An informal survey...

Discussion in 'Mastering' started by Thomas W. Bethel, Feb 22, 2007.

  1. Thomas W. Bethel

    Thomas W. Bethel Well-Known Member

    This is a very informal survey of the health of the audio community in your geographical area of the world.

    Here is what is happening here in Northern Ohio...

    Within the past two months our only Pro Audio dealer who has been in business since the late 1960's closed up shop literally overnight. The original owner had died a couple of years ago and it was being run by his family.

    The largest independent music retailer in this area just shut down all operations and is closing all of his stores. The owner is going to work for Sweetwater.

    The major cassette and CD duplicator in this area is on very shaky ground and may close any day. He has fired all of his employees and only his relatives are currently working at the plant.

    The concert sound business has gone into the toilet and no one seems to be able to make any money by providing sound for bands and the only way they seem to be able to survive is to provide sound for corporate events.

    There are more and more recording studios opening but there are also more and more studios closing down. Many of the major players that have been around for decades are gone and even some of the medium studios are finding it difficult to keep their doors open.

    Our local pro audio marketing company says that 11 of their dealers have closed up shop since in the 1st of January.

    Even Sam Ash and Guitar Centers seem to be struggling and I see less and less pro audio gear and more and more low end gear.

    Things are pretty bleak here and about and I am wondering if this is a local or regional thing or if this is the way the whole pro audio community is going?

    Thanks in advance for any posts.....
     
  2. Michael Fossenkemper

    Michael Fossenkemper Distinguished past mastering moderator Well-Known Member

    wow, pretty bleak. Not quite as bad here, but not good either. Lots of labels are closing, these weren't profitable labels even when things were healthy, so it was only a matter of time. The pro audio shops that carry the upper end stuff are having a real hard time. The guitar centers etc... are doing well. Sales on the lower end stuff, i've heard, is at an all time high. There was a big boom of indie labels that cropped up when the majors collapsed, mostly by those that were let go by the majors. Now they've run out of money and are going away as fast as they came. a lot of the bigger studios have cut way back, even to the point of giving up lots of their space or sharing it with other companies. Most of my engineer friends have left the biz or suppliment it in other ways. The jingle industry has imploded. The landscape has certainly changed a lot over the last few years.
     
  3. Massive Mastering

    Massive Mastering Well-Known Member

    I think the 12th Guitar Center within 100 miles just opened recently around here...

    I almost tripped over one last week.

    Not that it's (the industry as a whole regionally) on a big upswing, but it seems fairly consistent.
     
  4. Cucco

    Cucco Distinguished Member

    Well...I've been seeing a bleek picture around here myself. While I continue to grow and gain some higher-end clients, many of my basic/bread-and-butter clients are going away due to undercutting. Mainly I refer to classical recording since that is by far the bulk of my work.

    I lost 2 major clients over the past 3 months both of whom were taken by lower bids and lower quality. In one case, a High School ensemble was taken by a LIVE SOUND contractor (who threw up some el-cheapo large diaphragm condensers and burned straight to CD) and the other was taken by a kid who has a B***inger mixer and a few AT 2020s and also burned straight to CD.

    The funny thing is- customers who purchased the CDs called me to complain about the quality. I've been doing the work for 8 years and they thought it was me who did the recording, so they called.

    I think eventually that will swing back around.

    As for the pro audio stores, etc. There are 2 guitar/pro audio shops within 6 blocks of eachother here in town. Neither of them seems to be suffering. However, their biggest items are guitars and private lessons studios, not pro audio (the highest end stuff they carry is some Audix gear).

    The BIG pro audio shop - Chuck Levin's Washington Music Center is still doing just fine.

    As for studios...I see a new "basement" studio advertised every week. I also see new small commercial studios pop up every once in a while, but give them a year or two and they go away b/c they can't pay their bills.

    The one thing that I have seen is that the majority of these studios aren't opened by people who know a damn thing about recording. They own a couple 57s, a B***inger mixer and a cracked copy of Cubase so they think they can make some money.

    I think we're in the downward swing of a DIY cycle. Give it a little time and people will give up on it by and large. It's just like the housing thing. For the longest time, the DIY programs on TV were HUGELY popular and people were rushing Lowes and HD like crazy. Now, people are just going to tile or carpet stores and having other people do the work for them.

