Moving On Along With the World…

By Bill Evans / March 7, 2016

One of my favorite series of books ever is a set of Stephen King tomes called The Dark Tower. Written over a nearly 30-year period and published over two decades, the tale of the Gunslinger is influenced in equal parts by a Robert Browning poem, The Lord of the Rings, and Sergio Leone spaghetti westerns starring Clint Eastwood. It is basically King’s masterwork and many of his other books have roots in or refer to people and places in the sprawling tale of the of the Gunslinger and his quest for the Dark Tower.

In the beginning we find the Gunslinger in a world kind of like a run-down version of our own (and later it gets very, very weird…) and on more than one occasion, he explains how what we are seeing is just a shell of what once was and that “the world has moved on.”

I have adopted that phrase many times over the years. We live in times where change is the only constant and trying to cling to anything at all is probably an exercise in futility.

Just look at the changes in our little world of audio. When I started covering touring audio in late 2002 as the founding editor of FOH, I did my first coverage of a tour using a digital console in probably 2003 or maybe early 2004. It was an interview with Bob Goldstein of Maryland Sound and I believe the tour was Josh Groban and the console was a Yamaha PM1D. The cost of that console was about double what I had paid for my house a decade earlier and it was news because there were not a lot of tours that had gone digital at that point. Just a few years later when Midas finally released their first digital console it was a flop because, although in adjusted dollars it was not hugely more expensive than a fully loaded and mirrored PM1D system, the world had moved on and a $350K digital audio console was pretty much dead on arrival. (Legend has it that there was nearly a fight on the floor at PLASA when the XL8 was intro’d and the then-head of Midas which was still owned by Bosch asked the president of one of the biggest sound companies in the US how many he was gonna buy and the answer was “Zero. At that price I would have to rent it for five years to recover the cost.”)

When I went online to research the release date of the XL8, I got one of those handy content/search based ads telling me I could buy a Midas M32 for less than 1% of the cost of the XL8. Now obviously you can’t compare the two. Not really. But in less than a decade, a console that can do an awful lot of small tours can be had for one-one-hundredth the cost. And there is big competition at that price point. If you want a 32-in-16-out-plus-the-main-stereo-bus console with wireless control in the three grand range you have your choice of at least three that I can think of off the top of my head including the one I personally use, the Presonus RM32AI. With no control surface. I use my Mac or an iPad to control it.

The world has—quite definitely—moved on. 

Back to my little corner of the publishing/content world… It has moved on as well.

Five years ago, SPL did not exist, I was still working at FOH and Live2Play was a side project. A kind of digital laboratory where I tried things that I could never do at FOH. My wife, Linda, who is a photographer and at the time was working for the same company as her day gig, went to a trade show for photographers and saw some cool software and registered for a drawing to win it. She won.

It was called Site Grinder. It was a Photoshop plug-in that claimed to give designers a way to make Web sites without any real coding. That was the claim and it worked but it was never anywhere close to that simple. But anyway…

My daughter Erin got a hold of it and said, “You know, there is no reason we could not use this to design mini Web sites that look like magazines.” And that was the birth of the Level 11 Media digital eZines. The first one for Live2Play came out in January of 2011 and the first one badged SoundProLive a few months later..

In the ensuing five years, we have been through a couple of redesigns, added and then got rid of some features. And then added some of them back. We had to switch platforms when Site Grinder went away. Which is what happens when a big company like Adobe starts making a product that does the same stuff that the indie-produced plug-in did. That is probably a great analogy for all of this and business life in general in the early 21st Century but we’ll leave that for another time.

When I sat down to write this, I was ready to announce that this would be the last digital eZine we would produce. We were ready to move on to new formats and distribution channels—ironically while our print competition is STILL trying to milk a 100-year-old biz model—but it appears from the response we got to an early version of this that was passed around that there are some—a significant “some”—who still like something with the feel of a magazine even if it is on a screen. But that is not to say it will last forever.

Change is coming faster all the time. I did almost 60 gigs as a player/bandleader last year. About 2/3 of those had a house sound guy and all but two of that group were under the age of 40. Of that subgroup, not a single one had ever picked up an audio trade magazine. And, while they all knew the L2P and/or SPL sites and were familiar with our social media updates, few had ever opened one of these digital magazines, either.

I am super proud of this platform. We pioneered the first—and still, really, the only—digital magazines that don’t suck. But the world has moved on. In a world of 140-character Tweets and Facebook memes and Vine videos, the idea of a compendium of content like a magazine—printed or digital—may not resonate with most people. Hell, I have had PR people for major companies “discover” this format after we had been doing it for more than three years and even some of our own contributors who did now know it existed until they saw a link to their own stuff in it. Y’all know you you are…

So, we are counting on you to tell us. Keep ‘em? Or ditch the eZine idea. We are also looking at some new platforms that may make these easier to produce. (From day one, these eZines have been a hack—using software in ways it was never meant to be used. And as with all hacks it is mental bandwidth and labor intensive.) 

We have already started to experiment with some other distribution formats. We are feeding the Apple News ecosystem and looking into the world of FaceBook Instant Articles. Not a surprise as we were the lone voice in the wilderness for social media in the MI and Pro Audio worlds too for a long time.

So there you have it. new year, new changes. It is the only constant. 

The world has moved on. No doubt about that. But, like the Gunslinger, my quest is not over. Maybe I should change my name to Roland.

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Bill Evans

1 comment
Rich - March 12, 2016

Great read Bill.
You’ve made some great points. However, as you’ve said, the only constant is change. If you don’t move with it you’ll be left behind. As you know, the necessity to move to a new format should be born out by the numbers, which I know you keep a close eye on.
A format is also something that should be based on numbers. The question is, are there formats out there that are on the cusp of generating big numbers that we aren’t aware of yet. Trying to guess what the next big thing in online journalism will be is like trying to guess what the next big thing in Social Media/Networking will be. Difficult.
We can, however, guess some aspects that users may be looking for, or expecting, in their information consumption: Mobile, quick, easy, cheap (free) and bi-directional.
Mobile – More and more users consume information and entertainment on the go.
Quick – Most attention spans aren’t as long as they were one, or more, generations ago.
Easy – Most users won’t bother to spend any amount of time trying to figure out a user interface.
Cheap – That’s pretty self explanitory.
Bi-directional – The ability of users to respond, in real time, or near real time, to the content creators is something that users are getting, more and more, used to. This is true with the proliferation of programs that live stream, utilizing chat rooms, audience call-in capabilities and, in some cases, video call-in capabilities.

I don’t have any solid answers and am looking just as you are. Let me know if you find an answer.

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