The ongoing partnership between Spider Ranch and West Coast Sound and Lighting is featured in a Live Sound article by Dan Garcia.
“It is amazing what can be accomplished when nobody cares about who gets the credit,” famously stated Robert Yates, a founding father of the United States, more than two centuries ago. Or, in more contemporary terms, Quincy Jones expressed the same thing quite well: “Check your ego at the door.” Regardless of how it’s said, and by whom, an essential truth remains that there’s often a great deal to be gained by the collaboration of like-minded people. The same holds true for companies, with an excellent example being the ongoing business association cultivated by Spider Ranch Productions and West Coast Sound & Light (WCSL). Both companies supply live sound reinforcement, as well as a variety of systems services, in the thriving Northern California and San Francisco Bay Area markets, but rather than banging heads in competing over many of the same jobs and contracts, they’ve instead chosen to work in lockstep to create a successful relationship. And at three years and counting, their smart business approach continues to grow and flourish, to the point where it has positioned them as a highly viable player in the national concert touring marketplace.
WCSL (www.wcsl.org), founded by Paul Doty and based in Modesto, CA, enjoys a two-decades-plus history of providing live production – sound as well as full-scale lighting systems and video – and is now also enjoying growth in the contracting market, specifically both with larger church and home theater projects. Matt Cross, who joined the company about six years ago, quickly ascended to the position of general manager, where he leads day-to-day operations.
Meanwhile, Spider Ranch (www.spiderp.com) is based about 100 miles west of WCSL in Pescadero, CA and is headed by Alex Moran, a long-time systems veteran with a highly diverse (and successful) professional audio resume. The company serves a diverse range of live productions as well, with the corporate market emerging as a particular focus of late.
BUILDING A TEAM
The initial introduction between Moran and Cross came about a few years ago via one of the common topics of discussion in pro audio, now and forevermore: gear. Specifically, McCauley Sound MONARC line array loudspeakers, which WCSL already had in inventory and which Moran was considering adding to his own.
“I’ve been using McCauley products for a long time, really like their sound and quality, and I wanted to add a McCauley line array rig,” Moran notes. “I discovered that West Coast Sound already had a McCauley inventory, so I called Matt and we quickly came to an understanding as to our willingness to cross-rent McCauley line arrays to each other when needed, and the business relationship built from there.” What has resulted is a “production network team” where one company steps up to provide support to the other in terms of gear, staff and services in a partnership manner, albeit one where both companies remain independent and free to pursue their own projects. “We pretty much treat it as actual partners,” Cross says.
“If we bring in a customer jointly, that’s great, or if one or the other lands the gig, that’s fine too. No matter what, we treat it as 50 percent of any given job we share belongs to one company and 50 percent belongs to the other.” Over time, the two companies have worked to create interchangeable full-scale live sound reinforcement rigs, and just as importantly, staff teams that are just as interchangeable. In addition, WCSL brings their investment in high-end lighting gear and expertise to the table. The result of joining forces in such a seamless manner has led to an entity with more than enough quality equipment, expertise and support to meet the demands of even the most large-scale touring artists. Up to 56 McCauley MONARC MLA3 line array modules are available along with additional MLA6 modules, with the rigging hardware the same, while Spider Ranch is running all Lab.gruppen power amplification and WCSL is making that transition, recently passing the 50 percent point.
Processing is all dbx DriveRack 4800, with identical settings worked out with an assist from McCauley. While the companies have different drive snake connectors, it’s immaterial because the racks are wired identically and can be swapped interchangeably via their splits. Even further, together they can provide more than a dozen premium analog and digital mixing consoles, and again, this is joined by a commensurate selection of lighting equipment, trusses and affiliated gear. And in a bit of serendipity, or perhaps a portent of things to come, early in their association both companies realized they even own identical trucks – the same make, model, color and year.
“But the biggest reason this all works is that we both share a strong philosophy of customer service,” Moran adds. “There are a lot of companies that can provide good quality sound production, but whether they can translate that into customer service is another story. To us, it’s all about making it a win-win for the customer, the audience and ourselves. We bend over backwards and in some cases we go beyond what we are contracted to do if we think it makes for a more beneficial situation. Sometimes that might not make for the best return on investment on a business level, but in the long term the customers return – which is what we want.
