I was on the phone with Kirk Imamura, president of Avatar Studios in New York City, talking about his SPARS column for this month’s issue. He said, "It's the issue that’s going to AES, right? I thought I would talk about being a good steward of the industry, you know, in how you run your business and how you help promote the industry at large.” “Good,” I said. “I like it.” We talked a little more, hung up and a bit later in the day I thought, “Huh. Steward. That’s a word you don’t hear very often. Do I need to go to Wikipedia?” It got me thinking: What does it mean to be a good steward today, one who helps take care of things, both at home and as part of an industry?
My first thought was that being a good steward is especially important when your industry is going through a massive transformation. Smaller budgets, shorter bookings, software piracy and a helter-skelter distribution model. How can anyone afford to be a good steward when they’re forced to charge less than they did 10 years ago for a higher-quality product, whether it’s a 2-channel preamp, a software release or a song mix? How can anyone be a good steward when they’re already working 14-hour days and it’s still not enough? The truth is, you can’t afford not to be a good steward. And it starts at home.By home I mean your business, your craft, your art, your daily life—whatever that might be. Studio owner, engineer, producer, musician, educator, facility designer, manufacturer, it doesn’t matter. Strive for quality in whatever it is you produce, at whatever price point, and look for quality in those you deal with. If you own a studio, big or small, commercial or private, keep it maintained and up to date. If you’re a manufacturer, design and build quality into your product line, no matter your MSRP. If you’re an educator, make sure your students are well-versed in the fundamentals of recording and have a healthy dose of respect for the realities of today’s market. Run a business that makes people want your business. Treat every client like they are Beyonce.
But don’t forget that you are part of a professional community, too, one that benefits from each and every contribution of knowledge and show of support. Go to the local EARS meeting if you’re anywhere near Chicago. Join NARAS so that you can attend local chapter meetings and represent the Producers and Engineers Wing. Or head to Nashville in May for the annual golf tournament to benefit the Engineer Relief Fund through the local chapter of the AES. It’s a real fun time to boot.
Finally, seeing as this is our AES issue, keep in mind that the manufacturing community is a vital part of our industry. They are the people who drive innovation, both from a boutique, high-end point of view and from the mass-consumption, feature-laden, Best Buy side. There is room in our industry for the $10,000 mic and the $99 mic, the high-end studio and the project room. But if you want quality products, no matter the price point, then you have to buy quality products. Whenever you make a purchasing decision, you are voting with your wallet.
Our industry is facing challenges today, no question. We rely on technology for both production and distribution, and sometimes that can feel like an ever-changing, ever-moving model. But if you strive to be a good steward of your business and you make the effort to take part in the industry at large, good things will come. You can bank on it.