AES Revisited

Steve Lillywhite, producer of classic albums by U2, the Rolling Stones, Dave Matthews Band, Simple Minds, Peter Gabriel and countless others, gave the Convention’s Keynote Speech, regaling the crowd with war stories of how Jagger and Richards might’ve nicked some riffs; why Bono always uses a handheld vocal mic in the studio; and why digital is better than analog in his opinion. “I’ve made my best records with the worst equipment, and the worst records with the best equipment,” he said.

SAN FRANCISCO -- It was a great time to be in San Francisco—the Giants just swept the World Series, Hurricane Sandy was on the other side of the country, and the Audio Engineering Society finished up its strongest convention in years.

The convention’s show floor was busy with attendees trying to see all 296 exhibitors. More than 10 percent of the companies exhibiting were brand-new to the convention, adding to the intrigue of exploring the show floor. Roughly 14,000 visitors were expected to have roamed the convention by the end of the convention, which closed Oct. 29, making the most of the show by seeing the latest products, learning about the newest technological trends and networking with the rest of the industry.

After some fairly lean conventions due to the economy and a radically changing music industry, AES has made a strong comeback this year, much like the Giants of its hosting city. The Society made a strong push to attract visitors who perhaps haven’t been to the convention before, adding new draws and supercharging old favorites, like the keynote address, given legendary producer Steve Lillywhite, who often had the crowd in stitches with bon mots like, “I have the honor of having produced the worst Rolling Stones album ever—until the next one.”

The new energy behind the show is no coincidence. “We are reinventing the AES Convention,” said Chris Plunkett, deputy director, convention management for the AES. “This year, we’re exploring new avenues, highlighting a lot of well-established as well as developing tracks in order to make them more user-friendly.”

That meant bulking up certain educational tracks like Game Audio, and going full-out with the extremely successful debut of the Project Studio Expo—a new addition that will return for the New York convention next year. A series of workshops and tutorials free to all visitors, the PSE is located on the show floor itself and has been packed most of the convention.

“It’s a strong, new idea, it’s fun and incidentally. it’s brought in some new exhibitors that we haven’t had before,”Plunkett said. “Pro Audio has responded to the PSE’s addition and we’re glad that the industry has wrapped itself around it.”

There’s more to AES than the PSE, however. Besides the exhibit floor, there were the various tracks of related workshops, panels and papers, covering Networked Audio, Game Audio, Product Design, Live Sound and Sound For Pictures, among others. [In fact, you can get a taste of the show by reading the AES Daily newspaper, which was handed out at the Convention; you can download all three issues as .pdf files by going to and clicking on "AES Daily (PDFs)" in the Shortcuts menu on the right side of the page]

Part of the convention’s success was due to its extensive efforts to attract audio students, with the plethora of educational offerings being a key draw.

“We’re doing everything we can to make students feel like they’re a significant part of the audio community,” said John Krivit, student/career events co-chair. “We’re reaching out with everything, from social events like parties to the great mentoring party Saturday night at Coast Recorders, to meetings of the student delegate assembly where we invite students to introduce themselves to other students in the community.”

There was more. “There’s also an education and career fair that has more participation than any recent convention that we’ve done,” Krivit said. “Same story with the Student Recording Competition, which is the most well-subscribed for a West-Coast convention that we’ve ever had. We brought back the Student Design Competition, allowing us to reach out to people who have an entirely different relationship to audio – electrical engineers and computer science majors who are creating projects in audio and we’re really exited about that.”

You don’t have to be new to the industry to get a lot out of the educational offerings at AES, however; they’re designed for everyone across the spectrum, from the audio student to the seasoned pro. As Krivit pointed out, “Anyone who enjoys going into Guitar Center’s pro audio department loves going to the AES Show, because this is that times a million—it’s your bliss.”

Education with a little flashiness is always welcome, and AES had plenty of it this year. Special events have included the eternally popular Grammy Soundtable event, which featured Ed Cherney, Ryan Hewitt, Dave Pensado, Elliott Scheiner, Salaam Remi and Leslie Ann Jones; the Legendary Artists panel, which explored the “San Francisco Sound” with artists like Country Joe and Mario Cipollina of Huey Lewis & The News; Tech Tours to places like Ex’Pression College for Digital Arts and Fantasy Recording Studios; an innovative Poe: A Life and Stories In Sound audio drama presentation with Phil Proctor of the Firesign Theater; and lots more.

The show has traditionally alternated years between the East and West Coasts, so it will head back to the Jacob Javits Convention Center in New York City for the 2013 edition, but the following year, 2014, will see another change: The AES Convention will pitch its tent in Los Angeles for the first time in over a decade.

“We haven’t been in Los Angeles since 2002,” Plunkett said. “We’re really excited to go back down to LA; we’ll be returning to the Los Angeles Convention Center, right next door to the Staples Center.”

A major reason for the long-term move to San Francisco 10 years ago, was the area surrounding the convention site—simply put, there’s lots of engaging facilities surrounding the Moscone Center, whereas in Los Angeles at the time, there was no place to go and nothing to do after the show closed. That’s not the case anymore, however.

“Downtown has changed so much in the last eight years,” Plunkett said. “I was down there in January for a walking tour and I didn’t recognize it at all. It’s turned into a walking city with really exciting stuff going on—great clubs, great restaurants. If you haven’t been down there since our last convention, you’re going to be amazed by what it’s like these days.”