A word about the current state of audio shows

Audio Show Logos

fter a year-and-half of dealing with the scourge that is COVD-19, this fall looked to have a semblance of a chance of audio shows returning and having some measure of safe attendance. Over this trying time for everyone, I’ve heard some people pontificate that the audio show, as a necessary form of getting attention and buzz, is dead.

Companies don’t need to spend the money and effort to announce or showcase their products in this internet connected age. Virtual shows will be all the rage and you can watch all this stuff on your connected device whenever the whim strikes you. So best to knock off audio shows altogether they say. They are the equivalent of an appendix, old, of little use and simply meant to be cut off and discarded at the earliest convenience. Personally, I think this line of thinking is nuts. Humans are social creatures and I for one miss the interaction with industry colleagues and company reps, both when talking about the business at hand and to just plain catch up or horse around. But, more importantly, audio and home theater itself is about the experience. The aural, the visual and the tactile. In the context of of hearing seeing and touching a product at a live event, it’s not something that can be adequately expressed in such a disconnected fashion as watching it on YouTube on your evening commute (if you still have one). Producing a truly mind-blowing experience specifically for watching on your computer or even your big-screen TV is an expensive and labor intensive proposition. Far more expensive than sending some product and some good-natured staff to a hotel/convention center for a little one-on-one time with your client base. I’ve sat through enough virtual product launches this year to know that rigging up some cameras and having folks read off a teleprompter or just casually chat with you on a Zoom call is, at best, an act of desperate necessity in this current time. In business-speak, it doesn’t “close the sale.”

This is why it was all the more soul-crushing to see what has happened to CEDIA 2021 this past week. Infection numbers and hospitalizations due to the mutated Delta variant of the COVID-19 virus have precipitously risen. This prompted committed exhibitors at CEDIA to reassess and pull out of the show en masse. And who can blame them? Exhibitors have to look out for their staff and their families too. And having a bunch of people in a large, enclosed space, (even with masks and distancing protocols) with the numbers going up as they are at the moment made for a tragic perfect storm. Savant was the first big company to bail on August 10th, followed by Snap One and then Sound United on the 12th and 13th respectively. After that, it was like dominoes falling. Looking and a map of the current CEDIA show floor, one sees nothing but a sea of red “X’s” where at one time exhibitors used to be. I had initially not planned to cover CEDIA at all for Secrets. Around the middle of July, I had changed my mind after seeing the exhibitor list and seeing how Indianapolis was a only short drive for me from Columbus. Even after the first big three exhibitors dropped out, I was still committed to go, if just to cover the smaller brands and at least give them a little love. But after a few days it was obvious that everyone of any consequence was bailing out and, at that point, so did I.

So, with CEDIA now not being covered, AXPONA just announcing that they have rescheduled to April of next year, and Rocky Mountain Audio Fest announcing that they not only canceled the 2021 show but that RMAF is now permanently defunct altogether, where does that leave us? It seems that only the smaller shows like CanJAM SoCal (September 25 – 26), Toronto Audio Fest (October 22 – 24), and Capital Audio Fest (November 5 – 7) are the only ones left in the mix to close out the year. Most of us in the biz had received the recent update email from Marjorie Baumert and Marcie Miller of RMAF where they confirmed that the show was still a go and they dispelled rumors of exhibitors dropping out, etc. When I read it, I couldn’t help but detect a hint of defiance in the tone of that email. Whether it was directed at show naysayers or the situation in general I don’t know but I applauded it. In almost two years of doing without a show, it was refreshing to feel the determination displayed, if nothing else. Sadly though that determination proved insufficient as we now all know. My generally optimistic nature hopes that each of the remaining shows can pull off their respective events in good order. I think as a community and an industry, they need to happen. Certainly not at all costs, the virus situation is nothing if not fluid and dangerous and no one’s safety is less important than shuffling around a hotel or convention center to listen to some cool gear. But if they can go on safely and responsibly then it’ll be a shot in the arm (pun intended) collectively for our little corner of geekdom.

So where do we stand right now? Well we dropped plans to cover RMAF for obvious reasons and the Toronto and CAF shows are still question marks for the time being. In the meantime, some other intriguing things will be coming your way in the form of coverage from Secrets. I write this as I am sitting in my mother’s house in Toronto (yes, they let me cross the border, Hallelujah!). I just completed a lovely visit to Paradigm, in next door Mississauga, where I had a great sit-down chat with Scott and John Bagby. We will be editing the video footage together to bring to you soon. There are other things currently in the hopper too but until we can announce those, we hope you and your loved ones continue to be safe and well. Let’s all do our bit to kick this virus to the curb and get on with the business of living.

All the best.

Carlo Lo Raso
Carlo Lo Raso