By Breanne George 

From a touring front-of-house engineer to lead audio engineer at the Sands Casino Hotel in Atlantic City, N.J., John Grasso has worked side-by-side with a multitude of regional sound companies over the years. As a customer, he learned firsthand what it takes to be successful in the regional sound business. What he describes as a “natural progression,” Grasso is a co-founder of ACIR Professional based in Mays Landing N.J. 

“I’ve been on the other side where I’m on the road traveling to different venues every day,” Grasso says. “FOH engineers are the guys that really see the difference in the gear. I’ve learned from personal experience that it’s the level of gear and service that sets apart a great sound company.” 

John Grasso mixing on a Yamaha CL5 at the VetRock Festival

Celebrating its 10th anniversary this year, ACIR provides audio installations, audio production and backline rentals to an array of clients, including touring acts, theatre, festivals and even municipal courtrooms. Grasso co-owns the company with Tom Young, who has more than 35 years of audio engineering experience. Young is a past Parnelli Award winner and is currently front-of-house engineer for Tony Bennett. According to Grasso, ACIR is committed to offering quality gear and service in a timely fashion—what he believes is a key attribute of a regional sound company. 

“When an audio engineer calls us in a panic and says he needs gear within an hour, we can make it happen,” Grasso says. “If a band is traveling with their own ears and the airline loses them or their guitars get stuck in Cleveland, they call me up. You always have to be the easiest company to work with to keep your customers coming back.” 

Servicing mainly the Atlantic City area, ACIR has close ties with all the casinos providing backline for high-end acts such as Aretha Franklin, Tony Bennett and Jamie Foxx. “Atlantic City has a strong community of stagehands,” Grasso explains. “We went through the ranks together and experienced the “heyday” together—it’s very much a family atmosphere. We’re all really proud of the work we do here.” 

ACIR co-founder Tom Young mans a CL5 for a Tony Bennet Show

The company is also known for their work with large-scale events around town, particularly outdoor music festivals and corporate events. For example, ACIR covered two stages and all backline for 44 bands at the Orion Music + More Festival, a three-day event with upwards of 70,000 people. ACIR provided a Yamaha CL5 Digital Console, two Yamaha PM5Ds and 10 Yamaha TX3n amps for monitors.

This spring, ACIR will be providing audio production at the Wildwood Chamber of Commerce for an upcoming show featuring Jefferson Starship, Mark Farner of Grand Funk Railroad and Mitch Ryder & the Detroit Wheels. “We’ve broadened our customer base by being able to offer full-line backline, audio and lighting for large-scale events,” Grasso says.

Despite being a seasonal market, ACIR’s business continues to grow, particularly in the live event and installation markets. “We’re doing some interesting audio work with municipal court rooms,” Grasso says. “We’re working with Yamaha on a new control unit and speakers designed specifically for courtrooms.” Other installation projects include theaters, high schools, colleges and houses-of-worship. 

To accommodate its growing business, ACIR moved into a new facility with 7,000-square-feet of warehouse space and 1,000-square-feet of office space. The facility is set on 2.5 acres, which allows Grasso to expand the warehouse down the road. “When you’re in the audio and backline business, you really need to keep things as organized as possible in the warehouse,” Grasso says. “We’ve also grown our inventory management program with Flex Rental Solutions.” 

When Hurricane Sandy hit in 2012, ACIR’s business, like so many in the Atlantic City region, took a hit. “We probably had 30 to 40 shows cancelled,” Grasso says. “However, over the last year and a half, I’ve seen how people’s energies were focused on rebuilding and moving forward from the storm.” Since the previous summers were spent building back the coastal communities, Grasso says this upcoming outdoor live event season is gearing up to be a banner year. “After Hurricane Sandy, it seems everyone’s ready to enjoy the summer and party,” he says.   

For ACIR, diversity in the marketplace, from live events to installations, as well as diversity in their service offering is key to their success.  It’s also about the relationships that the company’s maintained and grown over the years. “That’s what this business is—one event leads to another based on the people you know and the level of service you provide,” Grasso says. “It’s a business of relationships more than anything.”