CanJam SoCal 2015 On the Relationship of Members and Vendors in the Headphone Community
I think a little history is in order here.
The first mention of a headphone meet that I could find was an interest check on Headwize for a San Francisco meet, the thread probably started in late May 2001. It's about half way down the page here. The first Head-Fi meet thread that I could find was a later Bay Area meet with the organizing thread started in July of 2001. Texas followed shortly thereafter. You'll notice these threads are in the Members Lounge, not in the Meet Organizing area...because it didn't exist at the time.
My first meet, sort of, was in August of 2001. I say sort of because I was a vendor at that time, and I don't really count it because the meet was organized by me. It was a dry run for the upcoming HeadRoom "World of Headphones Tour". If you go to the very bottom of the last page of Head-Fi's Meet Impressions threads, you'll find the "Northwest headroom meet - there just wasn't enough time to hear 'em all" thread.
In that thread, at the bottom of the first page, Jude chimes in:
"If there's ever one in Chicago, I'd do all I could to free up some time from work to attend. I know there are at least a handful of Michigan-based Head-Fi'ers -- I vote for a Motor City Head-Fi get-together with the HeadRoom caravan as the centerpiece of the meeting."
Followed by Eric343's comment:
Yes, Tyll really should do a nationwide tour, with some advertising and sales to pay for the gas :-)
I'm going to guess that it triggered Jude to have the idea to start the meets sections of Head-Fi as my Portland thread is the oldest in the "Meet Impressions" area of Head-Fi, and his threads planning the Detroit/Chicago meets are the oldest in the "Meet Planning" area. Jude's impression thread is here.
I remember after the Portland meet and the beginnings of organizing the Chicago meet, that I had determined that the cases were going to need to be rebuilt to make them easier to set up and break down. The "World of Headphones Tour" I was planning would be delayed about six months from the planned time. My memory is fuzzy on these things, but I recall at the time folks on Head-Fi saying, "Hell, we don't need HeadRoom, we can just get together all on our own!" By the time of the Chicago meet in December of 2001, there were at least a half dozen threads with people trying to organize meets.
Here's some very poor quality pictures from those early Chicago and Detroit meets.
Early in 2002 I announced the "World of Headphones Tour" would be visiting numerous cities across the U.S. It essentially had the effect of pouring gas on the small flame of people's desires to have meets and became a focal point that year for folks getting together. At each stop I usually had 3 or 4 volunteers from Head-Fi that would help me set-up and tear-down the exhibit. They were given t-shirts and an AirHead amp for helping out as I recall...probably some coffee cups and wire-ties as well. It was a great example of a vendor and members working together to make something happen. Here's a few pix.
As time moved on after the "World of Headphones Tour" and other headphone amp makers like Ray Samuels (RSA) and Justin Wilson (HeadAmp) came on the scene, vendors were regularly showing up at meets around the country. There was a while there when Ray and I would see each other about once a month.
By the time 2005 rolled around I did another 16 city tour, this time without the burdensome crates, but with four tables with gear ziptied in place.
By this time it was starting to get very expensive going to all these meets and I started to keep my eyes out for only the big ones. And while the small fry vendors could justify showing up at meets sometimes, folks like Sennheiser and Sony certainly didn't see it as worthwhile. I wanted to do something that would get better exposure for HeadRoom and would draw the attention of the big players to the activity. I came to the conclusion that what we needed was a gigantic Head-Fi National Meet.
Well, great minds think alike, and I had it about half thought out when Aaron (immtbiker on Head-Fi) started a thread suggesting exactly that. I chimed in on the second page:
I've been thinking a lot about the future of Head-Fi meets. One of the things I learned was that a lot of people like to bring there own gear and then change one thing at a time in their own set-up. That way they could hear things in a familiar acoustic environment. It seems to me that the thing people would want strongly to hear in their set-up is things that are currently available from the manufacturers. I'd like to see a meet where there was a room full of tables and each table had two members on it. Then around the edge of the room all the vendors had their displays and were able to loan equipment to folks to take back to their tables to try.
Eight months later, the team of organizersimmtbiker, jpelg, bozebuttons, jahn, erikzen, and myselfwere putting on the First (Inter)National Head-Fi Meet in New York.
Aaron laying out the A.C. before the meet. You can see the member tables in the middle of the room and the vendor tables are all around the perimeter.
National meets got bigger and bigger over the next five years. More and more money would flow through the pockets of the member organizing the meet, and concern was growing about the tax implications and liability exposure of the volunteer organizers. Jude decided to place CanJam at RMAF to rid the event of these problems.
Member participation was available the first couple of years at CanJam at RMAF, but Denver doesn't have the numbers of headphone enthusiasts that New York or L.A. has, and member participation petered out. CanJam at RMAF became vendors only.
Meanwhile, the L.A. crew were producing larger and larger independent meets with both members and vendors. Jude had now grown Head-Fi to the point where he could think about a Head-Fi sponsored show without the umbrella of RMAF, and L.A. looked like the perfect place to launch a successful event. And we're right up to the present day at CanJam SoCal.
Why the History Lesson?
Because through all these last fourteen years I have heard both complaints about and praise for vendors attending meets. There has always been a degree of tension surrounding the subject. There's a natural distrust of corporate entities in the world today, and enthusiasts can be forgiven for worrying about vendors coming in and stealing their thunder. It can happen.
But there's a flip side. Large events like CanJam and the early national meets could never have happened if they had to be paid for by members alone. If the event is big enough to attract vendors, they'll be willing to pay for the fun. They're the ones that can bring a bunch of door prizes. And, obviously, they've got cool gear to listen to as well.
I see this relationship between members and vendors as absolutely crucial. This is a very real community, and any healthy community has citizens and commerce. If we want to keep feeling like a real community, if we want to keep getting product we desire, two-way interaction and communication between members and vendors must continue.
The trick is balance. CES, for example, would be a bad place to try to have some sort of member participation. Heck, CanJam at RMAF might be a bad place for member participation. I see CanJam at RMAF more like the headphone world trying to make inroads in the more traditional audiophile worlda good thing, but a different thing. Big regional meets is a great place for vendors, but smaller meets probably not. We just have to feel our way through the issue.
But this last CanJam SoCal was the perfect place to to bring members and vendors together again in a meaningful way and I'm extremely grateful to Jude, Warren, Eathan, and the whole CanJam SoCal team for making it happen. My understanding is that more member participation is on the slate for CanJam London this coming August.
The headphone enthusiast community is exactly that, a community where interaction and dialog flow in all directions. If we want to get the gear we desire we have to talk to the manufacturers; if they want to build gear that sells they'll have to talk with the members. And here's the beautiful thing, it's been happening for fourteen years, we've just got to keep shepherding it along with care.
We've got something very special here in terms of the community's member/vendor relationship. I'd love to see that last. As evidence, I offer this next video of vendors talking about what it's like to be a part of this community. They love the community and definitely feel a part of it. Enjoy!
Click here if you can't see the video.