This year’s 153rd AES convention could have been a full-on disaster for so many reasons, from the pandemic, to inflation, to supply chain issues, to plain old disinterest. Instead, it was one of the best AES Shows in years—and not merely because there hasn’t been one since 2019. No, this was the real deal: an exciting show packed with lots to see and hear, plenty to learn and a ton to take away. If a trade show takes the temperature of its industry, then pro audio is on fire. Yes, the show had hiccups, but this was far more than a simple ‘win’—it was everything that you want from an AES show and more.
It could have been a trainwreck for a lot of reasons: It was the first in-person AES show since 2019, and there are plenty of wags who say trade shows are over in our new Zoom-addled existence. Then there’s the fact that new COVID variants are rising again with the fall season; would people really want to go on to a convention floor with that in the backs of their minds? Inflation is slamming the industry at every level, too, from the costs of exhibiting to the costs for attendees to come and check out the show. Supply chain issues are also putting the pinch not only on new product announcements but existing product orders, too—why exhibit at a show when you can’t fulfill the orders you have?
Then there’s the fact that the show was always inevitably going to be smaller than in recent pre-pandemic years. Many people walked through the door, saw there were about 100-plus exhibitors for the AES side of the convention floor (AES shared the floor with the NAB NY Show), and thought, “Heck, I’ll get through that in an hour!”
Well, as Yoda once said, “Size matters not; judge me by my size, do you?” It was impossible to spend a short time at AES this year—between the sheer activity and new gear to see and events happening and educational offerings and hands to shake, people were there all day, which was music to the ears of exhibitors.
Early estimates say AES 2022 got more than 7,000 attendees; combined with the 9,500-plus that the co-located NAB NY show attracted, that’s around 17,000 people, but the truth is, the place was jammed—just ask anyone who was stuck on the already-legendary registration line on the first day (like I said: hiccups). Some people claimed to have waited upwards of 90 minutes to register, but on the flip side, for a show that some predicted would have anemic attendance, that was a great problem to have (and to its credit, the AES brass sprang into action, improvising real-time workarounds to get people off the line and on to the show floor ASAP).
That said, honestly, it seemed far more crowded than 17,000 people. This was the first big pro-audio show on the East Coast since the pandemic began, and people came from far and wide to catch up, introduce themselves, re-entrench themselves into the pro-audio community, and see the latest equipment in-person instead of on a computer screen.
That new equipment was a harbinger, too. For the last year, through all the major audio trade shows—NAMM, NAB and two InfoComms—exhibitors have mainly shown the gear they released throughout 2020-2021 when the world was shut down thanks to COVID-19. AES 2022, however, saw the industry start to come out of that, with honest-to-God new products (SSL’s Origin 16 console, the return of the Avid MBox and Shure Axient Digital’s complete upgrade, to name just a few). The industry isn’t biding time anymore; it’s moving forward, and new products are the big signal flare that things are back on track.
One of the AES Show’s biggest wins, however, was landing Jack Antonoff, the 2022 Grammy Winner for Producer of the Year, as the keynote interview (you didn’t know that was happening because the announcement was so last-minute? Another hiccup).
Known and respected for his work on his own hit records as well as for collaborating with Taylor Swift, masterminding the recent Minions movie soundtrack and more, Antonoff’s open-hearted interview, expertly handled by Lorbecki, saw him bring not only credentials and insights to the table, but also—crucially for the AES—his cachet in today’s recording industry.
This was an undisputed pro sharing how he makes current hits using current methods on current equipment; it was pointedly not an older pro reminiscing about making records 40 years ago on an unlimited budget in a massive analog studio that doesn’t exist anymore. The times have changed, and the choice of keynote unsubtly proved that the AES is changing with them. The packed audience was filled with other pros, but overwhelmingly—and poignantly—with emerging/aspiring pros as well. When the floor opened up for Q&A, the line was instantly 20 people deep with mostly students picking Antonoff’s brain on everything from the technical to the psychological, and he responded with friendly, clear and often amusing advice, all of it hard won from experience.
That underlined in a big way how the AES delivered on the education front this year. The keynotes and lectures saw pros share their insights and knowledge, and the exhibitors were there to fill in attendees on the latest and greatest gear, too. The networking opportunities—and there were many, though most networking happened in the aisle—also proved to be educational as well.
Exhibitors that hedged their bets and didn’t come to AES 2022 for fear of a small show or low attendance missed out, because the big-name manufacturers were there, helping draw in crowds that were fascinated with every booth. In recording, people came to see the likes of Avid and SSL, or in live sound, they were there to see DiGiCo, Meyer Sound, Allen & Heath, d&b and others, or maybe they wanted to check out the mics from Shure, Sennheiser, Audio-Technica, Neumann, DPA and their ilk. That just paved the way for people to discover other brands exhibiting for the first time, like startup studio outboard manufacturer Audio Scape with its recreations of legendary recording gear, or Symphonic Acoustics and its authentic George Augspurger-designed studio monitors, or software house Sound Particles and its amazing solutions for sound designers and engineers. As the old Lotto ads used to say, “You gotta be in it to win it,” and virtually every exhibitor on that show floor won.
The proof that AES 2022 hit an out-of-the-park home run this year came when it was time for the two-day convention to end.
Late on the second day, I was over on the NAB side of the hall, talking with the folks at Pliant. While we were chatting, people started taking down the neighboring booths, packing up gear and calling it a day. The show would be over in 30 minutes, so why not get a head-start, especially since the aisles were empty? That made sense.
Then I turned around and walked back over to the AES side of the hall—and it was an entirely different show. The AES’s aisles, which had been getting thinner over the afternoon, were suddenly packed again. Everybody was on the move, talking, shouting, shaking hands, and still looking at gear and asking questions. Nobody was dismantling a booth; instead, there was the roar of a trade show in full swing, with lots of laughing and plans getting made, and music steadily getting louder from every corner as the end of the show neared. Nobody was leaving; the NAB side was quietly packing up, while the AES side was literally rocking. It underlined for me that broadcasting is a nice career, but pro audio is a way of life—and this week, the 2022 AES Show was that life’s heartbeat.