While he does spend most of his convention time in the booths, looking at new products, Steve La Cerra has found that as the years go on, it's the face-to-face contact and reunions with longtime friends that he values most

One of the things I like best about going to an AES Convention is connecting with friends and colleagues in the industry, and as I get older the pool seems to widen. Checking out the toys is a lot of fun, but the toys come and go—it seems more rapidly in this age of accelerated technological development, where this year’s hot tech may be a paperweight in less than a year or two (Bluetooth turntable, anyone?). I look forward to the day when I’ll have more time for socializing than I need for checking out new products or attending seminars. Maybe someday I’ll have a booth simply for hanging out. Do convention centers allow you to bring in bottles of wine? (John LaGrou? Can you help here?)

In spite of how “plugged-in” we all think we are via our I-Me-My-Devices, the best means of communication is still face to face, and the cool part about being in the company of your peers is instant feedback. One of my students recently asked me a question about career opportunities in studio design. My reply was, “Don’t take it from me. John Storyk will be at the AES show. Visit his booth and you can ask him in person.”

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Another student had a question regarding ribbon microphones, so I referred him to Wes Dooley at AEA, who was also in attendance. In addition to getting me off the hook and possibly spreading misinformation, it encourages youngsters to find alternate sources of information, sort them out, and eventually come to their own conclusions—which is way better for long-term learning than reliance upon a single source.

That’s one of the areas where the pro audio industry excels: most of us are more than willing to share our knowledge and experience. Not only is that a beautiful thing, it’s necessary in order for us to perpetuate the art and science of good sound. Yes, you can read a book or watch a YouTube video, but one-on-one with an expert is the best way to gain knowledge, and you need not look far at an AES Convention to find experts. Seminars and events presented at the show ranged from entry-level to rocket-science level, with everything in between. Picking the brain of a product specialist at a manufacturer’s display booth can set off light bulbs when you discover that the software you’ve been using for five years can do something you never knew.

This concept is not lost on manufacturers, who increasingly are inviting high-profile engineers and producers to lecture and demo, often on a stage in the middle of the show floor. The AES Project Studio Expo Recording Stage provided three days of presentations featuring engineers and producers like Leslie Ann Jones, Richard Chycki, Tony Visconti, Bob Clearmountain and Kevin Killen. Mix With The Masters was typically SRO, running workshops with Al Schmitt, Joe Chiccarelli and Sylvia Massy, among many others. Waves had a cast of high-profile engineers presenting each day, and SSL held a series of “private teas” for future online release.

Sharing ideas and knowledge is the best way to ensure that our most important asset—the accumulated experience of our industry—doesn’t die out. So the next time someone asks you a technical question, give them a real answer or refer them to someone who can. There’s a good chance you’ll find that person at AES.