Some of the History of Stage Sound Ent Ltd. 1973 to 2005.
Paul Johansen went into business in NZ in 1973. He was a high school dropout with 7 years work experience in the electronics industry working as an assembler and later as a technician. He began trading from the kitchen table initially, as Sonic Sound Systems Ltd on a miniscule opening bank balance of $300. He had no commercial experience at all and should have collapsed in flames within 6 months but fate was to play an interesting hand. The market entry product was to be a duo tractrix horn speaker enclosures molded in fiber glass and mounted in a vynal covered timer sleeve. There was nothing wrong with the idea itself but trying to make it all happen on virtually no capital was patently absurd. This was to be a story about passion and self belief rather than what was or was not theoretically possible. Paul simply did not realise the project was not really viable or he may never have tried. Fortunately however no one had the heart to tell him it could not be done.
Paul acquired the original duo horn concept in Australia from another sound engineer called John Burnet, who had much earlier founded Lenard Audio, http://www.lenardaudio.com and would later go on to founder the SAE school with his then partner Tom Minser. John left SAE for numerous ethical reasons and makes no secret of the fact that he see's SAE as it is today as being in existence purely for the purpose of making money. Paul had great respect for John and saw him in the light of mentor and as a source of creative inspiration. He had earlier researched the duo horn concept with a science graduate at Sydney University having realised there were design issues with the original Clair Brothers so called Roy bin. John made and sold these cabinets in tandem with a superb valve slave amplifier made under his brand name Brick. A derivative of the original duo horn design was also manufactured in Sydney by Paul for a time under Johns guidance. John continues in business today making a range of superb pro-sumer audio equipment in Newcastle Australia, for up market Hi Fi and movie theater applications.
Paul returned to NZ in 1973 and several months later setup Sonic Sound Systems Ltd.
The company originally subsisted in a home garage and working with basic tools the first prototype horn flare patterns were shaped from polystyrene foam. These were unique to Australasia and in fact the only other operation in the world that was also going down this path, apparently at around the same time, was Community Sound in the USA. Paul of coarse did not know this. My sincere thanks to Jim Croskery for his wonderful help with the first mold. He did it on a shoe string budget and once Paul had it, he was away. Also, many thanks to Geoff Chapple who drew up the tractrix curves from which we made the shaping templates.
The new company ran on the spot on almost zero profitability before eventually moving into small commercial premises in Hillside Road in Glenfield during 1975. A simple assembly plant evolved from very humble beginnings held together only by Paul's enthusiasm, determination and an uncontrollable lust for product design and new concept development.
The first product to be manufactured in any real quantity was the highly advanced DTH200 Duo Horn loudspeaker enclosure. This endeavor was to be the first of many innovative products that were to follow over the next 15 years. Beginning in a domestic garage situated in Rothesay Bay the teething problems were knocked over one at a time until finally some completed product began to emerge. Most of the early product was sold through the then very high profile Auckland central shop, Kingsley Smith Music. It was largely thanks to Allan Kingsley Smiths faith in these early efforts that gave the then Sonic Sound Systems Ltd as the company was originally called, the kick start it needed. This small cash flow enabled the company to gain some market credibility and hence the initial toehold it so badly needed to get it established. It was largely Allan's support that made SSS Ltd potentially viable. If it had not been for him the company may well have failed. In order to satisfy his insatiable creative bent Paul Johansen (on his own) churned out a whole host of electronic products hitherto unavailable in NZ, (see this early promo shot) between 1973 and 1985. Some were good and some not so good, depending largely on how quickly they were fast tracked to the market place in order to ensure the survival of the company. The big weak link was the lack of a good marketing company but Paul was far too engrossed in the creative side of the business to focus on this aspect and this kind of oversight greatly hindered the commercial evolutionary process.
