The inaugural Sound and Stage Awards were staged recently in Dubai, marking a major milestones for the Middle East pro audio, lightning and live staging production industries.
More than 250 leading industry identities converged on the city's Al Murooj Rotana Hotel to celebrate the Sound & Stage Awards and to honour the work of the Middle East pro audio, lighting and live staging production industry's top professionals over the past year.
Emirates Palace was the big winner on the night, with its flagship auditorium facility beating Dubai-based rivals Madinat Jumeirah's Madinat Theatre and Al Sahra Desert Resort to the coveted title of GCC venue of the year. The hotel's AV manager Joel Crasta was also named hospitality AV manager of the year.
Local industry identity Andy Jackson of Delta Sound took out the sound engineer of the year award, while Dubai-based companies Protec and Venuetech were named equipment rental firm of the year and distributor of the year respectively.
Mirage Promotions won the promoter of the year category, while top Dubai-based hospitality venues Chillout Bar and Plan B were recognised for their innovative sound and lighting installations in the AV install of the year category.
One of the world's leading technical training service providers, SAE Institute, was honoured with the inaugural Sound & Stage services to the industry award, in recognition of its efforts to nurture the development of young talent eager to break into the region's professional AV and live events production sectors.
The gala ceremony was a fitting tribute to the success enjoyed by the local live events production industry in 2007. The Sound & Stage Awards will return bigger and even better in 2009. Keep an eye out for further details on the awards website (located at www.itp.net/events/sasawards) in the coming months.
Best New Audio Technology of the Year - Shure UHF-R wireless microphone system
Praised by judges as the most significant new audio technology released into the market in 2007, the Shure UHF-R wireless microphone system introduces a number of technologies to the wireless high-performance segment, including automatic frequency and transmitter setup (using Infra Red) and networkability (via USB and Ethernet).
The system's networking function means sound engineers can easily position and monitor microphone setups involving an extensive number of channels. The 'frequency wizard' option in the Shure Wireless Workbench Software (Mac and PC friendly) simplifies the selection of frequencies.
Internationally, big name artists such as Sir Paul McCartney at the Grammy Awards, Sean Paul in Dubai and Jose Carreras in Istanbul have all utilised UHF-R technology.
According to Chicco Hiranandani, business development manager of Shure's Dubai-based distributor, NMK Electronics, the company is planning to release a number of new technologies to the regional market over the next 12 months that will expand the capabilities of the UHF-R system and the number of applications possible.
"In terms of developing the UHF-R technology further, Shure will launch new bodypack transmitters in the Middle East later this month," he says. "One will be a micro bodypack transmitter (UR1M), which is half the size of the existing model, while the other, designated UR1H, has a higher power output than the model it replaces."
Hiranandani claims this latter technology will prove critical to the production of major events, such as the opening of the Olympic Games, while the UR1M micro-bodypack transmitter is ideally designed for studio applications.
The Middle East has proven one of the most lucrative markets in terms of sales of UHF-R systems, with more than 100 units sold in the past 12 months.
Renkus-Heinz Versys VL3 high-output digital line-array
Artcoustic Spitfire Venue Professional Monitor and Sub-woofer
Equipment Rental Firm of the Year - PROTEC
Having supplied equipment and personnel to some of 2007's biggest live productions, including Justin Timberlake's landmark performance at Abu Dhabi's Emirates Palace, Dubai-based Production Technology (Protec) was a worthy winner of the Equipment Rental Firm of the Year award.
The company, which was established in September 1999, is the largest rental supplier of pro audio, lighting, AV, hydraulic and motor control equipment in the region.
Its dedicated approach to setting industry standards has seen it invest more than US$9.5m in recent years in the latest state-of-the-art equipment.
Protec operations director Rick Wade says winning the award is tribute to the company's hard work in recent years to raise industry standards.
"We're all very proud to have won this award. We have worked hard over these past years and to have been nominated for an award for what we do on a daily basis is a great morale booster," Wade says.
Protec prides itself on being flexible, but Wade says the increasing number of big name artists visiting the UAE has placed a strain on the company's resources. Protec plans further investment in new technology this year.
Studio Recording Facility of the Year - Creative Kingdom Studios
Creative Kingdom Studios (CKS) Dubai, one of the region's newest recording facilities, took out the Studio Recording Facility of the Year award.
CKS has quickly established a formidable reputation working with local and international artists, including Kaz Money and Karl Wolf.
The studio's general manager, Mauricio Tavares, says winning the award marked a significant milestone for the company.
"Receiving this award means a great deal [to our business]. It's testament to our hard work and perseverance throughout 2007," Tavares says.
