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View from the Top: Michael MacDonald, ATK Audiotek

The Audio Engineering Society’s 137th International Convention is almost upon us, but for the organizers behind the scenes, the next few weeks are dedicated to perfecting the weekend’s packed schedule and honing in on the highlighted topics.

The Audio Engineering Society’s 137th International Convention is almost upon us, but for the organizers behind the scenes, the next few weeks are dedicated to perfecting the weekend’s packed schedule and honing in on the highlighted topics. Joining the planning efforts for this year’s convention is co-chair Michael MacDonald, who, outside of the AES, has led live sound rental company ATK Audiotek as president for the past two years.

Working with AES 137 co-chair Valerie Tyler, MacDonald’s goal for the convention is to provide an indepth look at the current and future direction the audio industry is taking, as well as a comprehensive resource for audio professionals.

“For recording, live sound, network audio, broadcast and streaming, high-resolution audio, you name it, we have put together an all-inclusive program that will feature the technical and practical aspects of audio, ultimately benefiting attendees, exhibitors, presenters and industry journalists alike,” MacDonald said. “It’s important to remember that audio is a specialty and the AES has always been the organization that has led the industry, set the standards and influenced how audio is implemented across every other market—and that’s why I’m involved.”

Of course, chairing a prominent industry convention requires substantial commitment to the industry, and MacDonald’s passion for audio made him a solid candidate for the position. At 13, he volunteered as an audio operator for a local cable TV channel, which introduced him to the world of audio in broadcasting.

“Most of the remote events we televised needed additional sound gear, but there was no one in town that had the right gear. I started buying equipment and providing the P.A. system in addition to mixing the television audio,” said MacDonald. “I originally wanted to run a camera or be a technical director, but soon I was totally hooked on audio as a career and that has been the same for me for more than 40 years now.”

At the start of his career, MacDonald worked as a freelance or staff engineer for a number of sound companies and bands, but after getting married, decided to enter into the marketing and sales side of the industry. “Ultimately, I obtained an executive management position and continued to do that at several leading pro-audio manufacturers. When I had the chance to get back into the production side of things at ATK, that’s when I decided to make the jump,” he explained.

For the past two years, MacDonald has served as ATK’s president, although he had worked within the company for five years prior. “During that time, I got to know the company and the people well. The company has grown to be one of the leading live sound providers and I feel privileged to be working here,” MacDonald said.

MacDonald first got involved with the AES back in 1985, attending the annual U.S. convention each year and contributing as papers chairperson in the past. “As the technology accelerates, I find that an organization like the AES helps me to remain current and relevant in a quickly changing world.”

That attitude continues into offering his time and commitment to the Society as well, where MacDonald said it’s important for audio professionals to have a way to share their knowledge.

“I think the AES organization is critical to our industry and will be even more important in the future,” MacDonald said. “With only a few universities focused on sound, AES provides a vital link to the huge wealth of knowledge that our members possess. Without the AES, there would be no mechanism for the industry to share the knowledge, or to advance the science of audio in the future.”

That, in turn, is why the annual AES conventions are so vital for the industry, MacDonald added. “There are many other trade events out there, but only one has a singular focus on audio.”

This year, the convention returns to Los Angeles, occupying the Los Angeles Convention Center Oct. 9–12, 2014. With such a strong presence of audio professionals within the Los Angeles area, MacDonald said, the location is a perfect candidate to play host.

“Los Angeles has so many active audio engineering communities, including recording, live sound, motion picture, post production, broadcast, and now gaming. A lot has changed in the area surrounding the Convention Center since the last AES show 12 years ago, and with the LA Live complex right next door, which includes the AES Convention host hotel and more than a dozen restaurants, attendees will find a vibrant, safe and entertaining place to spend the evening after the convention closes,” said MacDonald.

Compared to other trade shows, the AES Convention is scaled down enough to allow exhibitors to meet and discuss more complex issues within the industry. The size also allows professionals of all statuses to collaborate together to strengthen the industry as a whole, said MacDonald. “It’s one of the greatest networking events I have ever been to. From the Grammy-winning engineer to the student just starting out, the AES offers a platform that allows all of those attendees, regardless of stature in the industry, to meet, exchange ideas and learn from each other.” This year’s convention will include a stronger participation in the live sound field, he elaborated, along with a greater presence of organizations such as The Recording Academy, the Digital Entertainment Group, SBE, USITT, SMPTE and the DTV Audio Group. MacDonald’s first goal regarding the 137th AES Convention is to continue to maintain the same high standards for technical content from past conventions, while also making the convention more accessible for students and first-time attendees.

“I think the program reflects a great balance between deep technical information and topics that people new to the industry can learn from and advance their knowledge base,” he said. “I tell end-users all the time that if you want to meet sales and marketing folks, go to other trade shows. But if you crave talking with the engineers that design the products that you use, then you should be headed to AES in Los Angeles!”

ATK Audiotek

Audio Engineering Society