“The bottom line is that we’re already getting a good slice of the regional market, which says something good about the way we’re doing business, and that’s what will be delivered as we move to supporting ever-larger national-scale tours and events.”
UNITED YET FLEXIBLE
The two entities serve several distinct geographical regions – Bay Area, Northern California and the Central Valley – that vary rather dramatically in terms of project pricing. However, WCSL and Spider Ranch already share similar pricing structures, eliminating another potential problem, and combined with the advantages of merged resources, allows them to be more united yet flexible in competing with other firms bidding on the same projects.
“For example, in the San Francisco area alone, there are more than a halfdozen sound companies with major investments in large rigs, and many of those rigs have the same components,” Moran points out. “They all compete against each other, and because of the financial commitments they’ve made on systems, they’re also competing against themselves to some extent as well. To win some of these projects, they might have to cut corners in terms of both gear and services, whereas by combining our resources, we don’t face those pressures and instead are able to be competitive in bidding and then turn around and meet expectations without any pressure. We really don’t care whose company letterhead happens to be the one on the bid; the important thing is winning the bid and then working together to get the job done right.”
The “shared pool” also provides advantages when considering investments in new gear. Cross and Moran consult with each other regularly to avoid duplication and also to be able to provide each other with complementary equipment, which works out well even for shows where the two companies aren’t collaborating.
“My automatic first thought when considering investing in anything significant in terms of gear is to talk to Alex about it, both to get his opinion on the quality and functionality of the piece itself as well as to gauge if we’re both going to benefit from the purchase,” Cross explains. “A good example came up recently with consoles, where we figured out we could improve with both an upgraded premium analog console and an upgraded premium digital console at our disposal. One of us is going to add the analog, the other will add the digital, and we’ll have two boards for the price of one, and both pieces will stay much busier, thereby increasing the return on investment. This allows us to invest in other pieces – such as lighting fixtures – that will also provide a better return, which in turn means that our inventory consistently grows to meet any current and future needs of mainline A-list tours.”
The companies are also very well positioned for what they see as a significant upswing in live event opportunities in their region. There’s already been a steady increase over the past few years, and that trend shows no sign of slowing. Moran points out his strong belief that we’ve entered a new “era of the live band,” where a growing segment of the population is interesting in the actual musical creative process of musicians working together live on stage. For example, acoustic music festivals and jazz festivals have both come to the fore of late. “Live event opportunities are hitting an upturn swing. I think people have gotten tired of going to a concert and hearing a CD player and tracks as opposed to really hearing and seeing great musicians at work,” Moran says. “This presents all of us with more opportunities, and the smart production companies will take advantage.” “I think the industry goes through ups and downs,” adds Cross. “People get tired of some things so they quit going to them, but at the same time, they get interested in other things. Certain genres of music will drop off for a year or two and then start to pick up again. So much simply depends on what the public wants to see and hear.”
EYES ON THE PRIZE
As noted, both companies have branched out, and in those new markets, they’ve been able to support each other in much the same manner – primarily with expertise, complimentary services and staff support – when needed. After all, it’s part of their core competencies and helps pay the bills, and it’s also just smart business to diversify. Still, both Spider Ranch and WCSL have their eyes on a bigger prize.
“Our collaboration has facilitated solid, significant growth for both companies, but the best is yet to come,” Cross says. “We’re now in a rare position in the marketplace in being able to provide comprehensive sound reinforcement and state-of-theart creative lighting fixtures and design services, both backed with our full support for the largest, most sophisticated concert tours. Our vision doesn’t stop at any point.”
“I’m so pleased and amazed at where this relationship has taken us,” Moran concludes. “I’ve tried this type of arrangement before, but it always got detailed with infighting about which jobs go under what company banner. The bottom line is that we really don’t care who gets the credit as long as our services are provided at the highest possible level. As a result, we’ve gotten the attention of several larger entities interested in the many advantages our combined efforts can offer on a national scope.”
Dan Garcia is a freelance journalist who specializes in covering A/V topics. Reach him via Managing Editor Jeff MacKay at firstname.lastname@example.org.Find out more about WCSL atwww.wcsl.org and Spider Ranch at www.spiderp.com.
Spider Ranch and WCSL have worked on many events together. Follow the links below to see pictures for these events: