Returning to Frankfurt Prolight + Sound and MusikMesse for the second incarnation of the restructured show was again a slightly unsettling experience. Most long term attendees of the combined shows felt they were visiting an entirely different event to the outing our industry has long depended on as a touchstone for everything music, audio and entertainment related.Depending on whom you spoke to, you could be forgiven for thinking that participants were discussing an entirely different show to the one taking place in the next hall, and in some cases, on the next stand.
Pro audio has established a firm foothold in hall 3.1 where most of the major brands were represented, with console manufacturers dominating the centre of the space, and new or updated speaker products everywhere you looked. Notable launches included 10 new speaker, stage monitor and amp products from Martin Audio, as well as LD Systems’ collaboration with Porsche Design Studio on a column PA system, and new speakers from Funktion-One, Amadeus, Coda Audio, Focal, Audac, JBL, dB Technologies and L-Acoustics.
There were a few consoles launches, including SSL’s newest and smallest Live desk, the L200 and the Cadac CDC seven. DiGiCo was showing the SD12 which it had launched independently in January to coincide with the touring season, which according to the company is starting earlier than it used to. And the Stage Tec revealed the Avatus, a large-format IP-based mixing console.
On that theme, this year’s show confirmed that professional audio is now rapidly moving into the world of IT, as the broadcast market has been doing for a while now, with ‘Dante spoken here’ signs displayed on stands everywhere as manufacturers scramble to get onboard with the networking possibilities the protocol offers. 3D sound and spatial audio is also hitting its stride, with many launches and upgrades reflecting the new formats.
So far, so Frankfurt, and many companies declared themselves happy with PL&S and the market opportunities it represents for their business. But new product launches and technology updates aside, there were lots of concerns about where PL+S is headed. While some were satisfied with the level of international visitors they were seeing, most people felt the numbers were down, with others even venturing that the show is turning into a local event.
As PL+S opened on the Tuesday, a day before MusikMesse got going, the first day was notable for its lack of visitors. Even the most positive participators were commenting on the tumbleweed blowing through the aisles, which in their emptiness were revealed to be wider than usual between stands. Things did pick up the following day, to the extent where people were talking up a good show in some parts of some halls, but again this depended on whom you talked to, and their expectations of the show.
A few major companies were notable by their absence this year, namely Sennheiser, Meyer Sound, HK Audio, Eve Audio and Electro-Voice. These absences left not only a gap in the pro audio hall but dents in the confidence of fellow exhibitors. However other companies still felt that Frankfurt was the right environment for their market and important product launches, and pledged to keep attending.
Still a little confusing, the Broadcast, Production and Recording exhibitors remain part of MusikMesse and not the Prolight + Sound, so missing the first day’s traffic from the pro-audio community but gaining the public day at the weekend. This year this was all in 9.0 this year in a combined hall with all of the acoustic piano manufacturers, and rather bizarrely separated by a large floor to ceiling black drape. The sheer distance alone from the rest of the ‘Pro’ show, may have been a significant detriment to traffic in that hall and it was notable that some long-time members of this exhibitor group, including Focusrite, have now migrated into 3.1 where they were focusing on RedNet.
Certain show features worked really well, namely the live outdoor demonstration areas, which could be viewed from most of the corridors linking the halls, and the Silent Stage in hall 4.1. This new addition was the initiative of Klang:technologies and Vision Ears in collaboration with other in-ear microphone and audio manufacturers, including Audio-Technica and Allen & Heath and firmly supported by the Frankfurt Messe, who in fairness are looking at innovative ways of improving the show and keeping exhibitors onboard.
Indeed, not all blame can be laid at the feet of the show organisers. The industry is changing, and Amsterdam’s booming ISE show in February has taken over in importance for many – but not all – of Frankfurt’s loyal supporters. Music retail has largely migrated to online sales, and this has affected many of the companies that have participated in MusikMesse for so long, while developing countries now have their own fast-growing trade shows, which possibly deter some from making the trip.
But it can’t be denied that the show had lost much of the pzazz and energy of its former days. Two years down the line, the splitting up of PL+S and MusikMesse is emerging as a very unpopular decision, despite the intention of the show organisers to free PL+S from the despised Saturday public day. Overall it seemed quieter, slightly less fun, and there was a distinct absence of tight trousers, big hair and mullets roaming the halls.