I've been involved in the audio industry in Mexico for over 15 years, and while some things have changed in this emerging market, others have stayed the same. In 1987 I set up Audio Dynamics, a rental company that toured with the likes of Air Supply and Jefferson Starship. I moved into the installation market in 1994 and obtained the contract to design the sound systems for most of the Hard Rock Cafés in Mexico and Argentina, and several Planet Hollywoods around Central and South America.
The international market for themed venues declined in the late ‘90s and it was time to re-appraise the situation. In Mexico, there are few large audio installation companies, and, consequently, it seemed to make sense to look at the pro-audio market with a view to selling and supporting products to end users.
In every business, whether it's selling donuts or computers, the biggest challenge of all is to raise awareness of the product. So it was when, in 2002, I opened the d&b audiotechnik office in Mexico. Many might think this to be a foolhardy move — selling a virtually unknown product, with the “disadvantage” of being made in Europe, into a market dominated by a number of major US manufacturers — not exactly the way to have peaceful nights!
The two largest cities in Mexico, and therefore where the most sales opportunities lie, are Mexico City and Guadalajara. The challenges were obvious and remain so to this day, even though we have now gained a toehold in the market. From the beginning, we knew that our major task was to raise profile of the d&b systems in Mexico and convince end users that d&b was up to the job.
The economy in Mexico is, of course, an enormous factor. It is government policy to maintain tight control over inflation. People who want to buy more expensive equipment cannot do so, because there is so little financing available for this type of thing. As a result, we do our best to offer financing for the client whenever it is possible and necessary to give them a chance to be able to buy what they need.
Only within the last two decades has there generally been exposure or access to products from outside of Mexico. Now, you can have almost anything you want, but you need to understand the advantages of more sophisticated equipment. As a result, education is a real challenge for everyone in my field. Very few people will request new systems when they don't really understand what good sound is. More exposure to high quality sound systems is needed, so everyone will become aware of the possibilities and then raise their expectations of what they can have. So many places are in need of professional quality systems, or have systems that were installed before there was availability to truly excellent sound systems from elsewhere in the world. Demos have been the best means by far of proving our point and providing people with the exposure they need to understand the difference.
There are just not many new arts venues available, presenting another obstacle for growth in theatre. Mexico may only have two or three major musicals running, a small number when compared to the range of this type of entertainment in the US or Europe.
Due to the economic climate previously mentioned, the smaller theatres don't have the money to upgrade and often are not yet aware of what they could do, even with a small amount of money. There is also not an abundance of either public or private funding to help expand resources in this area. These factors limit the installation market, but are another situation where demos will help tremendously in the future.
Conversely, in the restaurant and club market, new opportunities come up all the time; this area is growing and changing constantly. It is helpful here that these new places have people who are much more aware of what is available; they know that high quality sound can be the very thing to make their venue extremely popular.
One of the curiosities of the Mexican market is that Mexicans equate advertising with success. “The more advertising a company does, the more successful it must be” goes the thinking. d&b is not a prolific advertiser, which to a point has hindered our progress in establishing a market. Added to that, it's most unusual for a company to thrive in Mexico, if it's not already doing well in the United States. I'm glad to say that d&b is beginning to play a major role in the US pro-audio market, which will help our efforts here.
A significant need for more training and knowledge of electro acoustics is often a consideration in many Mexican rental and installation companies. There is a tendency for people to not even read the manuals provided, although part of the problem is a lack of readily available Spanish documentation. Currently, manuals in Spanish are becoming available from more and more audio manufacturers, but it has been a slow process. In the meantime, there is just not enough technical knowledge, which hinders getting the most out of a sound system, whatever the brand.
A lot of my time is spent providing training to ensure that systems consistently perform at their best. Anyone can throw a few loudspeakers up in a venue, but a good sound engineer will tell you what a skilled job it is to get the best sound quality. Positioning and configuration are critical; the best system in the world could be appalling if poorly set up or installed — we've all had to suffer bad sound. One of my ongoing projects is to set up and run a series of sound seminars for industry professionals to increase understanding of electro acoustics and sound system design. We do this in other countries around the world and it is incredibly beneficial.
Now in our third year, we have started to establish the brand name but we see many challenges in the future, particularly moving into Latin America and South America. There is a huge market there to tap into in the longer term. One of the idiosyncrasies of the Latin American market is that it requires companies to be established in the rental market to achieve success in the pro-audio business, in the fullest sense. My challenge is to find suitable partners to work with.
The achievements to date have been in a number of market areas. We have supplied equipment to large national rental companies for use on tour with Mexican and international artists. Restaurants, discos and nightclubs and a few mobile DJ's are also capitalizing on the performance of d&b audiotechnik sound systems. These days you can hear d&b systems in action at the Hindu — a big club spilling over the 9th and 10th floors of an office building in the heart of Mexico City's business quarter. The Mantra restaurant and nightclub in San Jeronimo, Mexico City, was the first club in Mexico to install a d&b system. The Arroyo restaurant, which has been in business since 1930 boasts a d&b system in each of its four dining rooms where traditional Mexican food is served. The list goes on, and there are some exciting developments to come. There is one thing I am certain of — I'll have very few quiet days in the future.