    It goes in waves. We just happen to be at the crappy point of the wave right now...
     
  5. JoeH

    JoeH Well-Known Member

    Good points, Jeremy. Of course, the short answer is: the only constant is change, all around us. We're not immune to change in this business, either. One of my favorite movies is Glenngary-GlennRoss. ("Third prize...set of steak knives!") The sad lessons of "A-B-C" in that story will always haunt me.

    If you want proof of constant change, just take a look at how much the overall process- from live concert recording, to studio tracking to mastering has changed in the last 10-15 years. By 1960's or 1970's standards, it's all but unrecognizable now.

    In some ways, it's still evolving. Look at the new crop of hand-held, 2-mic palm-sized recorders. You KNOW that a lot of savvy choir directors and wanna-be soloists are going to jump on them, if they haven't already. (It's the Sony MD player on steroids!) Perhaps that's a good thing, it'll teach them how tough it is to REALLY get it right, let them practice more for the REAL sessions, and in the end, raise the bar on our client's total awareness of the process. We wont get the Fisher-Price, starter-pet type recordings as much anymore, and perhaps that's just as well. Let 'em do it themselves.

    Same with editing and CD copying. (Gee, remember making cassette dubs in real time? :shock: ) It's really not so strange anymore for folks to make their own quick copies when they need to rip a track for an MP3 upload to their MySpace website, etc. (And they sure don't need ME to do that anymore...back in the late 90's, they were all but helpless....now anyone with a PC or MAC can do it. It's another area I don't make the $$ that I used to make...)

    Same with video clips. Any fool with a camera (still or motion) can put clips up on YouTube and generate world-wide interest. Sure, it's low-res and bad production quality all too often, but not always, and more importantly, it's changed everything, from exposing criminals to bad starlet's behavior in public. Gone are the days when clueless clients had to pay for simple editing and transfer of crappy VHS stuff. (Good riddance!)

    It's certainly easier for just about anyone to come to the table now for entry-level stuff, but there's no subsitute for experience and all the high-end gear, software, etc. that goes into making a masterpiece. Sure, some folks get lucky (not unlike the lottery) and occasionally have freak successes with nothing more than a couple of mics or camcorder running. We all know it's not THAT easy, but try telling that to marketing at Alesis, Tascam, Yamaha and thousands of others selling their wares to kids bubbling over with new enthusiasm.

    I think the low-end of the business continues to fall away with all of the DYI stuff, and the everpresent "ANYONE can do this at home" approach.

    I too recently went into GC and SA a few weeks ago. (In a surreal way, similar to a Starbucks on every corner, we actually have one of each in the same shopping mall near here, in Cherry Hill, NJ. The are literlly five or six storefronts apart from each other.) I haven't been in one in a long time, and I nearly gagged at the cheap-o mic stands and cables, the dozens of plastic-shmastic keyboards (that seem to trigger entire songs on ONE key), and endless drums, guitars, amps and crapola assesories that good-intentioned parents can buy somewhat affordably for their kids. Of course you get what you pay for, so it's anyone's guess what really happens with that stuff once they get it home.

    I have a "2 out of 3" rule for most of my clients; for every three of them, two will be regulars and won't require too much maintenance. But be VERY sure at least one of them will wander, or want to try something DIY, or have their friend's friend's brother do something for them cheaper, easier, etc. (And in the end: Crappier.) And never count on ANY of them as solid, never-going-to-go-away clients. We all know that could change in a heartbeat.

    I recently did a 2-camera recital (with high end audio) for a client/violinist. She paid for the sessions & a CD temp, but didn't have the $$ to edit the video to picture, etc. So, now, months later, she has a "Friend" with a Mac and Final Cut who wants to edit it for her. NO PROBLEM in this case; (its' pretty tedious stuff anyway), I'm going to give her the masters, have her sign a release form that they are the ONLY copies of the performance, and wish them well. I have a feeling they'll be back for the juicier stuff anyway: full sync with the music & DVD Authoring. She could learn to do that herself too, but with clients like that, I'm banking on the fact that they'd rather perfect their art (the music/instrument) than spend too much time learning software.

