, König & Meyer, KS Beschallungstechnik, L-Acoustics, Lawo, Link, Powersoft, Proel, Riedel, Sommer Cable, Valentini, Yamaha Music Europe, and many more.

The format of the show has undergone numerous changes in recent years. Do you feel that you have struck upon the right format this year? 

We always make decisions about design and concept jointly with the industry, whilst also taking our visitor surveys into account. Moreover, of course, the market is also changing around us, meaning the concept of the fair will remain dynamic with more potential for change and adaptation. Within the pro audio industry, there is a widespread consensus that it is sensible to hold Prolight + Sound and Musikmesse concurrently. 

By deciding that the two shows are held on four weekdays (Tuesday to Friday), we are positioning the dual fairs as a professional platform, where the exchange of business stands are situated in the forefront. Moreover, the Fair and Exhibition Centre is continuing to develop and is now offering new facilities. Thus, in the shape of Hall 12, the biggest and most modern building at Messe Frankfurt – which officially opened in October 2018 – will be part of Prolight + Sound for the first time and will bundle together the segments of light, stage, and entertainment. 

Of course, after the fair, as we do every year, we shall evaluate the success of all measures in detail in conjunction with exhibitors and partners. We are sure, however, that we have created great added value through these further developments, particularly for the audio community. 

What key things have been learned from those previous structure changes? 

We have listened to the clear wishes expressed by exhibitors in the audio segment to be able to present themselves jointly in one hall. We are meeting this wish by merging this product segment together in Hall 8. We have further put the suggestion into practice by making the complementary programme even more international. For this reason, a major chunk of the seminars, workshops, panels and product presentations will be in English this year. 

It has further been our experience that the specialist features which we have established in past years for buyers in the musical instrument segment have been very well received in the industry. So, this year we are offering the Insider benefits programme, which invites decision makers to the fair, and offers further services directly on the spot to staff from trading and rental companies in the event technology segment as well. Moreover, with the new Networking Area in Hall 4.1, we shall be providing an optimum framework for business meetings away from the hurly-burly of the fair. 

Both NAMM and ISE have posted record-breaking visitor/exhibitor numbers for consecutive years now. What does this mean for PL+S? Does it provide optimism that the market is in good health, or does it mean PL+S has to differentiate itself from the competition? 

It definitely shows that the demand for joint meeting platforms for businesses and professionals in our industry is very high – and that is good news for Prolight + Sound. Obviously, a trade fair needs to position itself highly selectively in the market if it is to be successful permanently. For Prolight + Sound, this means we are placing the focus on solutions for the event and the entertainment industry. Despite all the overlaps, Prolight + Sound also covers product areas which are not to be seen in this format other international shows, such as specialised products on aspects of stage construction, theatre equipment, and show textiles. 

Through the synergies with Musikmesse, Prolight + Sound is also visited by retailers in the musical instrument segment. We shall be strengthening these reciprocal effects, too, with the new fair concept. 

A further unique selling point of Prolight + Sound is the opportunity it offers exhibitors to exhibit their PA and line-array systems on the outside campus under real conditions. This also applies additionally to products such as mobile tent systems and LED walls. 

What are the biggest opportunities for PL+S? 

There are a number of growth areas in which the show has developed very well in the past years. These include the whole product segment surrounding theatre and stage technology, plus LED and display technology. In the longer view, we would also like to expand the event security segment further: we have taken the first steps to do so, with a special area in Hall 4.0, and through an extended complementary programme. 

We are concentrating more strongly than ever at Prolight + Sound on topics of the future: from app incorporation in live and studio environments to cloud-based DAWs, to the influence of artificial intelligence and machine learning on the music and live event industry.

Beyond that, it is our aim to make Prolight + Sound the premiere venue for the presentation of immersive technologies. Already this year key players such as d&b Audiotechnik, L-Acoustics and Meyer Sound are showcasing their immersive audio solutions in their own demo areas. In addition, we are collaborating with the Institute for New Media in order to present all aspects of virtual-augmented and mixed reality even more impressively at the fair. 

What are the biggest challenges? 

It is no secret that trade fairs must defend themselves today against a multiplicity of digital marketing and sales tools. Trade fairs fit for the future will therefore no longer be merely for trading but also content platforms, which must offer visitors a clear added value to their experience. Even industry experts of many years standing should have the feeling of gaining an obvious development in knowledge after their visit. Trade fairs must also reach young professionals and newcomers to the industry. In short: a trade fair must change consistently if it is not to get left behind. By means of the new formats which I have set out, we are actively and passionately approaching this task – for if you cease to become better, you have ceased to be good. 

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