111TH AES: SMALL BUT MIGHTY
Let's face it: These times are as tough for the recording industry as they are for the rest of the global business community. Not that we needed to be reminded of this reality, but the rescheduled and significantly scaled-down Audio Engineering Society convention in early December corroborated it. Floor space was way down, attendance was way down and many of the industry's most prominent manufacturers were nowhere to be found.
On the other hand, those of us who were there are likely to remember the 111th AES as a turning point for our business — an event that separated the men from the boys and brought out the true stalwarts. Nowhere was the resilience of our industry better reflected than in a corner of the AES exhibit floor. There, in a downsized booth, was Apogee Electronics, usually represented by a large stand and a staff to match, but this time led by its fiesty owner/president, Betty Bennett, and a lean support team including Cathy Wagner. The fact that Apogee, unlike several other prominent West Coast-based manufacturers, decided to show up at all was not only a smart business move, but a gesture of support for the industry as a whole. “We really wanted to be here,” said Bennett. “Obviously, we scaled-down our presence, but at least we're here!”
Next to Apogee was United Recording of New York, a consortium of three downtown studios — Loho, Theater 99 and Threshold Music — whose owners pooled their resources to rent a booth on the floor. In my (too) many years covering the pro audio industry, I don't recall ever seeing a recording studio exhibit on the AES floor. The fact that three scrappy, independent facilities — which happen to be located in the beleaguered heart of this great city — chose to spend precious time and money on such an effort was another testament to the spirit of the industry.
“You have to give those people credit for their enthusiasm,” said Michael Frondelli, a producer, engineer and technology innovator who recently left his post as VP of Capitol Studios. “That's the kind of spirit that drove this industry in the first place, and that's what's going to bring it back to its glory.”
The owners of Loho, Theater 99 and Threshold were acting out of enthusiasm, indeed, and also out of a determination not to be held down by the tragedy that unfolded in their neighborhood last fall. Threshold Music co-owner James Walsh said, “In the aftermath of September 11, it seemed as though we all needed a place to come together and feel some unity, focus on the things that we feel represent ourselves collectively, and look toward the future knowing that things would always be a little different, and yet somehow we were all closer together. So myself, John Siket at Theater 99 and Victor Luke at Loho came up with this plan.”
“There's potentially plenty of work to go around in New York,” added Theater 99 co-owner Siket. “We should all help each other. If the studio scene in New York is doing well, then we're all going to be healthy. It's going to feed itself, and that's what we all want, ultimately.”
Between the booth itself and the promotional materials that the three studios created to go along with their display, the total bill was approximately $2,000 per facility — a sizable chunk of change for relatively new independents who are still struggling to gain visibility, especially among major clients. “Really, we are just a couple of guys that have built our facilities from the ground up — myself as a carpenter, quite literally,” says Walsh. “We know how to overcome hardships and are dedicated to survival and growth.”
Although it's too soon to gauge the business impact of the URNY project, Theater 99 co-owner David Seitz says he was encouraged by the response from AES attendees, particularly some of the high-profile producer/engineers who made the rounds. “I got to speak one on one with guys like George Massenburg, Tony Visconti and Chuck Ainlay,” said Seitz. “They hadn't heard about our studio, and they seemed very impressed. In our case, the big pull is the room itself — a big vaudeville theater built in 1906. You just don't see too many rooms like that, in New York or anywhere.”
Even though Theater 99, Loho and Threshold are plenty different from one another, they are all one-room facilities that specialize in big, live sessions. That made the URNY consortium that much more attractive to the three studio teams, according to Threshold partner A.J. Maltese. “We have all been friends for a long time, and we would always trade off work back and forth anyway,” said Maltese. “So if one of us is booked and gets a call to do a session, we refer it to one of the other guys. We figured it was a lot better to work together than against each other, especially after what happened here in New York.”
Walsh added, “We love to record live music and truly believe in the music scene in New York and music in general. We look forward to surviving as the next generation of New York studios, and have found comfort and strength knowing that we are not alone. With a little work, we can all help each other.”
MAKING WAVES, AGAIN
Another guy making the rounds at the AES was entrepreneur Eric Klein, a veteran of Waves and Toronto-based Saber Technologies, who has just founded his own digital audio software rep firm, Soul Tech Marketing. With the industry having now fully embraced plug-ins as legitimate audio processing tools, it seems as good a time as any to launch a software-oriented rep firm. Yet, until Klein launched Soul Tech in Brooklyn last March, the industry did not have such a firm whose specialty was plug-ins.
Klein brings serious qualifications to the job. Formerly national sales manager for software giant Waves, Klein knew the plug-in market intimately before he decided to venture on his own. Since launching, he has landed several high-profile, high-end clients, including Waves, Serato and Terason. “There hasn't been much independent technical support for those types of products,” says Klein. “We're filling a niche in the Northeast for people who want a different type of rep firm — one that's oriented as much toward tech support as sales support. That means going beyond the call of duty of what's expected from a rep firm. For instance, we help our customers figure out how the products we represent interface with Pro Tools or with whatever other host application they're using.”
Like anyone dealing in the software milieu, Klein has to contend with the specter of rampant piracy. However, he claims that the higher-end products that he represents are less prone to piracy than some of the less-established, less-supported ones. Still, he admits, piracy “affects everybody, and it's probably going to get worse before it gets better.”
Fortunately, Soul Tech and the new wave of software-based rep firms that will inevitably follow in its wake are providing a solution to the problem.
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