January 2005 Issue

Future Sonics

Everyone knows necessity is the mother of invention, so it's not a surprise that Marty Garcia saw an opportunity in 1982 to ease the vocal strain of Todd Rundgren with a change in monitoring techniques. What's not so clear is how he went from setting up monitor wedges one day to putting denture gel and ear buds into Rundgren's ears the next. "That's good," Garcia laughs. "The thing of it is that in my mind, I've always been trying to perfect what I thought was a good audio system." Garcia built his first "good audio system" in '79 and started Crystal Sound to offer it to clients like Rundgren. The system he created from the ground up was unique on a number of technology and philosophy fronts. "I wanted to figure out how to make the artist happy on stage and make sure he or she was comfortable," he reports.

"I built the system from scratch. I pulled resources from people I really respected in the industry. I talked to a lot of engineers. I asked a lot of questions. Then I found people to work with me to come up with the concept that I wanted to build, and that was a horn-loaded, non-ported Front of House system that was a four-way system.

I wanted to get the bass from the very front of the stage all the way to the back, not just halfway. I felt like it had to have that impact of bass throughout. A lot of the intelligibility came from horn-loaded products, which you see a lot of today in the line arrays."

While Crystal Sound was Garcia's introduction into Rundgren's camp--Rundgren took the system on the road for five straight years--it was the singer's issue with competing stage volume that opened the door for Future Sonics, the company Garcia launched that changed the face of the monitoring world. "We'd have a great show one day and then hit an arena the next and his voice would be a little raw, rough and stressed," Garcia recalls. "It got to a point where I said, 'Gosh, if we could just get the sound system in your head.' Rundgren said, 'That's a great idea, we should just put the speakers in my head, but I don't want to wear big bulky headphones.' So, I said I would start thinking about that, and on our days off I started messing around with these over-the-counter ear buds and some gel denture adhesive that I would wrap around the ear pieces so it would be more stationary in his ear."

Getting artists to buy into the idea was one thing; getting the technology right was another. At first, the Garcia monitors were using hard-wired amplification, so there was a lack of mobility for the artists, then they started to use radio transmitters (which was also being done in Europe around the same time by Chrys Lindrop, who founded Garwood in '92). "It started to work out with the radio transmitters, but the whole mixes were a little rough because of the dynamics of the radios," he explains, "but the vocals came out really clear."

In '84, Garcia started to work hand in hand with hearing aid manufacturers to come up with a more dynamic transducer, and in '85 he trademarked the term "ear monitors" and started to market the product. During '85 he put his theories into practice while Rundgren's Utopia toured with The Tubes. A requirement of that tour was an extremely short set turnover, so Garcia put the entire band on personal monitors and limited the stage equipment to a motorcycle drum kit. "That was truly a banner year for us," Garcia recalls. "We put together that tour and it worked, and everybody was happy because the audio sounded great. We got a bit of attention from the different trade magazines. Within a couple years, Stevie Wonder and Engelbert Humperdink were all hot-to-trot on personal monitors, and then I got calls from Kathy Mattea, Reba McEntire, Gloria Estefan, Phil Collins and Steve Miller."

Throughout the '80s, Garcia doubled as inventor and production company owner (Crystal Sound merged with Taylor Sound in '85 to form Crystal-Taylor Systems), but in '91 he decided to dedicate all his time to Future Sonics. One of the reasons he made the jump then was because he was able, for the first time, to get liability insurance for his product. "There was a lot of concern back then from production companies," he admits. "What happened if you damaged Phil Collins' ears and that was it? It was a huge deal." Anytime he went to apply for insurance, the company was obviously reluctant. "They would come back with a quote that was a hundred-something thousand dollars a year," he recalls. "Lloyds of London was the only one that would take us on for something like $80,000. This was not an over-the-counter product, a massive commercial product. It was sold from word-of-mouth." And that made the insurance cost prohibitive, yet with a number of artist testimonials and examples of successful tours, he was able to get coverage.

During that time, Garcia started to see competition coming on the market. Garwood was making a name for itself in Europe and in the U.S., and eventually Shure introduced a similar product. "That was basically our first real competition. It was a bigger name. We had a lot of respect, our name was known worldwide for our ear pieces; we just didn't have the hardware," Garcia says of Shure. "Now, at that time we were still the best known earpieces around. There were some other companies that dabbled in it, but didn't market it that we know of, so we were still the known entity of starting this concept and the known entity of reliability. The competition started to grow in that year and at first it was tough, but over time it became better. The way of the world is competition, that's the world of business, and it gave people a choice or a reason to understand what's really going on with the technology, and people started to hear differences. To this day we believe, as far as dynamics and transducer technology, we are the best." (One of the things that sets Future Sonics apart is the fact that they are still the only company to fully design and manufacture their own proprietary dynamic transducers for professional personal

monitoring. -Ed.)

Since the late '90s Garcia has opted to stay closer to his Pennsylvania home for more family time, although he'll occasionally go on the road to fill in for an engineer who might need to tend to some personal commitments or to teach someone how to use a Future Sonics product. "I miss it a lot," he says of the road. "The road is what I've known for many years. I was fortunate enough to travel in the '70s, '80s and early '90s, when you could see a little more of the world than you do today. That was great. But I started my family after I came off the road eight years ago, so I find it hard to be out on the road now that I've settled down."

2005 marks the 20th anniversary of Garcia's decision to start marketing the Ear Monitor brand. "I think it's a surprise to people that it's been around that long," he says. "When I worked with the band N*Sync, they never saw a wedge, ever. They never had to go through the transition; they were introduced to ear monitors right away. So there are actually entertainers that I work with who haven't had the experience of wedges, or when they did, it would never happen again." That was a rewarding experience, he admits, as was the '85 Utopia tour and the '92 Grateful Dead and Steve Miller tour. "The Dead toured for the first time with their ear system in stadiums without any monitor speakers," he reports proudly. "That, I think, was a milestone."

That type of longevity in the music business gives him the perspective to see how things have changed, and as the music and touring industry evolves, so does the base of Future Sonics' business. "We have found an increase in sales, because people are looking for ways to get their sound and travel with less equipment," he reports. "So we have seen the market increasing while other parts of the industry are decreasing. We've also found a consumer side in the MP3 market, and that's actually exceeding our pro audio or MI sales. Our universal earpieces have probably sold six or seven times more now than we've ever sold, because people are buying earpieces that have quality to enjoy them with their MP3 players or iPods. It's been really huge for us."
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