"It's also 'bragging' rights if you will, we can now say we're the top studio in the Middle East and it can only help our credibility and assist in sales. The exposure gained should be great for our business."
CKS boasts extensive recording facilities consisting of two interlinked control booths coupled to a vocal booth, as well as a full-scale vocal booth capable of recording five-piece bands.
A dedicated video production studio is also actively linked to all control booths for added flexibility. Other areas of expertise include production, 2D and 3D animation, CGI, and blue screen digital filming.
Tavares says 2009 is shaping as a critical year for the company with the expected completion of its new headquarters and recording facilities in the Dubai Studio City free zone.
"Our new facility will feature two fully dedicated production studios, two mixing studios and three editing suites complete with green screen and live rooms," he explains.
Tavares admits he is "a bit old school" when it comes to using technology adding he would "love to have a million dollar SSL board".
"But in reality, I'm hopeful that pro audio technology will develop to the point where we can still offer quality sound production using products with a smaller footprint that are cheaper to acquire and operate," he says.
"We do a lot of work on Logic and Pro-Tools. It would be great to see more of these types of products released to market in the near future".
Al-Nazaer Studios, Kuwait
S&S Services to the Industry Award - SAE Institute
SAE Institute was honoured on the night with the prestigious Sound & Stage Services to the Industry award.
SAE was selected for its dedication to raising professional standards in the audiovisual technical services field.
The institute is widely recognised as a pioneer in the development of professional training and education services for the professional audio and live entertainment production industries.
The organisation, which was founded in Australia in 1976, is the world's leading professional AV technical training services provider, now operating 50 campuses in 21 countries.
Since the establishment of its first campus in the Middle East in Dubai in 2005, it has strengthened its presence in the region with campuses in Jordan and Kuwait and will open campuses in Cairo and Saudi Arabia in 2009.
The institute tutors almost 36,000 students worldwide, 850 of which are enrolled in its campuses in the Middle East.
SAE Institute's associate regional director for Asia and the Middle East, Alex Gehrig, says it was a great honour to accept the award on behalf of the organisation.
"We never expected it to be honest so it's a big honour for us. It shows that SAE is meeting the industry's needs for technical training services," Gehrig says.
"All our students learn cross media skills and we involve them in practical projects regardless of their speciality.
"By undertaking cross-media projects we can ensure students are educated as to how the industry operates, both in a commercial and industrial context."
He claims the biggest challenge facing the industry in Dubai is not a shortage of personnel but a deficit in talent.
"You find many industry-types who claim to be an audio engineer or film maker for example, but when put them into a practical environment they struggle," he says.
Distributor of the Year - Venuetech
Acclaimed for its distribution of premium brands, locally and regionally, Venuetech further enhanced its reputation by taking out the Distributor of the Year award.
Venutech represents a number of major brands specialising in pro audio technologies for live entertainment, DJ and club, as well as public address systems; dynamic and intelligent lighting, conference and simulations interpretations systems, automation and control applications.
The company's experienced team can design complete solutions for clients, including consultation, supply and comprehensive servicing of the high-end AV and lighting manufacturers the company represents.
It boasts partnership deals witha host of premium brands, including Martin, L-Acoustics, Sennheiser and Denon Professional.
Venuetech director of sales Charbel Zoghbi says it is important for the company to be recognised.
"Winning this award is very important to us. It means clients, and people in the market are recognising our efforts," he says.
V.V. & Sons
Triangle Sound & Image
GCC Venue of the Year - Emirates Palace Theatre Auditorium
Recognised not only as the best facility of its kind in the region, but also a venue to rival any other of its kind in the world, the Emirates Palace Theatre Auditorium, Abu Dhabi, took out the GCC Venue of the Year award.
Designed by acclaimed UK-based Theatre Projects Consultants, the 1200-seat venue houses an advanced sound reinforcement system controlled by software-driven media matrix technology, a fully automated trussing system and unrivalled sight-lines.
Over the past 12 months, the venue has hosted an impressive number of international touring promotions of world-famous musicals, including Carmen and Chicago, as well as various conferences and top-level governmental meetings.
Karim Fassy director of sales for Emirates Palace Hotel, says winning the award should help attract new commercial opportunities in the future.
"The award should help us to attract a lot of new business, particularly from clients seeking access to cutting-edge AV technologies," he says. "While many rival hotels in the region boast decent meeting rooms and professional levels of service, the majority lack the top quality AV technical infrastructure.
"We have been able to prove to event organisers, as well as corporate clients that we do not belong in that category."
