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Primed for the Rebound: PA System Sales

Christian Wissmuller • May 2021Roundtable • April 30, 2021

PA System Sales Struggled in the Past Year, but Suppliers are Ready for a Return to Live Performance

In my last editorial column (“Keep the Lights On” – MMR April 2021), in the course of encouraging those who are able to seek out and contribute to organizations geared towards assisting those who earn their livings in clubs, bars and other venues, I noted, “Live events were probably the first sector to be severely impacted by COVID-19 lockdowns and will be amongst the last to return to sustainable activity.”

While this month’s Roundtable feature – on the topic of PA systems – doesn’t entirely quash that notion, the three reps from some of the biggest players in sound reinforcement that we spoke with did provide some insight into bright spots within this market segment, as well as hope for recovering sales, overall.

While some categories of instruments and music-related gear saw very robust sales during the last year-plus due to lockdowns and increased “at home” time, live music, and all related gear, didn’t fare as well. Can you talk about PA Systems sales during 2020 through to the present day?

Rick Naqvi, PreSonus Senior Vice President of Global Sales

Rick Naqvi: PreSonus mixers and speaker sales were negatively affected in 2020 due to the pandemic, just as most other live sound brands were. Most live events were cancelled, but we saw a distinct trend of musicians, churches, and venues that moved to doing internet live streams in lieu of shows. Thankfully, because PreSonus mixers can double as recording interfaces and have specific features and workflows for live streaming, the StudioLive Series III and StudioLive ARc mixers sold well through 2020. In addition, many people set up home studios using StudioLive Series III mixers because they offer a DAW Mode that allows them to control Studio One, Pro Tools, Logic, Cubase, and other DAWs.

With regard to speaker sales, we did see some installations that continued during the pandemic; however, many others were on hold. In general, sound-reinforcement speakers were the most affected during the pandemic.

Guy Low, Creative & Brand Director, Bosch | Dynacord | Electro-Voice | RTS | Telex

Guy Low: During 2020, we saw many people staying at home to work. That was the biggest staple with regard to the equipment we make. People became empowered to be creative at home, or to communicate at home, or to start that podcast that they’d been planning for a long time. So there was a wide variety of activity taking place at home in this relationship with the decline of live entertainment. So you can see that that happened very quickly, and it’s really unique in history. And in our corner of that world, the most notable observation was that we sold more RE20 microphones last year than we had in 50 years.

This is part of the bigger picture whereby home recording equipment, so DAWs, audio workshops, the software, the preamps, the interfaces, all of this stuff is much more affordable than it used to be. And that sweet spot on the curve really came into play this year when people start discovering pro audio for the first time.

Preston Gray, Marketing Director, Pro Audio, Yamaha Corporation of America

Preston Gray: As you know, Yamaha is deeply engrained in all forms of music from the creation and production of music to the amplification of music through pro audio solutions. We have been able to be flexible and offer pro audio solutions to meet the changing needs of customers during 2020. The industry saw a reduced demand in the rental segment, but we focused our efforts to support upgrades for streaming solutions.

While powerful subwoofers are obviously not needed for streaming, customers had to be ready to update monitors or shift outdoor systems to cover spaces where audiences could social distance safely. Yamaha’s DZR line offers a great portable outdoor system that connects easily over Dante with TF series mixers, that have been valuable solution for hybrid events. We are optimistic as there are many signs of recovery happening, as people are ready to connect with each other through music.

Electro-Voice Evolve 50M Powered Column Speaker

For your brand, what specific PA models/bundles are selling best?

GL: Column Systems for us. And portable boxes like ZLX – our best-selling tool, a portable powered box – remained quite stable, considering what was happening in the world at large.

Also the EVOLVE family of Column Systems. We launched a new one, the 50M, in January at the virtual NAMM Show. The amount of activity we see on social, the amount of people just doing virtual concerts or distance concerts, has been taking off steadily and these systems are perfect for that. And that’s also, most critically, the fact that people want things to get back to normal. These are the accessories of passion and creativity, so you get them now, maybe you’ve got more time to learn to put a new rig together, and to learn how your PA works, and to maximize it. And then when you do get back out there, you’re going to sound better. And why not get it now?

PG: Our Stagepas systems are stunningly simple and impressively powerful. Musicians can trust Yamaha to amplify their tone in the most accurate and detailed way possible. Yamaha knows what music should sound like and that comes through clearly with the sound and success of our Stagepas 1k system.

RN: Currently the StudioLive Series III digital consoles and AVB Ecosystem products are doing very well. PreSonus put out a new CDL12P constant-directivity loudspeaker at the end of 2020 that is also doing well for us in 2021.

Yamaha portable PA


Have you noticed any significant trends in terms of PA sales, either on the consumer or supplier sides?

PG: PA manufacturers, specifically portable ones seem to be focused on power specs, but at the end of the day it’s the tone and clarity that’s important. Yamaha is focused on making sure an artist’s voice is heard. With Yamaha’s rich heritage in musical instruments we not only deliver the power in the PA systems, but ensure each note and word reaches the audiences ear just as it was performed.

RN: We have seen an improvement in both speaker and mixer sales starting in February of this year as the COVID vaccines started to be released. Many venues that had system upgrades on hold also began planning for re-openings in the summer and fall. In addition, many musicians are doing system upgrades now in preparation for tours and shows that are being planned for the summer and fall.