The second product to show any notable success was the tiny 100 watt multipurpose SA100 so called "Slave Amplifier" of which many hundreds were made. Always looking for opportunities to be innovative, self taught designer Paul Johansen had attempted to design what was believed to be, the smallest Pro Audio, multipurpose amplifier in the world at the time. Most amp tops on the market used large cabinets that were mostly empty space. The vast majority of the early models were sold through Music ways Ltd by Ricky McDonnell. Paul had met Ricky through Peter Torchler, who at the time owned and managed Beggs Music in Takapuna. Peter would later sell his Music Ways shares to Rick.
The SA100 was followed shortly afterward by an advanced technology guitar amp which was probably the first fully solid state amp top made in Australasia. It was called the Sonic Silhouette and it was produced from 1974 until around 1978 and also sold quite well. It would have sold a lot better had it not been for the prejudice associated with solid state technology. Lead guitarists had a thing about valves and still do of course which is largely psychosomatic and in many cases they could not pass a blind test in an attempt to identify the supposed differences in sound between the two technologies. The Silhouette had state variable filters in the tone control circuitry which at this time was unheard of in guitar amp technology. This gave the tone controls infinite boost and cut and set new standards in tonal flexibility.
The late Martin Winch used one of these guitar amps for several years and his good friend, the late Andy Brown proudly sported an SA100 for many years and used it as a bass amp. The music world in NZ mourns the loss of these two eminent musicians and Stage Sound is very proud to have been associated with both of them.
Paul soon realised that it would be necessary for his fledgling enterprise to begin producing PA systems to compliment his MI amplifiers and the first challenge was to be a solid state power amplifier. No one was making these in NZ at the time for retail sales, so it was expected to be a good seller. The original stereophonic power amplifier was called the LSS200 and had 2 x 100 watt RMS channels and this again was a first for NZ. It was designed to mount into a speaker box and the idea was many years ahead of its time. These were used in what were undoubtedly Australasia and possibly even the worlds first self-powered speaker enclosures. Unfortunately no photos were ever taken to record these unique amplifiers installed in speaker cabinets and only a few were ever made. The idea was unfortunately to far ahead of its time to be readily accepted. Now around 35 years later, self powered speaker enclosures are common place but only a very few people are aware that it was Sonic Sound Systems Ltd who made them first. In those days Paul was often working extremely long hours and it was not unusual to find him still at work in front of an oscilloscope at 3 am in the morning. Stabillity in power amplifiers was a major challenge and it was tedious work changing earthing layouts and setting up resistor capacitor networks to deal with this problem. Later on when mos-fets became available to the company due to the high speed of these new devices the stability process was begun all over again. However this input was to pay big dividends as the power amplifiers made by Sonic Sound Systems were reliable and RF instability was only seldom a cause of failure.
Around this time fold back had been invented overseas and Paul decided we needed to make some as well. This is an image of the first working prototype made in 1976. This photo shows what is believed to be therefore the first floor wedge or monitor enclosure ever constructed in NZ.
A limited number of LSS 400's were also manufactured having double the power rating of the original 200 version and were intended for high performance PA applications. In those days an amplifier that produced 400 watts RMS of clean lower was considered seriously powerful indeed! A lot of manufacturers were still using valves! One of the problems facing manufacturers of solid state power amps was the fragile nature of the output devices. The protection circuitry was still evolving and it was difficult to ensure their reliability. Good earth layout was another factor and sometimes we needed to do several passes of the PC board layout to get this right.
The LSS series power amplifiers were soon followed with the SRA200 and the more powerful SRA400. Some of these amps are still in use today. Several hundred of these products were made and many found their way into the numerous nightclub and bar installations that were done by Sonic Sound Systems Ltd during this very busy period. These amps were also fairly reliable because Paul had had the foresight to mount the cooling heat sinks on the outside of the chassis, which meant a good supply of fresh air was always available to cool the output transistors, unlike most power amplifiers produced today. Amplifiers that are reliant on internally mounted fans for their cooling, only work reliably until the fans get clogged up with dust and then cease spinning. If you are lucky they will then thermally limit and then automatically turn off. If you are not so lucky they will over-heat and fry the output transistors and then its all over Rova! Most modern power amps use this much cheaper method of cooling and construction. They are rather like rubber cam belts on cars, you almost can't help wondering if its done deliberately.
