Thursday, 7 March 2013

Scalford HiFi Show - Exhibitor's Experience

Our mission: give exhibiting a try to see if its a good thing, whilst giving show goers the opportunity to hear something they won't have heard at Scalford before - an all active Linn system based purely around streaming - hopefully giving the doubters (Linn and streaming) something to think about.

Planning started months before, thinking through and discussing what we liked about the show when we went last time (e.g. signs on doors, a list of available music to choose from, how rooms are laid out etc.) - mainly thinking about what music to play, how to make it easy to find and deliver, what kit we would need beyond the actual components, when we would travel over etc. etc. Broached the topic with our partners and got the relevant domestic passes to be allowed out to play.

Searched the Wam for ideas, top tips, what to avoid, what not to forget etc. - there's lots in there and now James has consolidated it into one guide, which is very useful. Concerned that show goers wouldn't want to hear a Linn system, but received positive encouragement in the forum. Lots of this done in advance of finding out if we'd even get a room at the show.

Followed all the threads about how to apply for a room etc., found out we were successful then mild concern about if it was a good idea or not. We had a tiny room allocated which wouldn't suit the system so (and this might be considered a mistake!), convinced James to let us have one of the bigger syndicate rooms on the 2nd floor which James had initially left out of his planning - maybe he's had to help others carry their speakers up there before!

About 6 weeks in advance, disconnected the streamer from the network and NAS at home and hooked it up to an independent network along with the laptop and the HDD - had it up and running in about 10 minutes which was a great relief that it would be quite so easy. Took final decision not to even attempt to set up wifi and tablet control of the system, being concerned about wifi interference etc. in a strange environment. KISS principle applied here. Worked on checklist of stuff, finalised playlist (created an album called "Demo Tracks" and copied the relevant tracks in there, then all we needed to do was select tracks from that album or just let it play) and put the data onto the HDD. Arranged with Richard to have spare laptop with software installed and created another copy of the music on a separate HDD as back ups.

2 weeks before we finalised times for travelling, agreed on who was going to fund what, etc. More jitters about if the system was going to sound any good. Worried about insurance for a while, decided it was too complicated and that Richard would sleep in the hotel room and that I would take an airbed and sleeping bag so I could sleep in the exhibiting room.

Friday before the show and all the boxes had to be brought down from the loft and the kit dusted and packed into them. Chose to do this on Friday so that Saturday morning would be free to spend with the kids. Richard arrived about 2pm and we set about packing the car. Crisis! Too much stuff to fit in! We had a couple of receivers to drop off with wammers, so these were the first thing we thought about leaving behind, but it turned out that by unpacking the Isoplats from their box, we were able to wrap them in plastic bags and slot them into various little gaps in the car. With a bit of re-jigging of what went where and some pillows and cushions for packing we managed to squeeze everything in and once the doors were shut then everything was solidly located with no chance of anything flying forward under braking. Kit included laptops, HDDs, equipment rack, Isoplats, cables (with at least one more of each for ethernet, interconnects, power etc.), system, bedding, tools, soldering iron, stuff I'd sold, some CDs to give away, bottles of water, snacks etc. etc.

After a 2.5 hour drive, arrive at Scalford and get a prime spot outside the front door - result! It was easy to get sorted with room keys etc., only we were given the keys to the correct room number but it wasn't the room on the show guide. A quick chat with James and we decided to go with the room that was on the show guide rather than the correct room number to keep it easy for visitors to find us (or avoid us of course!). Keys swapped and unpacking began. That was the real hard work - 2 flights of stairs were hard work. We must have made a good 10 trips up and down, if not more. Its good exercise this exhibiting stuff! Much consumption of water. Took about an hour to unpack boxes and return them to the car, then system build time (top tip - if you value the finish on your system, remove rings and watches before unpacking). Wiring up and testing took another hour but all went very straightforward. We dumped the flipchart and one of the tables on the first floor landing with other such stuff and arranged the room. Then listened to the system and did some basic set up. Then decided the seats were too close to the system so then we re-arranged the room and finalised positioning. Happy enough with the sound - maybe a touch bassy with the bouncy floor and the cardboard end wall.

