For more than 20 years, RSA Audio Services of Edgewood, New York (www.rsaaudio.net), has been like a goldfish in a bowl: The goldfish grows, you get it a bigger bowl. It grows and grows some more, and it's ready for a 20-gallon tank.
RSA co-owners Joe Light (left) and Leon Esker
RSA started, like many live sound providers, as the little spin-off business of a couple of bandmates. “We were working in the clubs, doing our best not to have to go find a nine-to-five job,” recalls RSA co-owner/president Leon Esker. “The band dissolved, and we were left with a bunch of equipment, and me and a buddy started renting it out to other bands. There were a lot of people playing music in Long Island at the time, but not a lot of people doing P.A. So, we were able to make a decent living right off the bat.”
A couple of years later, Esker's bandmate went his own way, and Esker took on another partner, Joe Light. “We rented a small, 2,000-square-foot warehouse, put the equipment in it, and all of a sudden we were a legitimate company — not just a couple of kids with equipment,” Esker says. “Little by little, we started getting more legitimate shows in theaters and working with some smaller national acts.”
Long before today's compact digital consoles and off-the-shelf line arrays became de rigeur, RSA developed an established client base and a reputation for full service: system design, manufacturing, installation, support and engineering when needed. “Back then, the industry was very different,” Esker says. “A big part of what our company brought to the table back then was to manufacture and package equipment. Twenty-five years ago, you didn't have the packaged systems that exist now. We designed and manufactured a lot of our own stuff back then — all the rigging and the packaging that goes along with it.
“The older, more established companies that were around in the early '80s like Maryland Sound, Sound Image or Clair Bros., today they've moved toward manufactured speaker systems, because that's what people are looking for,” he continues. “This affords a lot of opportunities for young companies, too, to get into the business. You can just go out and buy the tools that you need and get going, but what might seem like an easy way to get into the business is deceiving, because if everybody's getting into it that way, then they're not really bringing anything to the table that someone else can't also bring. We were lucky that 20 years ago that wasn't an option, so that protected us from competition.”
Esker's proprietary P.A. system occasionally still gets jobs these days, but more in-demand are the JBL Vertec VT4889 line arrays RSA carries. “The system is extremely smooth and very easy to use,” Esker says. “It's very easy to rig in terms of alignment.”
For most larger productions, Esker sends the Yamaha PM5D console, which he says has quickly become “very popular — it's probably going to be the workhorse as far as digital boards go.” For smaller-budget events, the company offers less-pricey, lighter-weight Soundcraft MH3 boards. And, of course, there are racks and racks of outboard gear. “We've amassed an inventory of everything,” Esker says, “the Lexicon gear, dbx, Drawmer, Klark Teknik…That's one place where a particular client is going to get particular.”
RSA supports mainly one-offs regularly at major venues such as the Beacon Theater, Roseland Ballroom, Jones Beach Theater, Hammerstein Ballroom and the Nassau Coliseum. Recent concerts have featured The Black Crowes, Seal, Melissa Etheridge and Mary J. Blige. When we spoke, Esker was getting ready to mobilize gear for the Bamboozle 2006 festival to be held May 6 and 7 at the Meadowlands complex, where dozens of bands, including headliners Fall Out Boy, Taking Back Sunday and AFI, would appear on five stages. “Clair Bros. is doing two stages, and we're doing three,” Esker says. “We'll also be in Battery Park this summer; they do a whole concert series out there that also will get started in May.”
Gradually, RSA has outgrown not only its original 2,000-square-foot home, but also a second 5,000-square-foot space. Today, the company operates out of an almost 10,000-square-foot warehouse. Esker and Light employ ten full-time techs, including 20-year company man Mike Murphy, and they'll pick up as many as ten freelancers during the busy summer months. “We put on about ten shows during the course of a week, maybe three or four systems doing two or three shows each. We've got a niche market that is growing year after year.”
Barbara Schultz is an assistant editor at Mix.