About now Chris Davison enters the fray! Chris was a self taught printed circuit board layout artist and very capable electronics engineer indeed and no story about Sonic Sound Systems Ltd's past would be complete without including him. Chris played a major part in many of the products SSS Ltd designed and built between 1976 and the present day. His skill and dedication to doing PC board work of a suitably high standard made possible what were some very sophisticated designs in their day. Chris and Paul remain good friends to this day and are very likely to produce more product in the future. Its not all over yet!
By 1976, mixers were also being produced by SSS Ltd. These included the popular LS-8, some with a 12 channel tack on and then a couple of years later they were followed by the much larger SM80 modular mixer. Around 20 of these big consoles were made in various sizes and sold to clubs and churches mainly, although a few were owned by private individuals. It was the only large console made in NZ at the time, although a few others appeared on the scene within the next few years. One was made by our then opposition, Holden Sound in Christchurch, run by Mike Lewis who now works for Shipleys. The SM80 was overly ambitious and needed further refining which never happened unfortunately. This majestic console was unfortunately plagued by serious production problems that tarnished its potential and one of these was caused by a local annodiser who for some stupid reason covered the module panels in oil to make them look better and this meant that the silk screen ink would not adhere correctly. The output modules were setup as auxiliary sends and would have been more usable as group modules but suitable subgroup switched were not available locally in those days. The product was obsolete before Paul had time to modify and ceased production two years later.
The LS-8 mixer was one of very few small live band type mixers made in NZ during this period and sold well at both retail and trade level.
By the early eighties the company was up and running and had a fairly dependable cash flow. Staff were employed to help build the various lines of equipment and the market was stable enough to enable Paul to plan ahead and take a few risks that would not result in bankruptcy should a new line not prove very successful. In the late eighties he and his wife Bronwyn had managed to graft together sufficient deposit to by a house in Torbay following the move to the National Bank from the ANZ and things were starting to look up.
What followed was a prolific period of design, development and consequent manufacture of an incredible array of new electronic products as Paul attempted to produce a complete catalogue of Pro Audio equipment. Some products were well designed and carefully thought out, but some were limited in their feature sets, hurriedly released to the market and would barely cover their development costs. Top much emphasis was put into R and D and not enough into marketing material. Another problem was that products that should have only sold to the trade were directed at retailers who were not qualified to sell them into the installation market.
Built during this period were preamplifiers, feedback-stabalisers, graphic equalisers, electronic crossovers, light controllers, and various versions of the dual horn RDTH tractrix fiber glass speaker enclosures, culminating in the very nicely designed blue colored Mk-2 RDTH400, very few of which were made unfortunately. The novelty of the design had run its course by 1985 and made way for a more conventional approach until 1995 when the horn flare concept was re-born again as a superbly designed and conceived CFH 400 coaxial horn. (See 'Our Products') Some overly ambitious products such as the GE28 and the SM80 modular mixing console were completed around this time though hurriedly. The company also made many types of bass reflex speaker enclosures beginning with the popular and widely accepted DRA100 and DRB100. These were made in 1 x 15 and 2 x 12 inch woofer versions and SSS Ltd built dozens of them. The DRA and DRB boxes were eventually superseded by the highly advanced (for those days) HPC400 3-way enclosure that brought the company into a new era as it moved towards becoming a pro-audio rental company. The last of the enclosures that were made in any kind of quantity were the SFW400 2 way multi purpose design that used a single 15 inch woofer and a 1 inch constant directivity horn. This rather cunning design was made to mount on a stand, sit on the floor or mount upside down on a wall, hence the initials SFW. This was also made in a twelve inch version as a stand speaker. Numerous types of fold back wedges were also designed and constructed to meet the demand at that time.
The long spell in manufacturing was brought to a resounding end in the mid eighties, when Rob Muldoon, the prime minister of the day and his enlightened National Party cronies, deduced that it was better for NZ to become a consumer of imported electronic product rather than a producer of them. This sadly was to bring to an end an amazing period when along with many other dedicated New Zealanders Sonic Sound Systems Ltd had helped to reduce the balance of payments rather than to increase it! So much for creativity and productivity. Paul and many others like him became Rob Muldoons so called 'blood on the floor'. This wonderful era of manufacturing sound gear in NZ ground to a resounding halt!
