Like many people who work in AV, my journey to the industry came about through music. I’m a lifelong, passionate multi-instrumentalist musician, and both a studio and live sound engineer. I’m even lucky enough to have been in a band that had a Billboard chart-topping #1 single some years back. On the business side of things, I worked as the pro audio and MI (musical instrument) buyer for a large and well-known electronics e-commerce company. I eventually left that position and went out on my own to fulfill the entrepreneurial calling that always seemed to be inside my head. In 2009 I launched my own studio, live production and rental business that also had a substantial reselling component of musical instruments and pro audio gear. I felt incredibly lucky to be able to make a living out of doing what I loved.
A few years in, as the client list continued to grow, I started getting requests from clients to not only work on productions and events but also consult on and install audio, acoustics and video systems in auditoriums, venues and other spaces. That eventually led us to do more and more commercial AV integrations, alongside the more traditional pro audio installs — which is where I find myself today.
I know that my journey is not a unique one. Many who work in AV have roots going back to MI. But being that I still have one foot in each industry, I can’t help but notice some parallels between the two (aside from the apparent crossovers in pro audio equipment and manufacturers). In that respect, I’ve made an introspective observation that is a driving force in my business, and well worth sharing. Perhaps it can be eye-opening and reinvigorating for other integrators as well. And while this particular insight may sound cliche at first, I ask you to continue reading as you may draw unexpected conclusions or perspective from these thoughts. I am talking about passion — a significant undercurrent in both the AV and MI industries. And tapping into that passion in novel and informed ways can lead to growth and success.
There is certainly no lack of passion in MI. Even during the most significant downturns — the COVID pandemic being a perfect example — people look to music as a way to be uplifted. Despite greatly reduced consumer spending of disposable income since the lockdowns began in March, MI product sales reached record highs in many categories. For example, Fender Guitars will see 2020 as their biggest year of sales volume in the history of the company. This is contrary to almost every other consumer industry. There’s a simple reason for this: Music ignites a certain kind of passion that cannot be stamped out or dismissed. Walk into any music store on any day, at almost any time, and you can see this passion on display.
Customers who walk into music stores do not usually select an instrument casually off the shelf/floor and head to the register. They will usually pull up a stool, try out different options and spend time with their potential purchase. They will look at colors and finishes, listen to how the sound carries and feel how notes sustain. They pay attention to how the different materials resonate and how smooth the instrument’s texture feels under the fingers. Customers in music stores are often looking for just the right look, the right tone and the right feel. And once an instrument is chosen, all the accessories that come with it need to be meticulously inspected and tested as well. Ultimately the customer is fulfilling a vision of look, sound and feel. It is a full-body, multisensory experience. Some might even call it spiritual. This occurs every day in music stores around the country and around the world. It’s because of the deep underlying passion and need on the part of musicians to express themselves through their music. They need the right tools to hone their craft and then to bring it to their audiences. And when they have the right tools, they sell you on their music through their performances. We’ve all been to live shows where we experience the spiritual heights of being at one with the music and the musician. Having the right tools, equipment and instruments allows performers to reach that pinnacle of live entertainment — that ability to offer the audience a transcendent experience. This is why the process of selecting the right gear is such a personal and passionate one.
Let’s switch gears to commercial AV. When a client reaches out to an integrator for a proposal, the client is looking for a solution. More often than not, the client is not at all particular to a specific brand or product type. In fact, the client usually has no clue what the best options are for the work they need to have completed. All they know is that they have a need or a problem and that they’re looking for the best, most cost-effective solution. I can’t say I’ve ever come across a client who was passionate about the dispersion field, or frequency response of the ceiling-mounted speakers they need, or the pixel pitch of an LED wall they’d like to install. There’s no passion involved in negotiating terms and contracts or signing service agreements. In this case, the end user is generally not passionate about what they need — they just want someone to take care of it the right way. I daresay it can be an almost sterile, transactional process for the client.
So if that’s the case, then where is the passion in AV?
While the passion in the MI industry exists within the customer and the retailers leverage this passion for fueling sales, in the AV industry, the passion lies within us — the integrators, the installers, the sales reps, the designers, the technicians. We spend countless hours, days, months and even years learning the details and specs of ever-changing products and technologies. We learn and test for certifications and then relearn and retest to make sure that we are always at the top of our game. We pore over manuals and spec sheets and attend manufacturer trainings, not just to make sure that we are up to date on all of the details, but because, more often than not, this is what we geek out over! We are genuinely interested and enjoy all of those details. We are passionate about the capabilities of AV technologies. We are passionate about what these technologies can do for our clients.
And here is where the significant detail lies — it is this passion that will convey our unique ability to provide our clients with the solutions they need.
The musician is searching for the perfect look, tone and feel in his instrument, his tool. That is his need. That is the solution he is looking for. When we are working for our clients, we choose and pair the perfect products and technologies — our tools — to craft the solutions that our clients need.
When the musician is on stage, his meticulously chosen instruments and tools bring out his ability to elevate the crowd and, essentially, sell the crowd on his music and abilities as a performer. Audience members can sense the passion, and they want to experience that same passion for themselves. And that’s exactly what we need to do as integrators. We need to convey the passion that we have for our work, products and skills. We need to sell the clients not just on price, not just on a time frame, and not just on our referral list. We need to sell them on our passion for what we do. We need to elevate our clients to a different level where they feel just as excited about the solutions we’re going to provide that they’ll want to be with us every step of the way.
We all have this passion for AV. It’s why we do what we do — but we have to make sure that we can train our teams to tap into that passion and express it when facing our customers and clients. At every touch point the customer has — the salespeople, the designers, the technicians — there should be an expression of passion in servicing their needs. That is the kind of experience that fosters more signed contracts, repeat business, referrals, and, ultimately, greater business growth and success.
Reach down and tap into your inner AV passion. Whatever your journey was that brought you to AV, find your inner thoughts and ideas that ignite excitement, and then bring that out during every interaction with your customers. They’ll notice and want to come along for the ride every single time.