Over the next 12 months, Fassy says the Emirates Palace Auditorium will play host to an array of world-class events, including ballets, concerts and annual and regional meetings.
He adds that the hotel's management company, Kempinski, has approved the purchase of several new LED screens to replace the facility's existing analogue projection technology.
Al Sahra Desert Resort, Dubai
Chi@The Lodge, Dubai
Hospitality AV Manager of the Year - Joel Crasta, Emirates Palace
Joel Crasta lays claim to a host of achievements during his 14 years working in the hospitality AV sector and he added another to his belt by taking out the Sound & Stage Hospitality AV Manager of the Year award.
Crasta is held in high esteem by colleagues and his employer alike, having received numerous certificates of excellence, as well as official commendations from organisers of the GCC Summit and the White House communications department.
His professional credentials include a diploma in sound engineering from the National Institute of Film Technology and a diploma in TV technology.
Crasta says he was delighted to receive the award, adding that it was testament to the state-of-the-art quality and service the venue delivers.
"It's an honour to receive this award. I, together with my technicians, would like to express our heartfelt thanks for ensuring Emirates Palace is recognised as the premier destination for international conferences and major events," Crasta says.
He claims the acknowledgement has boosted the confidence of his colleagues and further motivated them to ensure the highest levels of service.
Doru Barsan, The Ritz-Carlton, Doha
Best New Hospitality AV Install of the Year - GSL Professional / Harman Pro for Plan B Nightclub, Dubai; Sharaf Hospitality / Philips Lighting for Chillout Bar, Dubai.
Judges could not split two projects nominated for the Best New Hospitality AV Install of the Year award, with the category ultimately going to GSL Professional and Harman Pro for Plan B Nightclub, Wafi City, Dubai and Sharaf Hospitality and Philips Lighting for Chillout Bar, Times Square, Dubai.
The Plan B installation features a hugely impressive sound system custom-designed by Harman Pro, while Chillout Bar was recognised for its innovative and groundbreaking LED lighting installation, which sets new standards not just across the region, but worldwide.
With more than $US250,000 invested in the fit-out for Plan B Nightclub, GSL Professional business development manager Stacey Lewis, says the company was proud to be acknowledged for its sophisticated fit-out.
"We were pleased to be recognised for the installation work we did in Plan B," she says. "Both the install and rental market are hugely important to the growth of our business."
According to Lewis, GSL has a few "big projects in the pipeline", but for now it will focus its energy in broadening its scope in the lighting distribution market.
"We recently took over the exclusive distribution of Robe show lighting, which was previously shared with another distributor and it's the first lighting brand that we have taken on," says Lewis.
Lewis claims it was time for GSL to put its energy into developing the lighting market, which she says goes hand in hand with the audio market in the UAE for installation and rental.
"The deal represents a major development for us, given that we now have a very well-known lighting manufacturer in our stable of brands," explains Lewis.
"Since we have taken Robe on we have channelled a lot of energy into it. Robe has been really well received, it has a really good reputation and we've had a lot of enquiries about it.
This month Chillout Bar celebrates its first full year of operation in Dubai. Sharaf Hospitality sales manager Aalok Purohit, says being acclaimed by this award pays tribute to the insight and professionalism shown by the company.
"With Chillout Bar not even being one year old yet we take a lot of pride in being recognised by S&S with this award," Purohit says.
According to Purohit, Chillout Bar has been nothing but a success attracting up to 8000 patrons a month.
"During the winter months we were entertaining 4000-5000 customers every month, with this figure increasing to 8000 as we lead into summer," he says.
After researching existing Ice Bars in Europe, Sharaf Hospitality decided it was important to differentiate itself by introducing a new concept.
"As we don't serve liquor we wanted to launch something new, so we introduced hot food and beverages," Purohit says.
Purohit says Sharaf is currently considering introducing the Chillout Bar concept to other markets in the region.
iKandy Ultra Lounge, Shangri-La Hotel, Dubai. Systems integrator: Triangle Entertainment Services
Zinc Nightclub, Dubai. Systems integrators: Greg Stainer, Electro-Voice and NMK Electronics
White Orchid Restaurant & Lounge, Jebel Ali Golf Resort & Spa, Dubai
Systems integrators: SoundsME and Artcoustic
GCC Promoter of the Year - Mirage Promotions
One of the biggest players in the Middle East live events industry, Mirage Promotions has double reason to celebrate its recent acquisition by Live Nation, taking out the GCC Promoter of the Year award.