Going back to 1977 after the first oil shock, SSS went through a very bleak and depressed period and were effectively dead in the water but fortunately had not yet laid down. Luckily Paul had hung in there long enough to see the Disco era take off. He managed scrape enough money together to build three SD5C stereo disco mixers that were built for a guy called Tom Anderson in Taupo. Without this order SSS Ltd may well have been history but the small amount of money earned enabled the company to gain just enough forward momentum to build first DJ console. It combined an SD5C mixer with two belt drive turntables. Paul didn't like the look of the result so he built another Mk 2 version based on an English console he liked the look of. Sonic Sound Systems Ltd built somewhere around 40 of these Dee Jay Consoles over a two year period and this took them into the eighties. The result was a revelation for the company and served to demonstrate the benefits of stubborn perseverance. This period proved to be a joy ride doing numerous nightclub installations with almost no competition. Oceania and Live Sound did not make their presence felt in the install scene until much later and so SSS Ltd had it on their own for nearly ten years. The company moved from the premises it had shared with Music Ways into a two story street front building in 1978 and began selling direct to the public rather than seeing all the profits go to a marketing company. The top floor of this building was fitted out with a shop like appearance that proved to be a mistake and a waste of time and money. This was because they were primarily a manufacturing company and had no experience in operating as a shop.
A rehearsal studio was later added, which proved to be a very good move as it would serve to provide an endless though modest cash flow during the lean times. From here such high quality products as the SMA series of mosfet power amplifiers were made. These had three variations, the SMA400, SMA800 and the massive SMA1400 which did around 1000 wrms into a 4 ohm load but could also safely run into 2 ohms! This was another very successful item as they not only looked good but were extremely reliable and very powerful. Hundreds of the smaller SMA models were made and many are still in daily use today. The last of the power amps to be made was the rather unsuccessful Sovren series amps. These turned out to be far to complicated and very difficult to build. This was indeed a tragedy as a small fortune was spent on tooling up and engineering the product which was by far the most professional looking amplifier the company ever made and rivaled many overseas designs for good looks and construction techniques. The Soveren was plagued by a run of faulty integrated circuits that often failed and damaged other components in the output stage boards as well. About 40 were made and sold but on the whole were not reliable enough to continue with and the last of these amps rolled off the production benches in 1993. During the mid eighties, the beautiful modular SM85 Mixer was also made and many of these found their way into nightclubs, schools and churches, along with some very innovative custom made centre speakers. The SM85 product was also made in a music playback version which superseded the very successful SD5C concept. A whole raft of customised speaker enclosures such as this very nice 15" 3 way design that used EV components (Top left of the image) were manufactured during this period as well. Many highly customised enclosures such as the CM300 were made for various applications some of which never saw production in any serious quantity. The companies ability to custom build specialised speaker enclosures for unusual auditorium shapes and sizes, gave it an edge that has endured to this day. There was no holding back, if we had a challenging situation with say a church or school roof, which meant a projector beam would be compromised by a loudspeaker enclosure we simply built a central speaker to fit.
A person by the name of Graham Bowers deserves a mention here because it was his ability at loudspeaker crossover design that made it possible for Paul to mix and match driver components to achieve the desired results. Graham had access to a superb Hewlett Packard and Bruel and Kerr audio annalising system that meant he could predict the way a loudspeaker enclosure would perform in conjunction with a crossover network design. Graham was also able to design the bass ports on a bass reflex enclosure so the cabinet maker could get it right the first time round without any trial and error work being required. Graham left Auckland in the late 90's to work for Perreauxe Sound located in Dunedin where he has since bought a house. He has also assisted Paul with his planar high frequency project.
The first serious professional touring sound work undertaken by SSS Ltd actually came way back in 1976 via the late Phil Warren who at the time was using his promotional company Prestige Promotions Ltd as a vehicle to stage several international live show artists in nation wide concert tours. These included some stand up comics such as Reg Varney and Patrick Cargill. SSS Ltd also supplied the audio for a Winifred Atwell Tour, a John Hamlin tour and another with Marc Williams, also sponsored by Phil and his company. This work was done with a unique incremental power amp rack that had 10 modules in one case and sat flat rather than vertically. It had a single large power supply and again the concept was well ahead of its time. The entire PA was custom built by Paul and used for about 3 years prior to the eventual demise of Prestige Promotions. Wonder what happened to soundman come roadie slash dogs body Barry Davies? Five of these large systems where made in total and each sold with folded sub horns duo mid range horns and tweeter arrays for the high end.
Many different audio products were produced during this time and most were distributed across NZ by the very successful Music ways Ltd who are still in business today and doing very well under the skilled management of the well known brass band musician Ricky McDonnell. Rick is a very astute salesman and once reportedly sold a dead horse to a stud farm!
During the 1980s SSS Ltd did numerous audio design and build installations mainly in Bars and Hotels for Dance Floor applications. The company did no less than thirty five hotel installs for Lion Corporation alone which was then owned and managed by Douglas Myers. These were all done using Teac Hi Fi gear driving a cleverly designed little two way wall mounting speaker also designed by Paul and built in NZ by WAAM Ltd then owned by David Lane. Sonic Sound Systems Ltd were without doubt New Zealands most prolific builder of this type of system over a twelve year period with the unique record of having done most of this work with sound equipment the company had designed and manufactured in NZ. More than 200 complete sound system installations were completed between 1978 and 1992. A list of these will be included here in the near future.
In 1987 the company was joined by ex patriot Canadian soundman Brad Bailey who was to have a substantial impact on the hire division which coincided with a change of name change to Stage Sound Enterprises Ltd.
Brads influence injected badly needed fresh energy into the Pro Audio hire division and although SSE Ltd was only fourth in the pecking order behind Oceania, Bartons and Live Sound, they were a major force in the regional market and had many inhouse fixed installation systems that were maintained on a term hire basis. In one situation SSE Ltd were lucky enough to do a nightclub concert for none other than the great Stevie Wonder who had been rained off an outdoor show. Here was Paul standing in Mike Reeces Meggadrome nightclub listening to Stevie performing through a sound system he had built himself entirely in NZ! They also did some tours for such artists as Jan Helregal, Moana and the Maori Hunters and Supergroove, as well as some very big university concerts, including several international acts such as Throwing Mews, Jerry Harrison and the Mutton Birds. They also did the outdoor sound for North Harbours NPC rugby matches. At the time Brad joined, the companies' A Rig consisted of a motley collection of the famous 4560 type speakers and Altec 511B one inch horns. These were replaced by a combination of 18 inch W Bins and SFW400 composite speakers, which in turn were superseded by the dual 15 and 2 inch horn type that were in use as FOH systems by SSE Ltd, Live Sound Ltd and others during the late eighties. The main PA rig grew substantially in size and complexity and was used in many of Auckland's biggest venues. This picture shows a very young Chris Tate who was working for Stage Sound as a learner at that time, before leaving to work for Live Sound. Here he is shown running up our main PA for a large show in the Turners and Growers building. The FOH speaker stack was a 3 way system using W bins, JBL 12 inch mod bins and 2-inch horns. The fold back system was very large and cumbersome but very comprehensive for the era. By now SSE Ltd was operating from much larger premises at the lower end of Barry's Point Rd in 4500 square foot premises and the hire dept was still growing fast. A rehearsal studio was again included. It was at this point that Paul invited Bill Flemming to join the company and he did so as the first debenture holder SSE had ever had. Bill injected some much needed capital, the bulk of which was used to buy and build more Pro Audio hire gear. The direction and expenditure set up the company for an ever increasing work load. This move however was to be a big lesson in who you can and can not trust as the strong union between Brad Bailey and Bill Fleming would become the catalyst for the destruction of Stage Sound as it then was. 1995 he was effectively pushed out of his own company and the result was College Hill Productions. Paul could not match Bill in monetary terms and the lack of protective documentation meant that right from the outset he could have never survived a hostile takeover. Interestingly enough, Brad who had been the power broker in this restructure only lasted about 6 months at College Hill himself before being pushed out, so I guess you could say what goes around, comes around.
Paul picks up the story in his own words:
In 1988 I was contacted by a guy called Richard Holden from Lion Corporations head office in Auckland. Richard was one of those guys you either loved or hated. He had an aura of arrogant invincibility about him and he just oozed self confidence. However I certainly owe a huge debt of gratitude to Richard, who's belief in me enabled us to achieve a substantial boost in growth that without him would not have been possible. This new relationship although only a short one (for some reason he disappeared!) proved to be one of those rare lucky breaks one gets sometimes in life and we went on to do no less than 35 hotel installations for Lion Corp. I was flying all over NZ at their expense doing one installation after the other. Many of these systems were really nothing to get excited about, as they were only a combination of Teac domestic gear and some little custom built 4 inch woofer and paper cone tweeter type two way wall speakers (as mentioned earlier), but we made hundreds of them. I came up with a cunning way of hooking these little speakers up in series parallel using load spreading pad resistors to balance the load and set the levels so all things became possible at a very low cost. The good thing was that each time the Lion management put me up against any competition, I managed to keep the contract, so I must have been working fairly cheaply! What a joy ride it was! Wow! It actually helped me buy my second house. I can remember flying into Christchurch once to investigate a new job with the local area manager and 'pub crawling' our way from the airport through every Lion bar between the runway and the hotel we were staying at. When we finally staggered into the hotel foyer virtually paralytic and barely able to stand upright, the first thing the manager said when he saw us was, Shit! You guys look like you could use a drink, follow me!
All good things must come to an end and so did this. One day a rather fed up Doug Myers apparently decided he had had enough of managing a chain of hotels and so he sold them all to his local managers, restructured the Auckland based A team, fired most of them and went back to concentrate on making booze. Wise move Doug. He didn't ask me what I thought though and the amazing joyride was finally over! I will never forget that era. It was one of those things that was like a fairy tale that was never supposed to end but eventually had to!
If I was to do anything differently as far as the design of these systems I built for Lion Corp goes, it would have been to have used 6 inch speakers instead of 4 inch. Why? Because the sound performance would have been far better and it would have also extended their usable life time considerably while substantially improving their efficiency. As it was, most of them had been replaced within five years and I got very little repeat business. As they say "Ain't hindsight a wonderful thing!" The lesson for me was always over design rather than compromise for the sake of price.
This hectic period was followed in 1989 with the advent of the Karaoke era and this was to be another free lunch, at least it was while we were the only game in town, but that didn't last very long either. We had anything up to five Karaoke Systems and singer operators out on any Saturday night. The dry hire, studio and term hire added substantially to this and it ran on until it dried up in 1992 when everyone was sick to death of Croaking and it so it croaked. We did however have a lot of fun during this time and made some serious money. Everyone was happy and Brad was in his element!
In 1992 I was approached by the music chains Just Sounds Ltd and Electric City Music with requests to design, build and manufacture CD listening posts. These included the CD-5, and the Solo single disc type. I went on to make over four hundred of these devices collectively and made around half a million dollars. These things were spread around numerous NZ music retailers. Five different versions were made and the larger users were joined by Real Groovy in 2001 who owned more than 50 of these headphone based auditioning units. We tried to build them as strongly as possible but wear and tear was a constant challenge, especially broken headphone cables, over which we had little control other than to replace the damaged ones. This era culminated with the development of the CDSA-6 model which used a Pioneer 6 disc cartridge type car changer and was by far the best listening post product I ever made in terms of its sophistication and physical strength was concerned. However only about 20 units were ever build and these were sold to the Progressive Super Market chain in a failed attempt to sell CD's through their food shops. Among many examples of insane behavior and poor upbringing, the shoppers kids tore the headphones apart! Another great idea that was never given the chance to work.
The CMS Era: Computer Music Systems Ltd 1997 to 2003.
In 1995 I came up with the idea of combining an MP3 player with a database to function as a sophisticated PC based music presentation system that could be easily programmed to run without an operator. Thus the amazing DMC2000 was born which was yet another NZ first for Stage Sound. A huge R and D effort ensued and I sank far to much money into it, around $180,000, which ended up being a totally stupid move. God I'd love to re-live some of these experiences! In 1997 we began doing a field trial with three units in The Brownsy, The Glenfield Tavern and The Esplanade in Devonport. They loved the concept and I must admit it did look like it might take off into something worthwhile. CMS Ltd grew gradually to become possibly the largest supplier of background audio video playback music in the country and has turned over millions of dollars. It had a well set up workshop and editing suite in Hillside Rd Glenfield and is managed by Sam Donaldson. I was pushed out by Sam in 2003 and lost a bundle but managed to keep my shirt! The trouble was CMS Ltd had way to much opposition and far to many pubs that went broke. Some even stole the PC's when they collapsed! Sam apparently went on to loose control of CMS to his finance company in 2010 and now works for it as an employee.
One year after the Computer Music System concept was established (now CMS Ltd) Brad Bailey and our then debenture holder Bill Fleming decided they wanted Stage Sound to relocate to the city side. I did not apparently fit into their plans for the future so a deal was negotiated and I sold out the Pro Audio side of the company and College Hill Productions was then formed. I find it regrettable that Bill did not have the foresight to hang in there with me, he could have run CMS Ltd and with his valuable accountancy skills could well have made the company work. CMS has turned over a veritable fortune, (millions!) it just needed some good financial control and it was that increment that seemed to me to be so badly lacking.
Ian Robinson made the decision to join me shortly after the departure of Bill Flemming and Brad Bailey and together we began the long and very difficult process of trying to build the company client base back up again. This worked to a point but Ian was no Brad in terms of his business development skills and as I had lost so much of my customer base, recreating the heady days of the past when we were big, bold and very busy proved difficult for us to achieve. In 1995 a car dealer by the name of Ovlov who was located on the floor below us in Barrys Point Rd offered me a large sum of money to vacate the building. This proved to be rather fortuous because apart from the fact it was directly under a 120,000 volt power line I didn't like very much, it was almost empty now, having been evacuated by Brad and Bill. After a look around at what was on the market I decided to purchase a brand new 3000 sq foot factory building in Porana Rd and a year later we moved into it. I then reinjected another $100k back into equipment and effectively started from scratch. Ian pushed for event company work such as that given to us by Madant Productions and slowly we increased the cash flow again. I was very much distracted by the CMS project though and so Stage Sound was unduly penalised by this and Ian felt frustrated by my apparent lack of commitment and probably thought he was doing it all on his own. Added to this, the political problems associated with CMS left me washed out and I was not behaving in the way a good leader should. By 1999 Ian decided he had had enough of the hire industry and with persistent back problems becoming worse every year he bailed as well. I was very sorry to loose Ian because apart from the fact he was a better front man than me, he had an awesome ear for balance. At least as good or perhaps even better than Chris Tate in my opinion. He was also the best cold start engineer I had ever heard. Ian could cold start a band with no sound check and within a couple of bars you would swear he had done one. He now works as a theater technician for Kristin School which to me is a huge waste of a great talent. Ian could have owned Stage Sound outright but he either did not believe this or did not want to. If I ever wanted something done well, I knew he had what it took to make it happen right first time, every time.
My attempts to find more good staff proved fruitless and after employing several total duds with the exception of Adam Houston (an ex Kristin student who left me to fly military helicopters) I resolved to slog on alone and work with various ringins, contract sound engineers and laborers. As they say, the only way to get a job done well is to do it yourself. It does get a bit busy at times though and rather lonely at others. I try not to dwell on all the things I got wrong and instead keep an eye out for good opportunities if they should happen along.
