Report from GearFest 2016

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Every spring since 2002, musicians, audio professionals, and music and audio product manufacturers converge on Sweetwater Sound in Fort Wayne, Indiana, for GearFest, an annual event like no other. On June 17–18, the world’s biggest music store opened its doors to more than 10,000 visitors, inviting them to indulge in two days of performances, clinics, classes, and demos at no cost to participants. GearFest gave everyone who attended opportunities to speak with recording artists, engineers, and producers as well as representatives from music and audio gear makers around theworld. Hundreds of Sweetwater employees were on hand to answer questions, handle sales, look after everyone’s needs, and make the experience a positive one for everybody.

Sprawled across Sweetwater’s 100-acre campus were 18 huge tents separated into categories that included pro audio, electronic production, acoustic guitars, electric guitars, drums, and open box deals. Entire tents were dedicated to larger companies such as Gibson, inMusic, Roland, and Yamaha, and some companies brought along mobile studios and showrooms housed in buses and trailers. Among the companies exhibiting their products were software developers ranging from Ableton, Arturia, and Bitwig to Toontrack, UVI, and Vir2. Electronic instrument manufacturers included Korg, Moog Music, Roger Linn Designs, Tom Oberheim, and many others. Interface manufacturers such as Antelope Audio, iConnectivity, and MOTU were there, too. If a company targets musicians, chances are good it had someone manning a booth at GearFest.

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Also popular were master classes in studio design and production techniques that took place inside the store. For example, record producer Fab Dupont (Jennifer Lopez, Shakira, Marc Anthony) detailed his workflow with hardware from Dangerous Music and software from PreSonus, demonstrated how to beef up a kick drum, and recorded vocal tracks live on stage. Producer/engineer Sylvia Massy (Tool, System of a Down, Julio Iglesias) had the audience in stitches as she encouraged us to duplicate her unorthodox recording techniques. (Now I know how to mic a chicken.) Electronic Musician’s founding editor Craig Anderton gave talks on getting started with computer recording and applying creative recording techniques.

Friday night featured a free concert with the likes of Dream Theater’s Jordan Rudess and Earth, Wind & Fire’s Larry Dunn, to celebrate the completion of Sweetwater’s latest addition, an outdoor pavilion with seating for 2,000 people. The event also featured $88,000 in giveaways, with winners announced every hour. Despite all the other distractions, though, GearFest star attraction was the tons of gear on sale. Hundreds of items were available at unbeatable prices you had to see to believe, but only for GearFest attendees and only during until the end of the day on Saturday. Really, who could pass up a Shure SM-58 for just $58?

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GearFest 2016 was a complete success, with many happy participants, both customers and vendors. Thank you, Sweetwater, for a very good experience. See you next year!