July 17, 2023 I In the Trenches I by Cyph Shah

Reignite the Hunger

​What I’m about to share may be considered controversial to some, but I believe it carries validity. In this column, I wish to address hunger — the hunger we collectively need as an industry to do better.

As the general manager of Astro Audio Video Lighting in Glendale, California, I miss this hunger. I have noticed a decline over the years in the MI industry. Mot in sales or technological innovation, but rather in the motivation and purposeful interactions normally fueled out of necessity by the key players who forge bridges in the pursuit of evolving the craft. Opportunities, such as dealer-hosted supplier workshops and other high exposure co-branded initiatives, which would otherwise be seen as gems, are now kicked aside as though they’re pebbles standing in the way of commerce.

All of this has been growing over the last five years or so. Before then, I had a plethora of positive collaborative experiences with vendors, so much so that I was consistently motivated to keep creating them. The results were tangible on all sides. For example, NAMM show meetings were inspired conversations that gave way to new tiers of partnerships in previously uncharted waters. I was being pulled into cloak and dagger booths to give warmly received feedback — and constructive criticism — on products still under development with R&D teams seeking to better their end product.

Going further back to the 1990s and early 2000s, Astro AVL hosted rather elaborate DJ battles with sponsorship from companies, such as Rane, Denon DJ, Crown and Pioneer DJ. Some would set up kiosks inside and outside the store, sending reps to engage the customers in attendance and provide product demos that gravitated spectators towards them. Others, like Harman, would roll up their mobile studio truck in front of our shop in Glendale for attendees to step inside, peruse and interact with knowledgeable product specialists. Expanding outside of MI partners, Mountain Dew sent a branded Humvee loaded with beverages, and Subway even got in on the action by dishing out sandwiches. Everyone saw the value in what we were doing. Not too long ago, I would routinely organize work- shops debuting various DJ consoles, mixers and loudspeakers, bringing in performing talent ans fueling the experience by utilizing my partnerships with local, eager participants. Today, I would celebrate the opportunity to do the same considering the slew of new DJ controllers regularly being release.

Manufacturers segregating their departments has led to a disconnect between relatable consumer content and strategic initiatives. Some of this can be attributed to the infiltration of former big-box chain executives into the ranks of these MI companies, bringing along with them the sales approaches that can promise quarter-over-quarter growth in a specific sector, even if it dilutes the company’s message and collective brand as a whole. Their selective vision lends them restricting the focus of those underneath, forcing their teams to rely primarily on developing YouTube con- tent and spec sheets to attempt to drive consumer interest. If you’re a GenZer, you already know this drives users to seek and receive speculative answers solely via other social mediums like Reddit. The opportunity lost there is for customers who want to interact with the products, decide if they’re right for them and conjointly experience the rush of endorphins that comes alongside the shopping experience when engaged in meaningful discussions with product experts.

I have observed this cycle firsthand as have my industry peers inside the ranks who have testified regarding the migration from col- laborative approaches to solely region-based numbers and metrics. I certainly don’t undervalue business intelligence and targeting established effective margins but that’s apples and oranges here. Those pulling the strings limit the resources available to the individuals looking to make a true impact on raising end-user interest. Now, receiving a glimpse at product demos prior to official release to evaluate, create insight and generate content is so challenging and lined with red tape within the U.S. that both a subtle and tenacious approach to achieving said goal bears no fruit. It’s as if they’re saying the juice is not worth the squeeze, and I don’t agree.

At Astro AVL, our team has been helping push the correct narrative so our clients can buy with confidence, expand their DJ setup and craft effective DJ bundles they wouldn’t know to consider at first glance from a website.

Taking Matters into Our Own Hands
To shed water on the abundantly dry fields in which vendor partnerships used to flourish, Astro AVL has continued to press forward with tailoring unique joint marketing proposals and outreach attempts to get them in the right hands, chiseling away at the glass ceiling that is separating those who do from those who decide. In conjunction with this, and to continue to take things into our own hands, we’re constantly formulating scenarios for consumer-level interactions, like our upcoming Open Decks event for local talent and hosting our “Yo! DJ Hangouts” livestream sessions. Of course, the informational currency, effectiveness and visibility of our efforts would be multiplied with the proper involvement from manufacturers, but we continue the path regardless so as to not lose sight of the people we truly are here to serve.

Ultimately I’m hopeful the efforts and initiatives from local MI and DJ shops like ours can help to revitalize that sector, act as an inspiration and encourage higher engagement from manufacturers. This is a module that will benefit everyone, from factory to dealer to consumer. If opportunities to partner with key brick-and-mortar stores to create consumer interest aren’t capitalized on, then we’ll be encouraging a constrained buyer-seller marketplace that cuts a budding artist’s resources off at the kneecaps.

But it’s not all somber news. Some vendors still have the foresight to take the initiative and invest in relationships. I encourage everyone in our industry to follow suit with Astro AVL and pursue the expansion of endeavors that will elevate the visibility of product integration and collaboration. Make efforts to vocalize what you think provides the most to those who defer to you as the authorities. After all, money may be the primal motivation, but the inspiration starts with us. My advice? Don’t approach that obligation lightly. Stay hungry. MI

Cyph Shah is the manager of Astro Audio Video and Lighting in Glendale, California. He is also the lead instructor of the DJ School (Astro Mix Lab) and designs/commissions AVL systems for nightlife, art exhibits, corporate showrooms, sports facilities and live performance venues as Astro’s installation foreman. He has performed across the country for more than 20 years as a club DJ and releases electronic music productions amongst international record labels.

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