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Concert venues: every investment counts

In the second part of this feature we consider how the audio provision in concert venues is changing as budgets become increasingly constrained. Manufacturers are now being tasked with delivering price-conscious systems that can handle multiple applications.

Having previously outlined the uncertain landscape many small to medium-sized concert venues are operating in, we now look at the impact this is having on the audio provision in these environments

With sponsorship also harder to come by, the reality is that for the venues that do remain there is an evermore acute need to make every penny, every investment count – and one area in which this is particularly evident is in their choice of audio systems. Arguably top of the list of requirements is flexibility; with the need to minimise ‘days in the dark’, many smaller venues are booking a more diverse range of attractions, from music to theatre to stand-up. Therefore, the ability to accommodate the requirements of these performance types – and the preferences of touring engineers – is absolutely pivotal.

Increasingly, venue technical managers regard IP audio as a conduit to flexibility, and so support for IP-based workflows is often de rigueur for new system purchases. So too is the ability to integrate any bits of gear visiting engineers may particularly wish to use, such as portable recorders or preferred processors.

Sensing the change in the wind, so to speak, vendors have been increasingly expert in satisfying these demands, offering increasingly versatile solutions at highly competitive price points. This increased dynamism in the market has been good for creativity, spurring R&D teams to new heights. Although most apparent when it comes to consoles – where highly specified desks with smaller footprints that enable more space to be retained for seats and other venue functions – the trend is also evident with regard to loudspeakers and amplifiers.

“For sure, we expect more bang for our buck when it comes time to invest in new equipment,” says the anonymous venue manager. “In a typical month we can be putting on solo artists, five-piece bands, stand-ups, small theatre ensembles – you name it – and we need to be able to have them all sound equally compelling, and often on very short turnarounds. Visiting engineers need to be able to come in and feel comfortable with our systems as quickly as possible, which means they need to be familiar brands; it’s no good having a system that might be fantastic but which no regular engineer has had the chance to use before! You want tried and trusted gear.

“We have worked with the same audio installer and distributor for many years now, which has been hugely advantageous. They are always drawing our attention to new systems and new bits of kit that feed into our thinking when it comes time to renew or upgrade our infrastructure. And it’s true what you say – you can get smaller, cheaper systems that are more capable than their equivalents would have been four or five years ago. But then they might not have the IP audio capability, or support for immersive audio, that we might require over the next few years. So it’s a constant balancing act.”

Something to which the leading pro audio manufacturers would doubtless attest as they have sought to keep pace with this rapidly evolving market area.

‘Price is still the dominant factor’
Sound reinforcement manufacturer Nexo has long enjoyed a strong presence in the concert hall and theatre market. In the UK its primary distributor is Orbital Sound, whose director of sales, Andy Simmons, confirms that price is still the dominant consideration for smaller venues when it comes time to invest. And unfortunately, it can often be the case that audio loses out to lighting and other systems.

“There are heavy demands being placed on the infrastructure budgets of these venues, and sound always tends to be the poor relation,” explains Simmons. “I’ve just been speaking with a customer who is happy to spend £64,000 on moving lights, but unhappy to pay £4,000 for a sound system! It is hard to get people to spend money, but I think it has ever been thus. What is distorting the picture is the willingness of suppliers to cut their margins, and for certain manufacturers to supply direct.”

Delivering price-conscious systems that can handle multiple applications inside a venue has helped to ensure Nexo’s continued success in these markets, indicates Simmons. “Nexo has been targeting the theatre market specifically in recent years, and they’ve always been a strong brand for the live music venue and concert hall sector,” he says. “With products like the GEO M6 and M10 line arrays and the super-compact ID Series, we’re able to design price-competitive systems that can handle the main PA and under-balcony requirements with coherently voiced product families. When those products come as part of an Orbital Sound package, the added value is in system design, racks and wiring – all the infrastructure that you get from a good distributor which would not be included in the low-priced offers that are out there.”