Review: The 135th AES Convention — Which Direction Did This Year’s Show Go?
October 22, 2013 by David Weiss
For everyone involved in the business of recorded music and sound, the onset of the 135th AES convention in New York City had question marks aplenty. Would this tradeshow – which serves as the spiritual hub for everyone involved in professional audio – represent one step ahead or one step back?
A Challenging Precedent
Following the double dose of disappointment that many attendees experienced over the last two years, it was reasonable to brace for another negative in 2013.
After all, the 133rd that took place in San Francisco last year felt marred in many a way: by seemingly sparse attendance, a solid but uninspiring technical program, and some conspicuously absent exhibitors — all while Hurricane Sandy ravaged the East Coast in historic fashion.
In 2011, the 131st AES convention similarly took the wind out of our collective sails. There was major construction going on at NYC’s Jacob Javits center, which relegated the gradually shrinking show to a gloomy corner of the complex, a good half-mile away from the technical program and other special events. The result was a sinking feeling for everybody involved before they even set foot on the floor.
In Wall Street talk, the analysis would be that the AES show was “trending downward.”
In the Moment
But lo and behold for everyone who made it to Manhattan’s Far West side last week, and sensed an energizing uplift in the air before they even printed their badge: AES felt good again.
Back where it belonged in the Javits’ main hall, sunlight spilled over visitors as they entered the center’s main atrium — a healthy harbinger of the refreshed attitude that pervaded the show.
Once inside, that intangible buzz of energy that everyone – exhibitors and visitors alike – long to feel pulsed like a Moog oscillator, and never let up. On the exhibition floor, the return of Avid felt like a fundamental cornerstone that had been put back in place. Meanwhile, all the microphones, monitors, compressors, limiters, and 500 modules that an engineer could reasonably eat filled the aisles.
Yes, as before, virtually no other DAW’s besides Pro Tools were representing, and the plugin developers whose code rules today’s pro audio workflow remained disproportionately few and far between. Still, for those on the lookout there were enough GUI’s to go around.
Down below the show floor, the work of the planning committee, overseen by AES President Frank Wells, Executive Director Bob Moses, and a dedicated team of organizers made the Technical Program pay off in a big way. Attendees faced some serious choices when trying to sift through the appealing array of special events, workshops, special tracks, master classes, and other activities which accompanied the paper sessions and engineering briefs that are always there for the strictly hard-core. (Editor’s Note: On October 25th, the AES announced a five-year high in in registrants for the 135th — 18,453 — a 16% increase over the last NYC convention.)
Beyond the meticulously planned aspects of the convention, of course, is where you get the real idea of where the industry is going. It’s the thousands of spontaneous conversations that break out, whether it’s at the Javits by day or the cross-borough studio parties that liven up each night, where you learn the true tenor of the industry.
Time and again, the recurring motif was this: Most audio professionals are busy as hell, and getting busier. Mixers, engineers, and producers who previously felt embattled by massive change in the music industry are now taking matters into their own hands by finding new ways to make profitable partnerships.
Clever new concoctions of business models involving composers, licensing, artists, audio post offerings, and myriad other multimedia permutations revealed themselves. These weren’t just dreams, but real revenue streams – many people’s innovative plans were well in motion, and already bearing fruit.
And let’s face it – this is NYC. We want to make sure our global guests know there’s more to our town than the Javits. It seems like every convention here we up the nightlife ante, and just 12 months removed from a paralyzing storm the Big Apple displayed its nonstop drive once again.
There’s heavy audio activity all across the five boroughs, but as nightly events at Mission Sound, The Brewery, Studio G (see the party pics below), and many more confirmed, the rapid expansion of Brooklyn is on – its mannered rivalry with Manhattan has firmly established NYC as the world’s Twin Cities of recording.
Don’t Look Back
There are those who note that the annual AES isn’t what it once was. And if you compare it to the year 1996, for example — when I first attended the show and was overwhelmed by the seemingly nonstop aisles of gear taking up multiple exhibition halls at the Javits — they’re right.
But hardly anyone had an email address or Website then either, tracking to tape was still the norm, and the first #1 single to be recorded, edited, and mixed completely in Pro Tools (“Livin’ la Vida Loca” by Ricky Martin) was still three years off.
In the meantime, don’t bother talking about the big ole’ days of the show to the legions of young faces that were all over the 135th. This year’s convention attracted a lot of new blood, and most of them don’t know or care what the business used to be.
They’re moving forward. And after four dynamic days in New York City, it looks like all of audio is doing the same.
- David Weiss