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Published on August 2nd, 2006 | by admin

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Sound business

David Benade and his team are building a business that is helping to improve the technical standard of performances and events in Namibia

His initials tell you he was born for this business. David Benade launched dB Audio (dB is the abbreviation for decibel, the unit of sound) almost exactly two years ago after repeatedly being asked to manage ever larger musical events by clients satisfied with his services as a freelance sound engineer. dB Audio today employs up to 10 people on a part time basis while two of Benade’s associates – Manu Jacobs and Ernst Steynberg – have become shareholders. insight visited them at dB Audio’s warehouse in Windhoek’s Southern Industrial Area. There must be an angel After leaving St Paul’s College, Benade was determined to follow his passion for sound by starting work at NBC and then as a freelance sound engineer. He assisted film and video makers as a sound recordist and got involved in staging events where he would be in charge of the sound, including the all important PA systems. But his clients kept coming back to him with ever more ambitious requests. Starting with simple sound and lighting equipment, things ended up reaching a stage where he needed to jump to a much larger scale. With support from a number of business “angels” and a convincing business plan, Benade managed to secure a loan from his bank to buy the bigger more expensive gear he needed. “It’s a capital intensive business,” explains the serious and considered Benade, “but I had the support of friends who knew me as well as Take Note [the well-known Windhoek music shop]“. But while his bank was convinced by the case he made and coughed up the money, Benade believes it has never really understood his business although this now seems to be changing. “Banks understand cars and houses but they don’t see gear as assets,” he states calmly without a hint of frustration. He must have impressed the bank because the buying of gear didn’t stop. “We started with two people but now we employ between 7 and 10 on a part-time basis. We can do one huge show and two smaller ones at the same time,” he says carefully. The business has already grown to such an extent that Benade had to find a larger storage space recently for his N$1.5 million collection of state-of-the-art sound, lighting, audio visual and staging equipment. No sweat But of course Namibia’s small market is a constraint. “The equipment doesn’t work as hard here as it would in South Africa,” he says and it’s more expensive to buy here too. “Making money isn’t the main thing,” Benade admits. “We want to be part of a wider improvement of standards in Namibia.”  He believes Namibian artists and audiences are “tired of being ripped off” and are becoming ever more discerning about both the artistic quality of live events as well as their technical delivery. The artists too are allies in dB Audio’s campaign to raise standards. Namibian artists will frequently request dB to help stage their events. “It’s about making beautiful things. Rather than just complain about it, we work with the artists and organisers to try and improve the quality of events,” adds the cheery and passionate Steynberg. Sound standards There is competition with three other established players in town: Jaylo, Swartsie and Galaxi. “You’ve got to give Jaylo credit,” says Benade graciously. “When all the others were hesitant, he saw a gap in the market and went for it.” There seems to be enough business for all although there are differences in approach. “I like to believe the industry leaders are all striving to raise standards,” says Benade diplomatically. “But there are two kinds of clients,” he adds. “The ones interested in quality and the standard of service and the ones interested in the cheapest deal.” Importantly, who does what kind of event is no longer determined by race or language group, suggesting genuine competition is starting to take place. Marketing is by word of mouth and most business is not done on the basis of open tenders. Mostly dB is called and asked for quotations although it has participated in some open tenders. Is corruption a problem? “We have had the occasional ‘offer’ but we decided no,” replies Benade, who gets work without apparently having to schmoose clients. It seems as if quality is winning through. A question of aptitude Benade reckons the biggest challenge in his line of work is undoubtedly client education. The more audiences appreciate high quality sound and lighting the more organisers would be willing to pay for quality service. Steynberg adds that finding skilled and motivated staff is a challenge. “It’s about aptitude. It takes two days to build a stage and three hours to dismantle it, mostly under immense pressure. You don’t find such people behind every rock,” he explains. dB provides on-the-job training for its own people although three of the current team have come with some training from the Katutura Community Arts Centre (KCAC). “Experience is worth so much more than formal qualifications,” says Benade. Steynberg adds that certificates are handed out much too easily anyway. So which events would the team say they were most proud of? No response at first from the ever self-critical Benade who seems only too aware of the shortcomings inevitably present in a small operation such as his but he’s eventually overruled by Jacobs and Steynberg. The MTC roadshow which took place in six towns and the Sanlam-NBC Music Awards last December in Windhoek both seem to have been highpoints for dB Audio. “I just love seeing people enjoy themselves,” waxes Jacobs. “I love my job and I’ll love it for the next 30 to 40 years.” “My dream is to see Namibian productions of high quality: artistic, content, technical and audience.” Benade certainly plays down the money side of the business and plays up the technical challenges. But he doesn’t get lost in the technicalities of woofers and tweeters. His passion is about the events themselves. “When all the elements gel, the artists look and sound great and the audience responds positively, that’s the moment it’s all about. That’s when I get goosebumps.”


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