Founded in Bahrain in 1996, Mirage Promotions has been responsible for organising more than 500 events across the region in the proceeding period. In the past 12 months alone, the company successfully staged major outdoor gigs in Dubai by internationally-acclaimed artists including Pink, Aerosmith and Santana.
Founder of Mirage and recently appointed managing director of Live Nation Middle East Elissa Murtaza, says receiving the S&S award represents a major achievement for the company.
"We were delighted to win the award," she says. "While other media outlets in Dubai tend to focus more on the celebrity aspects of major events, S&S represents the interests of the industry."
Murtaza argues that Live Nation's foray into the Middle East has "raised people's expectations within the industry, which is a great thing".
"We now have a real opportunity to bring some big artists to the region, an opportunity which we did not have a few years back," she says.
"Live Nation manages several major festivals around the world and it would be great to think that we could stage one of these events in the UAE, whether it is in conjunction with other parties or if it is on our own."
The new compnay has already secured Madonna for a UAE gig in November.
Sound Engineer of the Year - Andy Jackson, Delta Sound Dubai
Well-liked and respected by his peers as one of the region's most high-profile live sound production experts, Andy Jackson was a worthy recipient of the Sound Engineer of the Year Award.
Jackson has leant his talents to the production of some of the region's biggest events of 2007, including Aerosmith's landmark gig in Dubai and the emirate's Desert Rhythm Festival.
In addition to establishing the Dubai branch of Delta Sound, Jackson has also been working as a freelance sound engineer over the previous 12 months.
He showed his depth of ability in both roles, acting as a sound engineer while overseeing Delta's supply of audio equipment to the Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC) anniversary celebrations.
The event involved a 95-piece orchestra, a 350-strong choir and a 15-piece Egyptian band.
Delta continues to expand its presence in the region after only a year of operation and is set to double its staffing and equipment inventory in the near future.
Jackson says while he was honoured to receive the award, it was out of character for him to be seen in the spotlight.
"It's nice to be recognised locally especially from a personal perspective. In our industry we don't take recognition well; we're more used to getting on with the job and making the artist or talent look good, but it's a very nice accolade," Jackson says.
Delta is the only specialised pro audio company in Dubai and although it is still early days for the business, Jackson says its future is bright.
"The future for Delta and the live music scene in Dubai is massive with the likes of Live Nation and AEG Live entering the market," Jackson says.
"They are the two biggest promoters in the world in terms of artist ownership, which means we are going to see bigger acts with increasing regularity, which is good news for everyone.
"We plan to expand our inventory of digital mics and speakers this year. Digital technology obviously relies on fewer moving parts. We only use digital mixers because of this and that cuts back on the amount of outboard equipment required."
Nash Planojevic, In the Mix
Best New Lighting Technology of the Year - Barco DML-1200 digital luminaire
Described by its developer as the world's first moving digital luminaire for use as both a super bright, moving light source and a high quality video projector, Barco's DML-1200 digital luminaire was recognised as the best new lighting technology of 2007.
In light mode, the DML-1200 produces a perfectly circular light beam with a light output equivalent to that of a 1200W hard-edged moving light - 12,000 field lumens and four times as bright as any other digital light on the market today.
In video mode, the DML-1200 features a fully sealed DLP engine, which delivers full colour DLP quality video with SXGA+ (1400 x1050 pixel) resolution. With a light output of 10,000 centre lumens, Barco claims the DML-1200 is twice as bright as other digital light products on the market today.
An internal optical dimming mechanism ensures smooth, accurate intensity control from zero to 100%.
Robe ColourWash 2500E AT moving light
Martin Professional Mac 2000 Wash XB washlight
Best New Projection/Display Technology of the Year - Element Labs Helix
Element Labs was the winner in the Best New Projection/Display Technology of the Year category for its Helix flexible LED video screen.
Its solid display performance ensured it was judged as the single most groundbreaking new commercial display technology released in 2007.
The category was open to all digital projection and/or display manufacturers maintaining a local presence in the Middle East.
Helix's unique design enables it to bend, wrap, drape and fold to conform to even the most unusually shaped designs. It is equally functional and stunning when quickly rolled out flat to create an even video screen.
Its panels can be configured as large screens or unique shapes and sizes. The Helix ultra-thin grid construction gives curtain-like flexibility with the geometric stability of a rigid product.
Durable and lightweight, Helix screens quickly roll up for shipping and unroll for rapid deployment. Multiple rigging options adapt Helix for permanent or temporary installations.
Lighthouse Technology R16i/o-II LED screen
G-LEC B:xel System
Barco DB-x20 digital billboard
Martin Professional Stagebar 54 pixel bar - wash luminaire
NEC 20 series LCD display