    Even if they don't, it's a sign to me that things are always changing, and my own business model has to stay ahead of the curve to survive. With all the ease of home computers, the web, email, etc., it's easier all the time, and my clients get more sophisticated every day.

    One of my best friends still plies his trade in analog repairs and restoration work, and he's been going broke for about ten years now. I can't help him, and I can't make him see that the world is passing him by, just as it did when the old labor-intensive factories began to close, and telephone operators no longer had to physically plug jacks into patch bays to complete calls.

    It's always changing; the moment we forget that, we get run over or left behind.
     
  6. Michael Fossenkemper

    Michael Fossenkemper Distinguished past mastering moderator Well-Known Member

    I don't think anyone is disputing change. I like change, I bore easily. The problem is that companies in the business of selling music aren't doing well. If the music doesn't sell, no money for the next one. Sooner or later they will figure out how to sell music in this new world and make a profit. Until then, it's going to be ruff going for a lot of people that earn their living as studios or engineers. Right now a lot of the industry is living off of the hope of breaking even. a local band scrapes together enough money to record something, presses 1000 cd's and hopes to sell enough to cover their costs.

    It looks like it's going to get a little worse before it gets better. In the meantime, high end gear purchases get put on the backburner. kind of a bad cycle. I remember feeling a similar feeling around 89 when a lot of the big NYC studios closed up shop because others were buying SSL consoles and the old guys were still paying off their older boards etc...
     
  7. JoeH

    JoeH Well-Known Member

    Agreed, Michael, but with all due respect to everyone reading this, it's still about survival of the fittest, on every level... that will never change, and spending time complaining about the results of inevitable change is simply counterproductive, IMHO. It might indeed get worse before it gets better, no argument from me there. I know too that's easy for me to say, I'm in a fairly busy market here on the East Coast. (it also means there's someone constantly nipping at my heels to undercut and outsmart me....old dog that I'm becoming!)

    I guess my question really is: Why SHOULD it stay the same for us in the music biz? The guys who did typesetting for ink & paper newspapers are long out of biz (many say the days of real-paper newsies is quickly coming to an end, as well...) Ditto for movies, books, even foodstores.
    With every new microphone, piece of software, mixer, CD burner, etc., we see new changes and developments that can (or already have) change our way of working. Ignore it at our peril.

    True story: there are (were) three guys here in my city who basically do what I do. (Let's call me guy #3.) Guy #1 runs the audio department & recital recording of a MAJOR East coast music school, and has had the gig for over 26 years - he was a grad there as well. He understandably got a little lazy & cozy in his gig....why not? He (and the school) aren't going anywhere any time soon.

    A change comes to the school, and the old director retires. Unknown to Guy #1, Guy #2 has an "IN" with the new/incoming music director (a violinist/pal/client of his from another major orchestra in the area.) So, to no one's ultimate surprise, Guy #2 gets a brand-new contract with the school (for a 1 yr trial, at first...) while Guy #1 is SHOWN THE DOOR and is gone....poof! Just like that. So much for seniority.

    Guy #1 calls me to complain about Guy #2, and is of course now looking for work. (What can I do? Give him MY clients??? I feel bad for him, but not THAT bad....)

    Two years later, Guy #1 has gone back to playing full time, and since he never bought any gear of his own, is pretty much out of the local scene. (While me, Guy #3, breathes a big sigh of relief that there will be one less competitor out there sniffing around MY clients.) I hold no ill will to either one - we're all friendly competitors - but I never take ANY client for granted, nor any gig as permanent. I hold my breath every time the new season is announced around here.

    Every client that learns to burn his own CD, make their own demos, put their own MP3's on their website can be an asset or a problem. We have to learn ways to adapt, every day. Things will NEVER stay static.

    The smaller markets are probably in terrible shape right now, and I certainly sympathize. All I can say is be ever vigilant, watch the skies and check which way the wind is blowing, EVERY DAY. (And sell that old useless gear on Ebay as quickly as you can!)
     
