Bigger Bang & Bigger Bucks: The Latest & Greatest In Live Production (Production Live! Panel Recap)


Michael T. Strickland, Chair and Founder, Bandit Lites, Inc

Steve Evans President, Show Imaging, Inc.
Randy Hutson VP of Entertainment, PRG
Larry Italia, President/CEO, d&b Corporation
Danny O’Bryen, President, Screenworks ,NEP Live Events

During Production Live!, which kicked off Pollstar Live! In LA, Feb. 21, a panel titled Bigger Bang & Bigger Bucks dealt with a conundrum: new technology developing faster than ever, coupled with creative demand for the latest and greatest, meeting hire companies that try and prolong the shelf life of their products and maintain competitive prices.

Panel moderator Michael T. Strickland, chair and founder of Bandit Lites, set the scene for a conversation by establishing that this triangle of interests – artists, hire companies and manufacturers – was fundamentally not aligned. So, “Is there a way we can align our interest?”, became the main question of the panel.

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Michael T. Strickland, Danny O’Bryen, Randy Hutson, Larry Italia and Steve Evans (from left to right).

Technology was moving so fast, often times you bought an asset, and before you paid it off, a new one came out. Servers or consoles were given as typical examples. This creates a problem for hire companies that have built a global operation with hundreds  of employees and millions of dollars worth of gear stacked on shelves in warehouses across the world.

Randy Hutson, VP of entertainment at PRG, said his company was usually quoting the highest price in any bid, but with the kind of overhead a global business had to cope with, “I’m never going to compete with any mom and pop shop.” And he added, that loyalty in the current industry was “very difficult” to find, adding that “difficult” may not have been the right word, but rather “non-existent.”

He was referring to the kind of loyalty that would prevent people working in the same sector, even as competitors, from lowballing each other.

See: Building Crews With Culture, Competence & Opportunity For All (Production Live! Panel Recap)

Danny O’Bryen, president of Screenworks, said lowballing was a problem. “Once you drop the price, you’ll never get it back,” he said. The only hope was therefore that all vendors were aligned on the issue. “If you’re a vendor, just hold your prices. There’s enough work out there for everybody,” he said.

Larry Italia, president/CEO, d&b Corporation, said, “In a race to the bottom nobody wins. Look at the instruments business. I would hate to see the same thing happen [to us]. Maybe we need to think different.  Maybe it’s not more bang for less bucks, but more bang for more bucks.”

As the manufacturer on the panel, he advised his fellow panelists, mostly hire companies, to “buy smart. [Ask yourself] who do you buy from, how are you buying, how are you planning your purchases, think about the value you’re getting, who’s giving you the best support, who’s putting out the best product for you, so your clients and artists come back and say, ‘we want to come back and work with your company, because our tour sounded better than anything we’ve ever done.’ Think value add, sell value add, I believe people will pay for quality.”

Strickland said he didn’t know of any ticket buyer that bought a ticket because the show promised to run a particular light or speaker, suggesting that it should therefore not be on the top of every creative person’s mind. The problem came when it became a trend for clients to always demand the latest and greatest, just for the sake of it.

In such cases, it was important to say “no” every now and again, Steve Evans, president of Show Imaging, said, adding that he still didn’t consider himself to be in the gear business, even if he ran a 250,000 square-foot warehouse full of it.

O’Bryen said that often, especially once a relationship had been built, it was possible to talk with the creative person and tell them there was a cheaper solution that wouldn’t look or sound any different form FOH, without making them feel you were shitting on their vision. “Problem is,” he added, “often it doesn’t even get to that point.”

Italia said the conversations he was currently having “are not about price but about availability, at least on the audio side, because these tours are going out, hockey season will start on a set date. Who ships wins.”

Strickland recalled how at the 2021 Pollstar Live! during COVID, “we sang Kumbaya, [saying] we’ll look out for each other when the business returns, and that we wouldn’t go for the latest and greatest, but use up what’s on the shelves.”

He acknowledged that that approach would have actually been bad news for the manufacturer, but added that it never came to that as reality showed.

Hutson concluded, much like Production Live concluded in 2021, that “we need to work together, bring back the kindness. We owe it to the craft to make it a better place to when we accepted it.”

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