EXPERIENCE PRS 2021 and How Virtual Expos May Be an Industry Mainstay.
Since January of 2020, the world has seen many vast changes in the way that we interact with one another. From personal relationships, to business partnerships, to acting as consumers; we have all had to come up with unique methods to continue functioning, and to keep our social and professional lives moving forward. With live performance, industry expos, and typical collaboration all having been halted by restrictions and lockdowns, the music industry has definitely felt quite a bit of the setback that we are all experiencing due to the past year. When it was announced that last year’s NAMM show would be cancelled, the organizers found it imperative that the event continue on in some manner. With the rise, ease-of-access, and integrability of live-streaming platforms and services, it was relatively simple for them to create an internet-based virtual event intended to create some level of replacement for the event itself. Following the announcement of NAMM’s virtual event, many articles and industry reporters commented that this may become a far more common occurrence in the music community, and that music merchandise companies may be likely to create their own virtual events in order to grow their online presence, as well as to showcase their latest lines of products without having to bear the expense of a fully organized physical event.
In that spirit, Paul Reed Smith Guitars have announced their Experience PRS 2021 virtual event for July 8th, where viewers will have access to exclusive artist clinics, informational sessions with Paul Reed Smith himself, a look at the PRS production floor, and a glimpse into what the company will be offering in the near future.
Though there will always be a faction of traditionalists who swear off virtual events—and claim that any technology-based experience will not be as valid or worthwhile as a tangible one—PRS, and other companies following suit are taking a much needed step for the industry. While there is a certain truth behind the sentiment that these events will not be the same as a live physical event, the goal behind these virtual expos is not to be the same, but to be something new and different. It is imperative—now more than ever—that we allow accessibility to these types of informational exhibitions, and for some, it may be difficult to find themselves at the NAMM show or any of its international counterparts. When you factor in airfare, hotels, transportation, meals, and other various expenses, a trip to an out-of-state trade show can become quite a costly endeavour. On top of that, there is always the possibility of not being able to receive a badge, or ending up at the expo on a particularly crowded day, which is found to be quite troublesome by many instrument enthusiasts who are simply looking for additional information and insight on their product of interest.
Of course, these live trade shows are extremely beneficial to the industry, and can be a great opportunity for outreach, networking, and marketing your brand. However, one can definitely see how certain extenuating factors could dissuade someone from wanting to attend. Therein lies the demand that music companies are swiftly seeking to create a reply to. With these virtual events, they are fully intended to be an open invitation to examine the company’s ethics, the functionality of the business, how they choose to cater to their specific clientele, and the rigorous elements of production that they go through in order to bring these products to market. For those who find the concept of making their way to a physical exhibition troublesome, these new virtual experiences very well may be the solution, and will broaden the client base of these companies that choose to go through with putting on an online show. Many companies have been approaching this new format, and are seeing quite a successful run with their virtual exhibitions. Among others, CD Baby’s Virtual DIY Conference, the Silicon Valley Music Production Summit, and several Worship Music conferences have all made the decision to switch many of their conventions to a digital format. While there will always be a dropoff in interest—due to those who strictly attend exhibitions for the tactile experience—these events seem to be performing well, with new audiences seeking the opportunity to gain information about the companies that create these products we patronize.
If I was to boil the benefits of these virtual events down to a short list of concepts, they would be accessibility and inclusivity, the opportunity to examine a company’s ethics and philosophies, and how they seek to find a counterbalance between their desires of innovation and the specifications and custom options that their customer base seems to be clamouring for.
When it comes to PRS, the description of their live event states that they will be showcasing several elements of the company; from factory floor segments, to artist clinics, along with new guitar updates and discoveries walked through by Mr. Paul Reed Smith himself. Additionally, there will be an included live-chat, for the purposes of retaining a community feel with those who are taking part in the exhibition. Though the company is very aware that this virtual experience will not be the same as a typical Experience PRS event, they are aiming to make it extremely informational, accessible, inclusive to the viewing audience, and a worthwhile way for guitar enthusiasts and PRS patrons to spend their time.
Ethics are an important aspect of any company, and PRS is assuredly demonstrating the content of their creed through the operation of this live event. Through working with PRS for a number of years, we have ascertained that there is a certain level of morale and principled school of thought that exists within their company. From their mission statement—”Guitar building is an ongoing process of discovery. We are devoted to the guitar's rich heritage while committed to new technologies that will enrich our products with uncompromised tone, playability and beauty”—to the ways in which their different departments conduct business with one another, PRS has proven itself to be a company of outstanding operational excellence, as well as showing itself to be one of the great forward-thinking companies in the modern industry of musical innovation.
The amount of time and preparation that it takes to properly construct any level of showcase experience definitely varies. However, in the luthier community, these events are seen as an opportunity to publicly brandish their projects of passion that they have poured so much creative energy into. As with any form of artist, regardless of whether they consider their artistic creations to be personal or public, there is always a sense of satisfaction and pride in displaying something that you have designed to be optimal, mechanically sound, and aesthetically pleasing in the context of its intended application. In that spirit, guitar companies like PRS strive to make their events a spectacle with an air of excitement—in whatever form their exhibition may be taking place.
In short, the landscape of the current music industry has shifted, and will continue shifting as technology progresses, attention spans shorten, and new avenues are taken in order to reach goals in a more optimal manner. I suppose that anyone can make a judgement on whether these progressions show themselves to be a net positive, or a net negative. However, exhibitions and conventions being made more accessible seems as if it would be a practical approach to broadening the client base of many of these companies. The opportunity to be seen is—above all else—the most invaluable thing that a new company can obtain. Your products may be fantastic, you may be one of the most notably meritorious operations working in the modern day, and you may be completely driven towards your goals. Be that as it may, none of these factors will have the opportunity to matter in the long-term if you do not have the opportunity to be seen. A more close-knit, more tightly organized online experience—while obviously not being a “better” alternative to the typical format of live, in-person exhibitions—can greatly benefit one’s ability to conduct a closer examination of their company of choice, and to feel as though they can put their trust in the company and their product line. Transparency and understanding are extremely important factors in the relationship between business and client, and the more work that can be done in order to create discernibility of a company’s operations, the better. So, from what I can see, these types of virtual experiences may be a mainstay in the industry, being used as an alternative and separate type of event in order to accompany their more mainstream physical counterparts. For some, it may be the most-desired outcome; for others, it may be a completely unnecessary step. Regardless, this is the state of the industry that we currently exist in, and it is imperative that we make the most of the opportunities that have been presented to us.
The Experience PRS Virtual Event will be streamed live on the Paul Reed Smith YouTube channel on July 8, 2021 at 7pm EST.
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