With Ian gone, Stage Sound entered a prolonged period of stagnation for the next 5 years while I worked the gear as best I could on my own and did not loose any sleep about the slow growth I was getting. By juggling our finances around I managed to get my factory unit freehold and this served to build up my sense of security and self confidence and I began to feel the urge to grow the company again.
The most recent loudspeaker product that involved any serious research and development was the highly innovative CFH 400 coaxial horn concept. This product had international potential but lack of financial resources made this impossible and as to many were made and sold in NZ a world wide patent became untenable. By 2006 the A rig and general inventory quota had reached approximately to same level it was at when Bill first joined in 1993.
Another person to make more than a small contribution to the continuing saga of Stage Sounds existence was Bob Campbell. Bob, an experienced bass player, first appeared around 2001 and not only had a good ear for balance but brought with him an amazing amount of work. It would be true to say that had Bob not wanted to be a part of my now diminished existence, I probably would not have continued doing high level out door sound reinforcement. Bob's enthusiasm for recording also resulted in our studio booth being constructed and it was his carpentry skills that made this endeavor possible. Bob is always on the lookout for bands wanting a hire PA and it does not matter to him what type of music they play, he will be out there doing it for them.
Mike Dodds happened along in 2004 as is another very capable and experienced engineer I am proud to be associated with. We have also had the privilege of having Paul Crowther and Ben Stockwell work at FOH on a number of our larger shows and their technical ability has been a welcome relief at times and helped reduce the stress levels involved in these big events. Another useful person has been Jackson Andrews who has proven to be an excellent monitor engineer and recordist both hanging of the end of a video camera or a digital audio recorder. See this image.
This website may yet herald the beginning of an exciting new era for Stage Sound. Indications are that it is being hit a lot already which bodes well for how it will go when completed. If I ever complete it that is!
As far as the hire division goes there are three obvious possibilities. I can sell it. I can run it down and sell off the equipment through this site or I can find a good engineer with some money and some good business acumen, who would like to gradually take it over and eventually own it outright. Unfortunately good engineers who also have the ability to run companies are very rare in this business and don't happen along very often at all. My approach will be to keep an open mind and be receptive to any viable offers that emerge as time goes by. My inclination is to do more installation and equipment sales work and take the future as it comes. The North Shore certainly has all the right ingredients for substantial growth and as Stage Sound is the only serious Pro-Audio company between the Harbour Bridge and Kaitaia it has the stability and dependability that many companies lack. I would welcome an approach by any individual or company interested in an ongoing involvement in Stage Sound from a commercial point of view.
Well, as fate would have it and for no apparent reason that I can put my finger on, things really took off in 2006. If anyone had told me last year that the annual turnover was about to DOUBLE I would have laughed in their face, yet that is exactly what happened. We began getting jobs that would have normally have gone to College Hill or Oceania and in the process attracting the attention of some of the top bands.
However one of the major problems facing our industry is the shortage of competent and experienced personal. Having a good work load is one thing but finding staff who can help you get the job done well is another story. The hideous employment contracts act does nothing to help the situation either. Instead of promoting full time employment it actually discourages it. It is also very hard indeed to find young people who are actually passionate about pro audio. I would go so far as to say they don't seem to exist. You have to be really keen to be packing out heavy equipment in the rain at four in the morning when you would far rather be asleep in a nice warm bed. Who can blame anyone for feeling like this? If you want to get into this game it is a really good idea not to actually have a life, because you can forget having too many weekends off. And forget about having a wife or girlfriend because when she realises what your job is all about there's a good chance she won't hang around very long. Unless that is, she prefers a guy who is not around very much and she hates taking holidays. The Technical Institutes churn out young people who think that its all about sitting behind a mixing console and thats what we do all day. Well, I've got news for these guys and it's all bad. Mixing sound is probably around 2% of what we do and thats being generous.
Now nearing the end of 2007 we have added a lot of new gear and are well positioned going forward as far as our inventory is concerned. One problem I do have is the size of our factory! Either it is shrinking or the equipment pool is getting much larger! So much for retiring!