GL: I think people are still making music at home where possible, where distancing was acceptable to that end. So you’d maybe see the smaller format systems – the portable boxes, powered boxes – where people are in their spaces, or their basements, or their studios, and they are getting ready, not only to go back into live performance, but also they are investing in a system that’s flexible, that’s multipurpose. At least we are seeing boxes that have everything on board. That’s the trend now. So you have app control, you have onboard effects, mixing, Bluetooth, and battery-powered is going to be another aspect of that coming down the line.

PreSonus CDL12P

What “best practices” are employed by dealers who do especially well selling PA Systems?

GL: The key aspect for independent MI retailers is to add value before, during, and after the sale by enhancing the experience of stepping up to pro audio, demystifying pro audio by educating the customer as quickly as possible, and giving them the confidence to invest in something that’s going to make them sound their best at whatever level they have to invest, what’s in their wallet, and in whatever way is most appropriate for their sound, their style, if they are a DJ, if they’re an acoustic duo or a solo band, right?

And this comes from expertise, and insight, and – critically – going into a store is an experience. They should be open and educational as immediately as possible. Walking into an actual space in this virtual world we live in, we’re reminded that we’re making music – that it’s something that is special, it’s emotional, and it requires physical engagement with the space. So this idea of walking into a store, being able to turn it on, and hear it in the proverbial room full of black boxes. Think about it: when you’re browsing online, you’re scrolling through 50 products that look the same. So this idea of educating, demystifying what’s behind the grill… You know, a good sales associate in a store should be able to answer that question and tell a story about the brand, so you can actually attach your creative energy onto this tool that you’re going to buy.

That’s part of the retail experience that we believe in a great deal. Brand is a very important part of the buying experience, heritage, the confidence you can get in buying something that’s “legit” and proper. Just the same as people gravitate towards the Fender or the Gibson guitar, or DW drum sets, what have you, we want people to have that same sense of Electro-Voice when they go into the store. We like to get feedback from our retail partners on what works.

RN: One of the best ways to sell a PreSonus system is to realize that customers want a flexible system that they can use for recording, rehearsals, live gigs, and live streams. Showing the power of hardware and software to accomplish things like virtual soundchecks, playing along with backing tracks, and recording the show are invaluable. Customers want to know that their equipment can help them accomplish multiple facets of their musical lives – not just for playing gigs.

PG: Dealers that can take a PA system and marry it with the right mixer and the right tools to provide a customer a complete pro audio solution have been incredibly successful! Yamaha makes this easy for dealers, with the lineup of mixers, amps and speakers that are all designed to work together seamlessly, and designed to amplify music accurately from input to output.

Any new or upcoming PA gear releases you’d like to share with MMR readers?

PG: Yamaha’s engineers have an incredible passion for music and technology. While COVID has come with challenges for the entertainment industry, it has also provided the engineering team focused time at home to create some exceptional new tools to ensure everyone’s voice is heard. Stay tuned this year for some exciting new audio products that will help musicians amplify their music!

RN: I’m really excited about the CDL12P loudspeaker, an affordable, plastic version of our CDL12 loudspeaker. CDL-series loudspeakers offer a hybrid point-source/line array solution that’s scalable to nearly any performance environment. And of course we also offer the StudioLive 32SX digital mixer, an incredibly versatile mixing powerhouse that’s ideal for creating live and broadcast mixes simultaneously for performances that have both an in-person audience as well as an online one.

What are your expectations for this market segment in the coming months?

GL: People want to get out and experience live music, live performance, and get together, whether there’s a wedding, or going to the coffee shop and hearing a singer-songwriter – whatever the case may be across the board, there is this drive to connect to live entertainment. And then we have to think about, “Well, what’s that actually going to look like? Are venues going to just kind of dust off their existing PA systems, or are they going to come back and reinvest in systems that really add value and make the live experience better than it was before?” Almost like, sort of, positive reinforcement.

It’s going to be back. We’re going sound better than we did before and just celebrate. So that’s the idealized version of it. What we are hoping to see is a return to something like “normal” towards the end of the summer and beginning of the fall. But who knows? We’re just waiting to see what the numbers say. But the main thing is that we are here to support, and we’ve got the portfolio to help with whatever it is people want to do, really, in terms of the clubs, the pubs, and the venues reopening. We think a lot about that. And these people have been really hard hit. First and foremost, our concern is for the people whose lives have been changed by this. That was always a priority for us. And coming back could look different. We might see that what a person’s career looks like changes, they’re going diversify their careers. The gig economy, you know, that’s also a conversation we’ve been having for over a year now. What is the economy going to look like that frames the products we make? The challenge for us is to keep in step with that – or one step ahead.

PG: As we get back to live events, we are already seeing needs for PA systems increasing. People have missed live music and entertainment that connects us as humans. Yamaha is ready to help connect people through music, and the PA systems ability to articulately deliver each musical empowers musicians amplify their craft as we get back to live events!

RN: I’m quite bullish about music in the next coming months. Most musicians I know have been stuck at home, but have spent their time honing their writing and recording skills. When live gigs start to happen, I believe we will see an explosion of great new music, with new releases as well as a resurgence of live performances. I also think as more musicians have become comfortable with live streaming, we’ll see this exciting new avenue for performance continue, and it will get even better as musicians add to their streaming rigs.

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