  8. Michael Fossenkemper

    Michael Fossenkemper Distinguished past mastering moderator Well-Known Member

    "And sell that old useless gear on Ebay as quickly as you can!"

    we need more people to think like this. That way people like me can buy GREAT gear for pennies on the dollar.
     
  9. TrilliumSound

    TrilliumSound Active Member

    I'll be watching too :)
     
  10. Thomas W. Bethel

    Thomas W. Bethel Well-Known Member

    Great replies as always from the best of the best.....

    The reason for my posting this informal survey was to inquire what was going on globally and not to sound like the end of the world scenario had befallen this area.

    Our business has had to adapt and change and I think one thing that I have learned over the past couple of years is to stay lean and flexible. Don't carry a lot of dept and be fast to adapt to changes in the market place. Also staying in touch with your clients is money well spent...

    The CD duplicator that I spoke of in my original posting was someone that was a very good person, did excellent work but got way to over equipped to do cassette duplication just when cassettes were on their way out. He also put in a very expensive "clean room" to do loading of VHS tapes just about the time that DVDs were gaining ground. I toured his plant a couple of weeks ago and it was saddening to see all the cassette duplication equipment worth literally thousands of dollars sitting quietly not working and to see all the printing and publishing equipment also sitting unused. He did everything right but he did not read the market place very well.

    The major music retailer I mentioned tried to go up against Sam Ash and GC on there terms and even though for a while he was winning the war the bottom line was that GC and Sam Ash just kept winning the small battles for clients and after a while they won the war by default. Since the local music retailer is gone I am sure that the prices at GC and Sam Ash will go up a notch. (The same thing happened when Boders came into this area. They had a large selection and their prices were very good. When all the little Mom and Pop record stores went out of business Borders raised their prices overnight by three to four dollars a CD"

    Our pro audio dealer that went belly up was due to a number of factors that are too complicated to go into here but the one thing that kept people coming back to his shop was the owner who was well liked and respected in Pro Audio community and who was the driving force behind the shop. When he died suddenly his family tried to keep things going but they did not have the same drive and ambition that he had and slowly but surely things went down hill and they finally lost the store. He was passionate about his work and often would make trips to deliver materials or equipment late at night after his store closed. These deliveries were most times accompanied by some special food items that he liked to bring along because he was a friend as well as a retailer. I will miss the store but I miss the person more.

    This geographical area is commonly referred to as the "rust belt" This area was very strong when it came to iron and steel production and heavy industry but that all started to go away in the 70's and 80's and by the 90's it all was gone. This was due to a number of factors that I am sure anyone can look up on the web. It is really strange to read that there will be a mall with a Wal-Mart in it standing on the grounds where one of the biggest steel mills in the world formally stood.

    There is a famous saying that "today is the first day of the rest of your life" and is something that I think all of us should look at every day when it comes to how we run our businesses and how we look at our futures. Nothing stays the same and it was probably much the same in the 1890-1910 era when we went from a horse economy to a motor vehicle economy and the people who made buggy whips and carriages either started doing something different or went out of business overnight.

    Thanks for all the replies so far and keep them coming.....
     
  11. BobRogers

    BobRogers Well-Known Member

    If you think long term, the early recording era (the last 70 years) was really an unusual time for music. So much more money came into the music industry than was ever there before. We may end up looking back on that era as more of a freak occurrence than the norm.

    Blacksburg is "centrally located" (200 miles from anywhere) so things are probably somewhat different around here than some of the other reports.
    1. The live music bar scene is just about dead. This is an old story. Probably a function of a higher drinking age and tougher drunk driving laws.
    2. No Guitar Center close by. The competition has been from the internet. Music stores that do a good job providing music lessons have stayed in business. (Hands-on job that can't be outsourced.) I'm not sure that anyone ever made much money around here selling instruments - no one was ever very good at it.
    3. I've never been all that impressed with recording studios around here, but my impression is that the digital equipment revolution has helped them close the gap with higher end studios. A few music stores have started provided recording services - jumping into the "semipro" role that others have described. Quality is as described above.
    4. Houses of Worship are the big market for live sound equipment. I know four churches in Blackburg with better PAs than the best club PA in town. Have to be a lot more. In fact, there is probably more live rock music played on Sunday morning than on Saturday night.

