20 YEARS AGO IN THE INDUSTRY
Aug 1, 2003 12:00 PM
Editor's Note: As part of S&VC's 20th anniversary, we're bringing you “20 Years Ago in the Industry,” a retrospective glimpse of the industry and S&VC through the eyes of industry notables. This month S&VC spoke to Ted Uzzle, who, since 2000, has taught at Chicago's Columbia College, which offers the only accredited bachelor's degree in sound installation. He has also worked at NSCA and Altec Lansing and has been editor of S&VC.
What trends have affected the industry during the past 20 years?
Twenty years ago, I would have said consolidation of specialty companies and that manufacturing companies producing a full line of products in all categories would be the trend of the future. I would have been wrong. The full-line companies have the occasional identity crises, and in many categories, it's the specialty companies that make only that product category that are most highly esteemed. It may have to do with patterns of distribution and the way the contracting end of the business has changed, but today's specialty companies can bring the innovative and advanced products into the marketplace most quickly. The contractors respond to those manufacturers and use those products. I never would have predicted that there would be no more sound contractors or there would be no companies that do sound only. I would have never forecast all the installation companies would be doing all kinds of installations and there would be none left specializing just in sound. The consulting profession also has changed enormously, and it will change even more. One major change is many consultants are doing many more types of projects; it's not unusual for older consulting firms that 20 years ago did acoustics and sound systems only. It's typical for them to do audiovisual consulting now and for many to do other cabling for telecommunications and computers.
How are you preparing your students for the next 20 years?
We emphasize fundamentals, simply because Ohm's law is not going to change. Ohm's law will still predict which way the electrons flow, musicians will still sound better when they play in tune, and the standard wave equations will predict how a sound wave will propagate from a loudspeaker to the listener's ear. When students have a thorough grounding in the fundamentals, they'll be able to adapt to whatever changes may come. If I had to pick the one technical area that will change the most, it would be wiring. Twenty years ago, signaling cable didn't even appear in the electrical code and required no permits or inspection. If the voltage on the wire was sufficiently low, it was completely off the radar of the construction trades, building inspectors, electrical inspectors, and fire inspectors. That's completely changed. It doesn't matter whether a wire is connected at all. The voltage on the wire might be zero. But it still has a whole bunch of regulations that it must meet when it's installed inside a building. Twenty years ago, if you told that to people in our business, they would have laughed in your face. But today we know it is an accomplished fact. In the future, we're going to be installing different kinds of wires and cables that do not exist at this moment in buildings. We'll be doing a lot more wireless installations where we use some other transmission medium — low-power radio, infrared. We'll be doing more of that simply to avoid the multiplying difficulties of putting wire into architecture.
What does the future hold?
Here's one thing that will not change: it's the installation companies and the contractors who are setting the standards and establishing the trends. That's kind of a change. Twenty, 30, 40 years ago, large manufacturing companies were making sound products. Those companies dominated the industry in a way that they do not today and will never again. But the strongest, the most influential, and the most important part of our business is in the contracting end. That's going to be true 20 years from now. The introduction of digital technology is about as far as it's going to go. I don't believe it's possible for us to have digital microphones or loudspeakers; I think digital has about run its course. That doesn't mean digital is over. There will not be appreciable consolidation of contracting companies. Rather, the threshold for starting a new contracting company will remain about where it is now. The contracting industry will continue to be refreshed by new companies that come into business at about the same the rate they are being established now. In the areas where sound and video system operators are volunteers, amateurs, or otherwise untrained, that era will be long gone 20 years from now. Sound and video systems installed now and in the future will be so complex that the system operator will be much more highly trained and, therefore, much better paid, simply because the type of volunteer or amateur operator from the past won't be able to do the job. Bartenders will no longer run the sound system, even in the smallest nightclub.
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