Allstar Audio’s Mike Borne continually looks to enhance his inventory.
When Mike Borne started Smyrna, Tenn. — based Allstar Audio (www.allstaraudio.com) in 1984, Nashville was riding high in the wake of the Urban Cowboy era and country music was experiencing tremendous growth. There were also only a few sound companies competing for numerous gigs. A lot has changed since then, and most of the locally based bands that have risen to production-carrying status have been gobbled up by large national sound companies.
“To say it's highly competitive would be an understatement,” remarks Borne. “One of the most challenging things you do is to try to make a profit. Given the rising cost of all expenses — including labor, equipment, fuel, et cetera — it's becoming harder and harder to stay in the black. It's a constant balancing act.”
After 22 years in business, Allstar has amassed an impressive list of credits from major record labels, meeting planners, booking agents, promoters, a who's who of artists and bands, and even a rodeo, among other clients. Some of Allstar's high-profile clients include NASCAR, the TNN/Country Music Weekly Awards and Thanksgiving at Fort Campbell with President Bush.
One of Allstar's recent productions was the huge annual Memphis in May Festival, which started with the Beale Street Festival. During the three-day event, Allstar did sound for three large stages and handled more than 50 bands, including Chicago, Huey Lewis & The News, Bryan Adams, Train, Bruce Hornsby, James Brown and Staind. Extensive inventories of EAW 850 and 750 speaker systems were used, as well as Midas H3000 boards.
Allstar can also supply its clients with top-of-the-line gear from names such as JBL, Electro-Voice, Crest, Lab-Gruppen, Klark-Teknik, BSS, Soundcraft, dbx, Shure, Thomas Lighting, StageRight Staging and StageLine Mobile Staging, to name a few. “We have tried to add the product lines that our clients wanted to see, as well as maintain relationships with manufacturers,” Borne says.
But Allstar's gear selection wasn't always so plentiful. During Allstar's very early days, it was a struggle to find affordable equipment, and Borne acquired his first pieces of gear by watching the local Trader's Post and checking out pawnshops for useful components.
“I actually bought an AKG 451 condenser microphone for $10 that the pawnshop owner said he didn't think worked,” Borne recalls. “He had no idea what phantom power was, nor did he have a source of it in his store. I believe I still have that mic somewhere in my inventory. It took several years of eating a lot of macaroni and hamburger, but Allstar finally started to get some good clients, and as the revenue grew, we started looking at the new equipment and the continual upgrading began.”
One of those first pieces of gear was from an up-and-coming speaker manufacturer named EAW. “Man, what a stroke of luck that was for us, as the EAW KF-850 became the box to have and we had them in the beginning,” Borne recalls. “It's kind of funny to remember back to the early days when only a few manufacturers would talk to you, and after they see you with a hundred boxes from the competition, all of a sudden you are discovered.
“But gear is gear without the service that goes with it,” Borne continues, noting that more than 90 percent of Allstar's annual business comes from repeat clients or personal referrals. “Good employees are the true backbone of any successful business. Your personnel can take the most sophisticated, expensive sound system, and even when it sounds great, lose a gig or a client by just having the wrong attitude. A rock 'n' roll attitude is not always acceptable, especially when you're working with a CEO of a major corporation.”
Allstar staff includes Ric Cassity (office and general manager); Dan Taylor (in charge of warehouse and inventory, as well as day-to-day rentals); Tony Cooper (acting crew chief and personnel leader); Sean Borne, Matt Michael and Corey Likens (technical staff); and Steve Smith, who Borne describes as “one of the best FOH engineers who has his ego in check that I have met.” Borne handles the booking for large systems and VIP events.
“Challenges in the field are what keep us on our toes,” Borne says. “When the customer says, ‘Oh, by the way,’ you feel the hair on the back of your neck stand up, but you have to deliver and continue making the client look his or her best. It's always fun to take on challenging and different types of events, and we are always looking for and anticipating our next adventure.”
Rick Clark is Mix's Nashville editor.