    Since the subject of local music stores has be brought up, let me contribute my rant. IMO Guitar Center and Sam Ash aren't very good stores because they don't have to be. They are competing with some of the worst run businesses that have ever graced the American main street. Joe mentions the Guitar Center and Sam Ash that are in the same strip mall in Cherry Hill. Well I grew up in Columbus (just head north on rt 38 and make a left on 206) in the days before the internet, and I had to deal with all the crappy stores that GC and SA put out of business. If a big corporation was looking around small town USA and looking for low hanging fruit that would drop over at the first sigh of real competition it would not look past the typical local music store. If you want to be nostalgic for the days of high markups, no repair facilities, rotten expertise go ahead. In my experience, the music stores that really knew what they were doing have stayed in business (though, yes, it's tougher). The ones who are out are the ones who never did anything more than GC (as if someone deserves a 40% markup for taking a guitar out of a box and hanging it on the wall.)
     
  12. MadTiger3000

    MadTiger3000 Active Member

    Excellent thread.

    I would love to formally assist anyone who wants to put together strategic plans to guide their business in the coming years, exploring several possible scenarios.

    CV available upon request.

    Have worked for two Fortune 50.
     
  13. JoeH

    JoeH Well-Known Member

    Kudos to all in this excellent thread....I keep coming back looking for more.

    Tom; I know exactly what you mean about the "Rust Belt". Bethlehem PA is about 2 hrs north of here, and it's a perfect indication of that, as well. Ditto for just about any PA town north and west of here. (Phila is down in the teeny-tiny corner of the state.....the rest of the state is quite different indeed. Philly is on the Delaware, very close to NJ and NYC, just north of Baltimore and DC so it's kind've one big huge megalopolis now.)

    Bethlehem, Scranton and Allentown were steel and coal towns, Shanendoah was a mining town, etc., and they have all suffered since everything went bust. (I believe the steel mills in Bethlehem are being converted to something strange...a museum? a Mall? Walmart? Condos? I forget, but I Know it was bizarre to read about it at the time...)

    And Bob, I forgot about all the houses of worship that are now hi-tech. I saw a little of this coming back in the 80's and 90's with some of the installs I was involved with as a consultant, but never in my wildest dreams did I think it would catch on the way it has. (Gotta put butts in the seats regardless, eh?? :wink: ) There's even an indsutry magazine on the order of PSN or MIX, now, called "Church Production" , geared exclusively for houses of worship, and they sell PA, lighting, recording and all kinds of projection gear in there. (Talk about gear-porn! Hahah)

    The bar scene is indeed very different now with tougher drinking laws (as it should be, of course) and more instant entertainment, like DJs, Kareoke, satellite HD TV sports, etc. I wouldn't know where to go around here for a decent live band. Once in a great while we catch a good combo or soloist somewhere, but it's extremely rare.

    The opportunities are out there, but it's tougher than ever to find them, hold on to them, and make some money out of them.

    As for Ebay, one of the first things I'd list is an old Yamaha REV7, that I haven't fired up in years, in need of a little work (Panel lights are out, but the unit functions...) Any takers, email me privately. :cool:

    Then there are those cassette decks. I"ve tossed most of them out, but I'm still keeping my last two 3-head decks, one for transfers, and one as a backup, on a shelf in storage.
     
  14. Axman27

    Axman27 Guest

    The revolution of Digital Recording and the Internet have been positive for me.

    1)I went from spending lots of money on studio time, so the studio owner can buy better equipment for himself...to spending that money on my own studio to buy my own equipment.

    2)I went from spending money to produce/print a CD, only to break even and end up with a box full of "profit" CD's....to spending money on a website to post my MP3's for local radio play.

    3)I went from begging the local music shop owner to special order the equipment i needed...to going online and getting the best deals delivered to my door.

    4) I went from checking out every audio engineering book at libraries and buying them from music shops....to just using google and forums like this.

    In short if you are a musician that likes to make music...there is very little stopping you. If you just want to make money then its just going to be a hard road from here on out. IMO this is going to make music less corporate and more artistic...which is always good for the artist. Art for Art's sake.
     

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