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The New Stomping Ground: StompLight Brings Top-Notch Lighting Effects to Performances of All Types with Ease and Versatility

by Christian Wissmuller • in
  • Features
  • January 2018
• Created: January 29, 2018

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It seems like such an obvious idea – the upsides are clear for all to see – you’d assume that folks must have developed this sort of thing decades ago: A versatile, portable, sturdy lighting effects rig that musicians and artists can control with ease via foot-controlled peripherals, just like stomp box effect pedals.

But it took Michael Ahern and his team over at Stomp-Light to perfect this technology earlier this decade – and right out of the gate the products have been a hit with end-users.

Ahern, himself an accomplished and celebrated musician, scientist, educator, and broadcaster (seriously, the guy can seemingly do anything and everything), recently spoke with MMR about his life in music, the origins of the StompLight story, and how interested dealers can come along for the ride.

Let’s start by briefly going over your own professional background and your background in music. How did you, personally, get started in all of this, Michael?

I held my first guitar, a Martin D-18 at age 12. I grew up near San Francisco with neighbors that had moved from West Virginia. There were four boys in their family, each had a Martin guitar along with their father, Burl. The older boys also had a turntable stereo. Their house was filled with music: Creedence, The Beatles, Zep. My father and mother were avid readers and enjoyed watching the big three networks on television each evening. When they listened to music it was Johnny Cash records. On the rainy days when we could not play sports we moved inside and goofed around on the guitars. “My Sweet Lord” was the first song I learned. Soon thereafter I asked my mom and dad for a guitar. On my 12th birthday I became the proud owner of a Yamaha FG acoustic. In 1973 I saw a poster at Swain’s House of Music announcing that Led Zeppelin was to perform at Kezar Stadium in San Francisco. My father had been taking me to 49ers football games there, so I knew where it was and I talked an older pal into driving me to the show. They opened with “Rock and Roll” and closed with “The Ocean.” I was spellbound and inspired. I came home and declared to my parents. I want to play rock and roll for a living. You can imagine how that went over.

These days I regionally tour with the Michael Ahern Band playing rock music. I also have the good fortune of being an Emmy-nominated singer, songwriter, and guitarist rooted in rock music and Americana. Rolling Stone’s Ben Fong-Torres described me as, “a singing, picking, shredding embodiment of American music.” My latest studio album, DRIVE, is an all-original collection of blues, modern country, rock, and Americana. The title track (“DRIVE”) aired on radio stations in 26 countries supported with a music video. “DRIVE” is also available for play in the “Rock Band” gaming space. I am a member of the San Francisco chapter of Grammy.com, director of entertainment for the Half Moon Bay Art & Pumpkin Festival, NAMM member and president and janitor of StompLight, an innovative performance lighting company.

I also hold degrees in environmental and systematic biology (Cal Poly, SLO) and a secondary teaching credential in education. I completed graduate work in natural history and education at Northern Arizona University, Humboldt University as a teaching fellow and at Stanford University. I worked as a NASA Mission Specialist working alongside the science unit of the Kuiper Astronomical Observatory.

I am an award-winning California public school teacher working in the field of at-risk secondary science education. Before entering into the classroom I worked in the field of outdoor education for the Yosemite Institute before founding the Nature Explorers Summer Science Camps. I also wrote and produced “Nature Speaks,” a science program that aired on American Public Radio.

That’s quite the background! Now, how about the genesis of StompLight? How did the project come about?

StompLight was born from the repeated annoyance of hauling around bulky and poorly built stage lighting products. I first had the idea in a pal’s dimly lit studio session in Berkeley, California in 2012. I looked down at my pedal board and was struck by a remarkable idea. Could stage lighting be added to a musical environment with the convenience of an effect pedal? I recall thinking how my friend spent all this money on audio gear and acoustics and nothing really on lighting. As a working musician, band manager, and music festival producer I was keenly aware of the impact that performance lighting has on a production. Add that these days booking agents expect live performance video along with a strong presence on social media. You absolutely want your fans to be grabbing video and photos of the band and posting them while you play. I noted that when we gigged without stage lighting there were fewer postings and we looked like crap in the video. Up until StompLight, carrying lighting around, staging and striking it, and constantly having to repair it was a big hassle. I was sick of it. All that experience led me to the moment when I looked down at my pedal board, noted the different types of effect pedals and thought why not lighting effect pedal?”

At present, how many employees does StompLight have?

Ten: Michael Ahern, president and janitor; Michael Jordan, operations; Richard Vaughan, sales associate; Dawn McMahon, sales associate; Stephen Wilson, sales associate; Cherie Cordellos, art director; Bob Rosenbloom, director of engineering; Allen Burge, engineering; David Barry, director of manufacturing; Matt Dougherty, marketing director; and Kelli Baldwin, bookkeeper.

Where are the company’s facilities located?

StompLight facilities are split between Menlo Park, El Granada, and Sonoma, California. We assemble in the USA and source our components globally.

You currently field products that can appeal to acoustic or electric musicians, DJs, schools, street performers, and more. Do you have a notion who your “primary customer” is?

Acoustic solo performers and working bands, pro audio contractors, theatrical performers, magicians, street performers, video and production houses, recording studios, Worship Houses, mobile DJs, and schools.

Of your current models and bundles, what’s the top-seller?

StompLight DMX Lighting Effect Pedal – Professional Model with Matte Black Finish.

How do interested MI retailers go about partnering with StompLight?

To date we have relied on the NAMM shows, MI trade magazines, and our sales reps to introduce StompLight to MI dealers. In 2018 we are looking to add more sales reps in key territories including California, Texas, and the Mid-West. We also would like a sales rep in Canada. In 2017 we grew to 56 active StompLight Authorized Dealers including Canada and the U.K. Interested MI Retailers are encouraged to contact Michael Ahern through the StompLight website and meet with us at the Winter and Summer NAMM shows.

What’s your distribution model?

MI brick-and-mortar stores, online MI stores, MI and ProAV print catalogs, and through our website. In 2018 our products will be available in through Musician’s Friend, Zorro Sounds, American Music Supply, and Sam Ash. We will continue to work to protect MAP in each of these ecosystems.

Are there any new product introductions or other developments of note on the horizon?

Yes, we have added three product bundles as described on the website and the attached Sell Sheet. We also have engineered a nifty Power Bank mic stand holder and will be showing that off at Winter NAMM.

Expectations – both for StompLight and the industry, in general – for 2018?

The expectation I have for my company is to continue build innovative products, grow and support our customer base, support live music and the working musician, and conduct business with grace and integrity. We are also committed to protecting MAP and improving dealer margin in 2018.

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