A little over 15 years ago, I was armed with just a rudimentary knowledge of electronics formed from tinkering in the basement, and a newfound interest in trying to best my friends with the biggest and loudest stereo system. I honestly can not recall what the motivation really was, but always an inventor at heart, I sought to solve the relatively simple problem of amplifying sound to an audience. That was the benchmark at the time; simply take a microphone, make it loud enough to overcome 800 students in a gymnasium, and mix in some music painstakingly downloaded on a dial-up connection the night before.
I have always had some deep seeded fear of producing disappointing results, which I think lead to a passion of inventing ways to do it better. This all began very much in the era where the best knowledge you might be able to get was a single website stumbled upon by chance, long before Google and YouTube gave us access to endless tutorials and guides. Coming from a city as well not particularly known for it’s music scene, there wasn’t exactly a club or company I could intern at and rapidly hone my skills. Retrospectively I think back to how difficult it was to obtain knowledge, most of it coming from the guys in a local car stereo shop, and my heavily dog eared Radio Shack catalogs. The only choice was to figure it out as I went along.
I’m sure it is a universal truth among any industry where the quality standards are difficult to benchmark that a little bit of knowledge can be dangerous. Nonetheless, I soldiered on with no real access to knowledge of the pro audio world, but a deep understanding and commitment to improving every step of the process. Laboriously wiring speakers with bare wire was tedious and time consuming. I mounted a connection plate in my equipment case so that I could plug my speakers in faster. At a local battle of the bands, it was hard to hear the singer from my woefully under powered system, and at the suggestion of an audience member, the speakers were set up on top of some tall tables. Shortly thereafter I discovered the pawn shop sold speaker stands, and I procured some with my “good report card” money to improve sound quality and coverage.
One day that would probably be more influential to my career path than any other was at a local music festival. Sound was being provided by a family friend who by consequence of being a musician needing a PA, was also a sound engineer. This festival was where I ran into two early mentors who owned local sound companies. I honestly hope I didn’t annoy them like Timmy in Jurassic Park with a million questions, but it was an eye opening experience to me that there existed a level of quality that I had been seeking, but simply had not discovered. It was that day that I was introduced to what they referred to as a “rider rack” and by extension learned that there are certain models and brands of equipment expected by professional engineers.
At the time I was still in high school, my income was limited to a few dollars here and there renting out my small PA, and by this point there were plenty of companies out there that people could get rider friendly PA systems from. From that point forward the gears started turning in my head that as the means became available for me to purchase something, I should focus on the qualities that would make it attractive to a visiting engineer. A humorous notion now as it would be probably another 5 years before I even found myself in a position that it mattered, but I nonetheless took my fledgling business very seriously.
Another opportunity presented itself, and I spent the summer of my freshman year of college installing alarm systems to help curb the rampant projector theft occurring on campus. $7.25/ hour added up, and soon I had the means to make my first big capital purchase in the form of a brand new Soundcraft LX7ii-24 mixing console. On advice from my mentors, I went with a reputable brand and turned 250 hours of A/V repair work into a shiny console with all the bells and whistles that (I thought) a visiting engineer could ever want. By this point I had begun to take on larger sound jobs with an ever evolving and improving PA system. I was still convinced that at some point a band engineer would walk through the door to mix on my system and prepared for that day.
Around this same time, still thoroughly in the days of analog consoles and racks of equipment, there were many “second tier” products offering similar, but not quite the same performance. It was much cheaper for a small provider to equip their system with these products, but in my head I knew it wasn’t right. I had it in my head that some day when that proverbial visiting engineer showed up to my console, I simply wanted to hand them the reigns and say “here’s the system, with all the requested models you wanted” and let them do their thing. Let’s face it, on any live show there’s no time to feed someone a load of excuses. The job just needs to get done right on the first take.
Fast forward 15 years and we still as a company stick to these original philosophies. We have a team of dedicated and knowledgeable engineers, but we still love to learn the next level of our craft. We have budgets and profit margins that need to be maintained, yet we still don’t settle for the second tier option if first tier is what our visiting engineers are looking for. We’re also cautious to spread out in quantity of events until we push the quality up first.
So there is a little glimpse into the start of Electro Sound Systems. In a later blog post we’ll look into some of the ways that our early desire to invent new things proliferated down to how we do things today. Stay tuned!