Louis Adamo has a very calming presence. He’s one of those people who can appear relaxed amid chaos and make everyone feel that everything’s going to be okay, the job will get done. That serves him well in his line of work, renting out large- and medium-format consoles nationwide for high-profile live events. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a Dante-connected stage at Coachella or a one-off for KROQ on the pier. Every board he ships has to work.
He’s also a dirt-bike riding thrill seeker who lives on a boat in the San Francisco Bay. So a part of him likes to live on the edge. It’s a good fit for working in the world of live sound.
Adamo is the president of Hi-Tech Audio, a live console sales and rental company, with a full-service shop and a bent for consultancy. The company was started by the late Mark Herman in 1985 with a single board in Half Moon Bay. Adamo was the first full-time employee, joining in 1989, and in 1995, following an earlier move to South San Francisco, there was an ownership change and Adamo became president. Today, the company is owned by Adamo, on the sales and customer side, and Ralph Tolson, who handles much of the business side.
With more than a hundred consoles in a Hayward warehouse operation, there is nobody in the country who does what Hi-Tech does, at least not on the scale. It’s a very niche operation, and it works. Large-format consoles are a high-ticket item, and for production houses who have to weather business cycles and technology advances, it doesn’t always make sense to buy. The company’s bread-and-butter clients include companies like Rat Sound, Delicate Productions, Sound Image, UltraSound, 3G Productions, PRG Audio, ATK Audiotek, Eighth Day Sound, Clair Brothers and Clearwing Productions, to name just a few.
But with the advances in technology, Adamo finds that an increasingly big part of his job is in educating the customer on new workflows and features—whatever he feels works best for the job at hand. In that sense he provides the bridge between manufacturer and customer.
“One of the things that has happened with digital consoles is that my staff and I have gotten more involved in helping not just supply the gear, but in spec-ing the system and satisfying riders and all that,” Adamo says. “With more and more systems around, we may have a customer who’s not familiar with a large multiconsole, multirack network of DiGiCo elements and they get a call for it, or it’s the right tool for the job. There’s plenty of times where somebody just needs a surface or a rack, but the most interesting time is when they want us to prep the whole system, because we can check it out as a system and make sure it’s ready.”
Because of the complexity of system setup for festivals and special events, he can serve much like a systems integrator, steeped in fiber, Cat5, networking protocols and the like. On the other hand, he can be a mixer’s best friend.
“When it’s a new model of a board, we get involved in showing people how to use them,” Adamo explains. “In that sense, we’re helping the manufacturer and getting behind their product. We’re a source for people to come to try it out, to understand what it is. When something is new, we’re helping to educate our customer—this is what it is, the scale of it, what makes it different, and so on. We play a big role there, providing a verification that everybody is still in the same ballpark.”
It’s not a huge business—“the customer list isn’t that long,” Adamo says—but it’s a comfortable one. And it has proven necessary in terms of how the business has shifted with the prominence of festivals. “A festival has a tendency to need more consoles per P.A.—that’s good for us,” he says. “Now the bad side is that it’s a festival, one week or less, whereas tours go on and on. We used to support tours day in and day out, and we still do a lot of tours, but now it’s more festivals and special events, corporate gigs are big, and a lot of it involves special music acts. You have companies who supply the podium, and at night they turn into a music event. Quite often they don’t have the specialized console, and we do.”
Currently, Hi-Tech Audio picks the consoles they buy based on myriad factors, including rider requests, reliability, flexibility, stability and features. Mostly, it is what the customer demands, and currently Hi-Tech carries four main lines: Yamaha, Avid, DiGiCo and SSL. The newest additions are the Yamaha PM10 Rivage and DiGiCo SD12. Adamo always puts the customer’s needs first, and that reputation has served him well in the form of longtime, long-term repeat business.
“The reason we have such strong relationships and a good reputation is from our commitment: We always do what we say. And we only say what we can do. There’s no bullshit,” Adamo says in summation. “Not all business makes sense. If you come to me and I don’t have a way to make it work right, I’ll be up front about it. My clients know exactly what I can deliver, and if I can deliver it, it will be there.”