Ruminations about the Lone Star Audiofest

First, a brief reflection about LSAF 2024. From my perspective, the number of attendees was pretty much as it always is. I saw lots of new faces this year though. Most years, we have a bunch of regulars and a few new faces. Seemed like this year, there were more new people.

But for any of you that have attended LSAF over the years, you know how it is there. It’s a small show. I don’t think we’ve ever had more than a couple hundred attendees. Seems like we usually hover around 100 to 200. I think that’s what we saw this year too.

We may be small, but we’re the “in crowd.” We’re a bunch of passionate audio engineers and technicians, and many of us have “mad-skills” and technical chops. We’re the professionals that are cited as references, people that have written extensively and solid, well-respected audio experts. Examples are guys like Earl Geddes, James Griffin, Danny Ritchie, Pete Millett and Keith Larson.

I probably shouldn’t even have started “name-dropping” ’cause most of our exhibitors are experts in their field of specialization. My list wasn’t complete – there are many more experts at LSAF each year. We give seminars every few years, and when we do, people can get free lectures from the people that literally “wrote the book” in their audio specialization. So my point is, while LSAF is small, it’s got chops. We’re the ones that know. I’m proud of that.

But 2024 was light on exhibitors. We had some regulars that couldn’t come for understandable reasons. One of the big ones was a conflict with T.H.E. show in Los Angeles, which was my mistake from moving the show date to June. I inadvertently created a scheduling conflict with them.

However, this scheduling conflict set in motion a chain of events that has become quite interesting.

A couple months before the LSAF 2024 show, I checked on the registrations at the hotel and found that many of our regular exhibitors weren’t registered. I began to reach out, and that’s when I found out the reasons some wouldn’t be coming. That’s when I discovered that LSAF 2024 conflicted with the SoCal T.H.E. 2024 show.

I couldn’t believe I did that. So I wrote an email to the “info” email address for T.H.E. show, introducing myself and apologizing for my oversight. I also asked that we coordinate so that we didn’t have scheduling conflicts going forward. I explained that LSAF had been first weekend in May for decades, but then recently shifted to first weekend in June. I contemplated simply moving the show date back.

T.H.E. Show’s Emiko Carlin replied, thanking me for the concern and asking if we could talk by phone. It was just easier to have a discussion by phone than through email exchanges. So of course, I agreed.

She said she was intrigued by the approach of our little show, and by its uniqueness. And so she wondered whether we could maybe do some sort of cooperative venture. Rather than scheduling around each other, perhaps we could support one another’s shows, to combine efforts in some way.

To me, this is an exciting idea. For a long time, LSAF has enjoyed its unique “stone soup” show approach, but it has always suffered from a lack of exposure as a result. In contrast, T.H.E. Show is the “juggernaut” of audio shows – ever since way back when it was independently associated with the Consumer Electronics Show in the Las Vegas St. Tropez. By coordinating T.H.E. and LSAF, we might be able to gain exposure by proximity.

The problem is, of course, how to combine a “pay-to-play” show with a “stone soup” show. We discussed various ideas, like a form of tiered approach, or perhaps two separate shows in the same venue or nearby venues, or maybe having a show with an entry-level that’s low-cost but giving additional value-added services for those that can afford it.

While considering these things, we have to consider the exhibitors that participate. There are three basic types of exhibitors at LSAF:

First is the small shops, kit makers and DIY enthusiasts and support companies. My main focus is, and always has been, to support this group. They are often entrepreneurs just getting started, and/or semi-retired company owners making and selling audio gear. These are small shops that really need an affordable show. They generally sell direct and have no showroom or dealer network.

That’s the core of LSAF, and it was the driving motivation when starting LSAF. So for these guys, we need a show that gives classy but reasonably-priced suites or some other similar venue that allows the vendor to have a sleeper room and a show room at low cost. They can’t just have a booth – they need to be able to setup their demo systems. And they cannot afford advertising, so they have to promote the show and themselves by their own means.

But soon after the show began, a second type of exhibitor class appeared. Some companies grew enough that they could afford a little more and they started going to larger, more costly shows. I call this kind of LSAF exhibitor a “crossover exhibitor,” because they have grown large enough to crossover from our essentially-free show into a “pay-to-play” show. They usually continue to participate at LSAF, but they start to exhibit at other shows, like AXPONA, RMAF (when it existed) and T.H.E. show.

And of course, some companies are large enough to go to all the audio shows. That’s the third type of exhibitor. They tend to have a really polished presentation, and I find that all the other exhibitors – the “type 1 and type 2” exhibitors, by my little rubric – tend to aspire to be like the “type 3” exhibitors. These are the guys that set the standards. Everybody wants to be like them.

So our goal is to be able to support all these types of exhibitors. I am hoping we are able to leverage a relationship with T.H.E. to be able to maintain the same low-cost and intimacy that LSAF has always provided, but also to be able to benefit from the marketing and reach, and perhaps the other value-added services like live music performances, that a show like T.H.E. can offer.

Emiko Carlin seems keen to make this happen. She wants to keep the uniqueness of LSAF – we’re the only show like this, catering to DIYers with a great degree of technical skill – so I have guarded optimism we can cooperate in some way. We bring to the table something different than all he “pay-to-play” shows. But we are small, as a result of our “stone soup” show model. Emiko is a marketer, and so her T.H.E. show can bring to us some exposure, which may potentially benefit everyone.

The task at hand is how to merge them in a way that allows T.H.E. to maintain the profits it enjoys from being a traditional “pay-to-play” show while keeping the low-cost, technical zeal and intimacy of LSAF’s “stone soup” approach. We are looking at ways to develop a whole new show model that combines the best aspects of each.

Stay tuned. We’re going to create the most unique audio show there is.

Related reading:

The Future of LSAF

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