Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Competition and Cooperation

I am sitting in my make shift production office at the Olimpiyskiy Stadium, Kiev Ukraine, 12:35pm, eight and a half hours till show time.  Fending off the seemingly endless stream of emails mixed with curiosity Google searches and drop a word into the  word with friends games I have rolling with my daughters.

And as select between responding, delegating, deleting, marking as spam and procrastinating on the literally hundreds backed up in my inbox, I stop to ponder one in particular that I am CC'ed on wherein to get enough speaker boxes to cover the gig, we would need to either rely on two competing vendors to work together or use one brand for the main system and another brand for the delay clusters.

While not optimum, getting a fairly consistent sound when mixing brands of high quality systems is achievable. What I found most curious about the email was the absolute reluctance of one vendor to consider working together with the other and it really got me thinking about both sides of that equation.

I remember the Steve Wozniak's US Festival back in 1983 when Rat was hired to provide sound for a tiny air filled dome that had a laser show inside in the new technology area called "Wozi-Land." From my early eyes in the sound industry, back in those days North America had two huge sound powerhouses, Clair Bros and Showco, that seemed to do all of the major tours and events. From the underside looking up they appeared to be fierce competitors and with strong employee loyalties and  both with an "our gear is best, everyone else sucks" mindset  In fact that was the general mindset of all the sound vendors and cross rentals were nearly non-existent not only for ego reasons but the complete lack of any kind of similarity or compatibility. In those days nearly all large scale tours carried proprietary systems that were independently designed and built by the sound vendors themselves and the few large scale off the shelf systems available were heavily associating with or an offshoot of one of their systems.

Bring up the US Festival as I distinctly remember my amazement, Clair and Showco, arch rivals, are going to work together to provide the sound?

Wow, it just seemed so impossible that they would set their competitive differences aside to work for a common goal. I remember not only I was taken aback the the tech themselves that worked for the two vendors each were more than will to share the highlights of why their system was better and the politics of which band wanted which system and how the sheer magnitude  gig left no single vendor able to cover it solo. It was almost like a real version of  Ralph Wolf and Sam Sheep Dog in a way

"Ralph and Sam have become a sort of American cultural shorthand for "the usual suspects" or "the loyal opposition," describing two adversaries who have opposed each other for so long and become so familiar with each other that they've come full circle and are now nearly friendly."

Fast forward to now and I look back on that solo project mentality "us or them" mentality as archaic and short sighted. Rat has  worked toward is positioning to network with a wide range of competitive sound companies. We may bid against a company and then subhire gear to or from the company we bid against, depending on who won the bid. We work with other companies to increase compatibility between our systems so that we (and they) have the advantages of access to a larger pool of gear. A larger pool of gear that we have access to but do not have to own all of in the entirety of, the ability to offer clients more consistency and full systems of identical boxes rather than mixing and matching system types , struggling to purchase more or just plain not having enough to cover the gig properly.

And in a perfect world, each tour bid would be like playing table tennis at a backyard party, "try and win and then return to amicable cooperation. 

Yet I also am keenly aware that there are some critical factors that must exist for cooperation between vendors to exist:

 Dependability, compatibility, and trust to name a few.  Will the gear be available as promised? Will it work properly? Will the sub vendor attempt to undermine our relationship with the client? There are companies we do not work with purely because they do not have gear we need or visa versa.  There are vendors that have sub standard gear maintenance and also companies that follow lines of greed and domination rather than a balance of growth while maintaining honest and ethical business practices. 

Anyway, I do not know the details of why the two vendors cant or won't work out their differences but when I think about all the reasons that would prevent cooperation, it seems pretty clear that those would be good things to clean up anyway. Hey, if being a reliable company with quality gear and a trustworthy ethical stance positions you to work together, seems like something to strive for. That said, who knows


  1. Wow. Seems they should BOTH read THIS and get their act together. I remember some early words from a mentor as I was growing up in the biz, "There aint no ROOM for an ego behind the console! If you wanna have an ego, get the fuck up on stage with it! That's the only place it belongs! Performers can have an ego, not US!" (wish it were really true.

    Funny though how the story reminds me of when you determined what components were actually INSIDE the "Prizm" enclosures by watching the huge amount of individual components that were suddenly available on the open market when they decided to get rid of them all. NO ONE was allowed to look inside of those cabs, even if you worked with the company. Only a few were allowed to take the grill off.
    Here's to ya Dave! Hope ya keep turning the biz on it's ear and bring it REAL out of the rest of em!

  2. Yeah.

    My background was many years in TV before starting to do more and more live sound as I bowed out of the industry.

    Competition in broadcasting is fierce as you might imagine but cooperation at a technical level is far more common than you might imagine. Sometimes it's formal--events where one company provides a pool feed to all the others. Other times it's hush hush--lending a cable or piece of gear to a competitor in the knowledge that, when YOU need it, the favour will be returned.

    Either way, proposing less than desirable compromises simple to avoid working with a competitor seems unprofessional to me.

  3. It's the difference between "being controlled by your fear" and "being in your power". One prevents cooperation, the other thrives on it.