Let's Talk About Luxurious Premium Audio Shows
If you're an audiophile, you've almost certainly either been to a high-fidelity audio event (Hi-Fi Show) or wanted to go to one.
Back in the days before I got into the industry, every time CES the Consumer Electronics Show came around (There used to be two of them Las Vegas and Chicago), I would always ask my industry friends if they had gone to it; how they liked it; what had been the hit of the Show; and what new great stuff I should hunt down and buy for myself.
Invariably, the answer I got was that they had been too busy working their own exhibits to actually go and see or listen to anybody else's; and that they had effectively seen or heard nothing.
That was back years ago, when hi-fi was following the great hi-fi boom of the late 1950s and 1960s when stereo LP records were first introduced, and the second boom in the 1980s, when CDs came along offering "perfect sound forever," a common interest, and everybody not just audiophiles, but even the general public, wanted to know about the latest and greatest hi-fi (and later Home Theater) toys and goodies.
Weirdly, CES was just about the only real Hi-Fi Show around at that time, and it was "for the trade, only". That didn't keep all us Hi-Fi Crazies (as I and my friends called ourselves) from going to it anyway, (we just found a dealer or industry friend to get us Show badges), but it did help to keep the number of other "sneak-ins" down.
Now, though, Hi-Fi Shows abound, and the problem is that the hi-fi hobby isn't the hot thing it used to be. If you go to a Show now, as I just did recently (It's Show season, and lots of them are around and/or coming in what seems to be rapid succession), what you're most likely to see is lots of older men. (hi-fi has always been a man's hobby) but except maybe in the headphone exhibit areas not many other people.
At this Show as at every other Show I've been to or exhibited at in recent years -- only a few younger people were there; a limited number of women; and no children at all. What does that tell you about the future of our hobby?
I became a Hi-Fi Crazy at age twelve. So did lots of other people of my generation. Where's the next generation of audiophiles or even just buyers for our industry's products going to come from if we can't get new people not just children, obviously, but young adults and young marrieds to even have enough interest to go to a Show?
I love our hobby and I love our industry and I love music, and I love the Hi-Fi Shows that are our very best opportunity to keep them all going. But I think that it's time and maybe long past time for those of us who are in a position to forward them to do so, and to make our industry great again.
Where will the Shows be if there are no new people to attend them? And where will our industry be if the current generation of audiophiles passes without a new one to replace it? And where will we current audiophiles be if the industry stops advancing and there are no new toys and goodies for us to listen to, long for, lust after, and ultimately buy?
And, on a different but closely related subject, what of the music makers and the record companies? Who's going to buy a beautiful and fabulous sounding recording of Paraguayan harp music or Bach for Moog Synthesizer without first having heard it? And where's a better place to hear new and wonderful things than a demonstration suite at a Hi-Fi Show? Think what helped singing Bulgarian women to get their 1990 Grammy Award for Le Mystere des Voix Bulgares, and about countless other offbeat but wonderful pieces of music like the Swedish perennial, Jazz at the Pawnshop that became Show demo classics and went from there to sales numbers they would never have had otherwise.
Hi-fi and music are both things that people can easily make an important part of their lives if they are just exposed to them. That's where Shows come in. If done and promoted properly, Shows can whet their appetite for both better sound and new music, but the Shows DO have to be done properly.
The first thing that the industry, the exhibitors, and the Show promoters need to decide is what their purpose is in exhibiting. If it's just to let rich old audiophiles hear what's new and available for purchase, I can certainly understand what I see at most shows: They assume that people are interested, otherwise they're not going to show up. The promoters make the rooms and tickets expensive because there won't be a lot of attendees, and they have to cover their costs.
And exhibitors , perhaps rightly, understand that the majority of attendees will be committed hobbyists; that they will know what it is that they're listening to; and that they'll be able to make their own decisions without a lot of help from exhibitor staff, so they don't actively introduce their products; tell people what's so great about them; and actively try to get them to want what they're selling.
That's what I've mostly seen. But what if that approach is based on a mistaken assumption? What if there really is a whole new audience out there who love music; would be excited by hearing it in better sound; and might even be potential customers and audiophiles if only you could get them to go to the Show?
Right now, that's not likely to happen, and there are at least three reasons why:
If we're going to try to expand Show attendance to appeal to a broader segment of the public and, hopefully, bring more people in to enjoy and continue our hobby and our industry, there are many things we can do. Even just to make Shows more enjoyable to those who do go to them and more productive for their promoters and exhibitors, a lot of improvement can be made.
To try to be of assistance with some tips and suggestions on how that might be done, I wrote, some years ago, a Guide For Show Exhibitors (PDF) on how to "do" an event most effectively and with the best results for all concerned exhibitors, promoters, and attendees. The editors of this publication have been kind enough to make this available shortly online to any industry member, exhibitor, or show promoter. Hopefully, people will take advantage of it; luxurious premium audio events will be more successful; and I hope more people will eventually attend too.