Hire Companies And R&D
Hire companies and R&D — Richard Goldblatt of Audio FX takes up the gauntlet recently thrown down by the British Record Producers' Guild.
I read with interest the comments from various parties over the role of the end user in the development of new equipment, with particular reference to comments made by the British Record Producers' Guild. From their comments it would seem that the whole issue of who is responsible for the research and development of new equipment is now open for debate, and therefore I would like to put forward the case on behalf of the hire companies.
Historically, hire companies have played a vital role in the development of new equipment by acting as test beds for both manufacturers and end users. From the manufacturers' point of view, we could provide them with useful feedback about how the equipment performed in a variety of studio environments, while from the end users' point of view we could offer them the chance to use new technology without their having to take responsibility for it should it go wrong.
However, the role of the hire company in the R&D chain has diminished over recent years to the detriment of all those concerned, because manufacturers initiated a situation where they gave away new equipment to certain end users to promote it. The problem with this policy is that if you give one person something for nothing you will naturally encourage everyone to demand the same treatment. Having learned from their experiences, manufacturers are now afraid to allow their new equipment out into the market place — to hire companies or to end users — at anything other than the full asking price, lest they prompt a rush of calls from end users all demanding preferential treatment.
Sadly this situation has badly affected the hire companies by reducing their importance in equipment development. Where once there was good liaison between hire companies and manufacturers, there is now very little. As head of one of the largest equipment rental companies in the UK, I would like to see this situation reversed for a variety of reasons. Perhaps the most important point to be made is that we are not a sales agent, and therefore we have nothing to gain from promoting one manufacturer's equipment over another's. Our aim is to hire out as wide a range of equipment as possible, so when we take on a new piece of equipment we are really only interested in discovering how it performs across the board before we commit to buy in bulk.
Manufacturers stand to gain a great deal from us because we can provide them with a much broader picture of how the equipment is being perceived by the end user. If there is a recurring problem, we are going to find out about it. Similarly if there is a feature that could be improved or made more user friendly, we will soon hear about it from our clients.
From the end users' point of view, our role is perhaps even more vital. These days, with equipment changing and upgrading so quickly, many end users are afraid to commit hard earned resources to something new until they are sure that it is exactly what they want, and isn't about to be superceded by something better. They are also understandably concerned about the possibility of new equipment going wrong. No-one wants to lose valuable studio time whilst they wait for a piece of equipment to be repaired.
For these reasons, there are great benefits to be had in trying out new equipment by hiring it first before committing to buy. Studio owners who hire can assess how the equipment is received by the artists and producers using their facilities.
Hire companies can also offer the back-up of technical service departments, giving clients a chance to use new equipment with confidence, knowing that if something does go wrong it can be repaired or replaced within hours. If the end user has bought the equipment, he or she may have to wait for days for the manufacturer to get someone to fix it. This situation is hardly surprising, as manufacturers are not service oriented, and simply don't have the facilities to repair equipment in the way hire companies can.
Members of the BRPG have every right to lash out at manufacturers for treating their customers as unpaid test beds, and for releasing products on to the market before they are entirely finished in order to recoup some of the R&D costs. But if the situation is to be improved, surely the answer is to utilise the resources of the hire companies. Let us take the risks, let us beta test new equipment. We have the technical facilites to support it, and at the end of the day everyone will benefit.
Opinion by Richard Goldblatt
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