Knackered.

Time for chilli and beer - rather good Doom Bar real ale and a good natter with other exhibitors around the tables. Chilli OK, but would've liked some pudding! Did a bit more room tidying and put up the playlists and kit lists on the wall, built my bed etc. Then messed about with the Wychwood interconnect and called on our neighbours such as Lodgesound, LencoHeaven and Pluto to see what they were up to and introduce ourselves. All very friendly. Down to the bar just in time to find that the band had just finished - very disappointed to have missed them. Richard off to bed around 11pm, I had another wander around some of the rooms to have a listen (including the insane amount of bass from the monster horny system playing Yello's "Expert") and a chat with a few wammers. Relieved to find that they're all a friendly bunch, somewhat in contrast to online behaviour!

Crash out about 12:30 and listen to monster bass in the distance for about 40 mins when a curfew seemed to be declared. Slept moderately well - still stuff going around in my head about if anyone would actually come to listen to the system, what the reactions would be, what would go wrong etc.

Visitors started arriving about 9:45 and we had 2 or 3 at a time until about 10:15 when the room filled up and pretty much stayed that way until about 4:30pm. Sometimes there wasn't even standing room and folks looked in then moved on as there just wasn't room. Played music pretty much non-stop all day - tried to avoid any silence if possible. Even with playlists on the seats and signs on the wall saying "ask for what you want to hear" you still have to prompt visitors to ask for stuff. We probably played about 50% of tracks that were requested. Hopefully we introduced some little known tracks (e.g. Kiki Dee's live acoustic version of Dont Go Breaking My Heart, Nils Lofgren Acoustic Live, some lesser known Yello tracks, Blues Company (the most played tracks of the day)) and many of these had visitors making notes or taking photos of the monitor we had showing the currently playing track. Richard had a good few hours to visit other rooms, I managed about 90 minutes and thoroughly enjoyed that bit too.

Liked the visitors positive comments, happy to have visitors who smiled, nodded or said thanks on their way out. Disappointed with visitors who can't even be bothered to acknowledge you exist as they leave the room. Even if you think the system sounds rubbish, as a visitor it shouldn't be too much work to say thank you to exhibitors who put in so much time, cash and effort for your benefit (rant over). The day flies by, and I really enjoy such unbroken listening - just don't get the chance to do that at home very often. We had many re-visits and some folks who stayed in the room for a good length of time. There was much discussion through the day on explaining how the system works - where the data is, how it gets to the streamer, how the active crossovers work with the power amps and speakers etc. etc. - there seemed to be some genuine interest in all that stuff. I think perhaps a diagram on the whiteboard would've been a good idea.

Visitors fade around 4.45 with only a couple of determined re-visits to entertain. Started packing up spot on 5pm and after many more trips up and down 2 flights of stairs, we were ready to go by about 6-15pm, so a very speedy process compared to setting up. Keeping control of the speakers on the way down the stairs was a bit of a challenge. Trip back was a bit quicker at 2 hours 15, so we got to say goodnight to the kids before bedtime.

Observations on exhibiting: if you've ever considered exhibiting but had cold feet, hesitate no longer - get your name on the list as soon as possible for 2014. Its hard work, but if you do good prep it should be a very enjoyable experience. Go Saturday, even if you don't set up until Sunday morning as the atmosphere is excellent and as an exhibitor you get the chance to hear some of the rooms on Saturday night, meaning you at least get to do some visiting, even if you don't get the time on Sunday. Wammers are really friendly people and are not at all the abusive vitiriolic lot they appear to be from the forum. Everyone is happy to chip in. If you want to have a long chat about how a system works, perhaps its best to step out into the corridor for a couple of minutes to avoid disturbing the listeners? Take handouts of your playlist and make sure you encourage your visitors to select some music - make sure that the list is as wide ranging as possible, within the boundaries of your collection. Best if there's at least 2 of you for carrying and to take turns looking after visitors during the day on Sunday.

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