There's no denying that the past couple of months have been strange. Since September 11, the nation has been gripped by the fear of further hijackings, anthrax-laced mail deliveries, and an up/down economic climate that rivals the motion of a Tilt-a-Whirl. Combined with the terrorist attacks, the war in Afghanistan and the financial downturn that began earlier this year, 2001's fiscal portrait is less than rosy. We all hope for — and look forward to — better days ahead in 2002.
However, for now we need to focus on the present. The AES show was postponed until November 30, and in the weeks that followed the announcement, the industry was awash in rumors, speculation, and an almost-daily count and recount of whether various major companies were exhibiting or not.
Certainly, those companies that decided to drop out of the show had compelling reasons, such as the proximity of the rescheduled AES to NAMM (just six weeks away) or simply as a means of improving Q4 financials by not spending money on exhibiting.
But whatever the reasons for exhibitor cancellations, these actions had a negative ripple effect throughout the industry, particularly for companies that make products for professional users and don't exhibit at musical instrument-oriented shows like NAMM. Not all audio manufacturers have the marketing clout of JBL or Sony (both of which will be at the show), and for many of these smaller companies, AES provides an all-important, essential outlet for reaching working engineers and students alike. Here, AES provides another vital role, as a nesting site where new companies can nurture and grow. These days, a “wait until next year for AES” attitude doesn't cut it, for exhibitors or attendees, especially with the rate of technology change in today's market.
AES made the right decision by offering free VIP show passes to the industry (downloadable from its Website) to bolster attendance. As an alternative, several non-exhibiting companies decided to create “virtual tradeshows” as a means of showcasing products — but the communication is essentially one-way and hardly the same hands-on experience of grabbing a fader or kicking a tire.
Despite the techno-dazzle of the new toys on the show floor, the soul of AES is the people. Far from the dealer-driven (and groupie-laden) NAMM, an AES convention is the forum for the exchange of ideas, concepts and information among professionals within the engineering community. No other event allows serious users a chance to converse with leading designers of our day — whether it be George Massenburg or John Meyer — and have a meaningful conversation on technical issues or provide user feedback on existing products.
Even away from the Javits Center, the action during AES is nonstop. Numerous off-campus events, parties and demos offer an excellent opportunity to network, make contacts and meet friends — both old and new. Take a quick after-hours cruise of the bars at the main show hotels and you're likely to see somebody scrawling out a product concept, flow diagram or schematic on a rum-stained cocktail napkin, for something that may debut at next year's show.
People are the soul of AES, and every additional person who attends the show makes the party that much better. And if you're at AES, drop by the Mix booth, say hello, give us some feedback and let us know what you think.
See you there!