Audio Engineering Society: Past, present, future

As the AES approaches its seventieth anniversary, Stephen Bennett speaks to the organisation’s president David Scheirman to find out how it’s staying relevant to a new generation of audio professionals…
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The Audio Engineering Society (AES) was founded in the United States in 1948 and has grown to become a truly international organisation that unites audio engineers, creative artists, scientists and students worldwide by promoting advances in audio and disseminating new knowledge and research.

It’s also closely involved in creating and promoting standards of course - it’s what the AES in AES/EBU stands for. Since the organisation’s founding there has been a sea-change in the way audio engineers do their business and the technology they use to do it.

The current president of the AES is David Scheirman, whose background includes commercial experience as an audio equipment developer, live sound reinforcement engineer and audio educator. He’s worked with audio system design, manufacturing and installation and is currently global director of the concert and rental business for Bose Professional. He attended his first Audio Engineering Society Convention in the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City over 40 years ago.

“The AES is a volunteer association that is primarily comprised of working professionals with individual memberships alongside a loyal group of capable employees, including the staff based at its international headquarters based in New York City,” he says. A board of Governors oversees the direction that the organisation will take.

“The society’s legacy, from my point of view, has always been about the dissemination of new knowledge and best practices, while mentoring the next upcoming generation of audio practitioners and researchers,” says Scheirman.

“It’s instructive to realise that while the AES was founded in the United States, it is now truly an international organisation. For example, the Board of Governors just approved our first Professional Section in Nigeria in January 2018.” Scheirman says that the professional AES membership in China has also doubled within the last two years.

“We currently have over 12,000 members, affiliated with more than 75 AES professional sections and more than 95 AES student sections around the world,” he adds. “Section activities often include guest speakers, technical tours, demonstrations and social functions.”

Scheirman himself has seen much change in the industry over his years working with the organisation. “Many of AES’ activities 25 years ago were still linked to major record-label-support, recording studio complexes and the large recording equipment developers and vendors who served that industry,” he says. “As the record industry shifted from dominant, centralised organisations to smaller and more diversified regional project-based infrastructure, and as internet-based information services and commercial product sourcing have become ubiquitous, the society has evolved and changed with the professional audio industry.”

Scheirman notes that many of the areas that are the bread and butter of audio professionals today did not exist when the AES was first founded, such as digital audio networking, audio for electronic games, automotive audio technology, internet audio and “so many other interesting and exciting disciplines that have come into existence and matured since the founding of the AES.”

He adds that “our goal as a professional society continues to be to help create and maintain the ‘connective tissue’ that integrates such diverse segments of our membership through in-person conference and other gatherings, our JAES (Journal of the AES), and other mechanisms.”

Scheirman says that the priorities of the AES today are “to create new and compelling benefits for its global membership”, which includes an increasing number of regional and special-topic conferences around the world along with the recent AES Live! series of video tutorials that are available to qualified AES members through the organisation’s website. “We face the same challenges as many other professional organisations that are global in scope,” says Scheirman.

“We are constantly refining our communications processes, and implementing new information technology-based systems to help connect our far-flung membership and foster a true sense of community.” The founders of the AES - all working professionals over seventy or so years ago - are now long retired, and a natural generation shift has been in progress in the organisation for some time.

“Today’s student members and entry-level job seekers are tomorrow’s industry leaders,” says Scheirman. “I firmly believe that a clear purpose for AES leadership today is to engage and support the next generation. My colleagues on the Board of Governors and our many innovative and committed participants on the Education, Membership, Regions and Sections and other committees share that vision and commitment.”

The AES website is a cornucopia of useful and important information, with technical publications and information on standards sitting alongside an archive of the AES journal and various podcasts, much of it available to non-members. Because of the ever-changing nature of audio production, the AES takes education very seriously, what with it being essential to the future of the industry and all.

Students can become special members of the AES, with access to online tutorials, workshops and master classes covering live sound, studio work, music, tracking, mixing, mastering, video post, sound design, game sound, hardware, software, design, marketing, research and development and manufacturing - so pretty much all of the fields a budding audio engineer might want to move into.

The AES Educational Foundation encourages talented students and, since its establishment in 1984, grants have been awarded for graduate studies with many of the recipients of these grants going on to have prominent and successful careers in the profession. The AES continues to promote conventions and international conferences - in 2018 the society’s events cover audio restoration and archiving, immersive audio and audio for VR/AR applications, which are all new and exciting areas of audio production and technology.

A strong social media presence keeps the AES relevant to younger members and helps keep the global AES community on board. “The very best way to get a first-hand experience of today’s AES, to collaborate with colleagues and meet new friends in the industry, will be to attend our upcoming 144th AES Convention in Milan, Italy 2018,” says Scheirman. “I Hope to see many of you there!”

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