Let it be said that car audio is not dead. This may seem like a bold statement to the part-time or former car audio hobbyist. Perhaps the perception of car audio is that the hobby and industry fizzled out with the ever-growing complexity of modern cars. Afterall, interests change through our lifetimes and some interests become synonymous with certain age brackets that we then exit from. That being said, is car audio still a “thing”, is it gone from the public sphere because of changing technology in the automotive industry, or is it simply gone from some minds because of shifting priorities and interests? If the latter is true, what role or use does car audio play, if any, to anyone at all?
I’ve spent many years embedded in the world of car audio. I’ve worked in every level of the industry from a lowly installer, to a distributor, and now an owner of a manufacturing brand. My enthusiasm started in the 1990s and took me to multiple world finals for various car audio competition organizations. Needless to say, I stand a good chance of having seen it all. I feel as though I’ve kept the pulse of the industry through the years and have been analyzing it along the way. The automotive industry certainly has impacted after-market car audio and I have seen many of my contemporaries leave the hobby behind them as they’ve started families, shifted priorities, and discovered new interests. Though, I am here to tell you, as a 40 something year old car audio industry member, that car audio is alive and still plays an important role in our culture and society. I’ll explain in more detail, in the next few paragraphs, that car audio positively influences personal growth, interpersonal relationships, and career paths for individuals both in and out of the industry.
In what way is car audio still alive? I do have to admit that the industry has diminished from its mainstream status a couple decades ago. No longer do we see major retailers with prominent car audio departments. Gone are the days where regular families drop the minivan off for a new head unit, speakers, and a remote start. The hobby has gotten more concentrated though. Enthusiasts show up in droves to some of the bigger car audio events held around the U.S., new pages and groups of die-hard enthusiasts pop up frequently on social media, car audio related video content continues to reach millions of viewers annually. It’s clear that the love is still there. Attend a big show such as The Team Deadly Hertz Jeff Lockhart Memorial Show in Virginia, or Slamology in Indiana and it’ll become evident that a hard core following exists. Almost every vehicle is built to a degree of impressiveness that only a select few would have been 20 years ago. The total number of enthusiasts may be smaller nowadays, but those that are left are more fanatical, dedicated, and invested in the lifestyle than what would have been seen, on average, in the past.
Consider the following, you’re in your late teens or early 20s, for the first time in your life you take on a large project of your own choosing and design. That project involves budgeting, logistical planning, design schematics, research in various technologies, gaining and implementing skills in several trades, team management, stress management, scheduling, and more. When this project is a large car audio build, for demo or competition, the technologies, skills, and trades involved are widespread. Audio technology may be the most obvious, but carpentry is involved as well as metalwork and fabrication, chemical work with resins and adhesives, automotive body and mechanical, upholstery, plastic work, electrical, acoustic design, glass work, and more. Not only does the physical work directly grow the skill set of anyone involved, the implementation of the project vehicle into the field lets the operator gain experience in travel and gives exposure to participating in events. Travel, in itself, gives people exposure to the world and how it operates in different contexts. When these experiences are presented in a positive manner, it gives someone a track record of success that grows their confidence and the ability to adapt and overcome obstacles in any avenue of their life. Personal growth happens with physical skills as well mental and emotional skills.
As with any hobby, sport, or industry, car audio gives opportunity to building community and friendships. Car audio spawns from the general car hobby, so similar culture is built around it. The stereotypical father-son car project happens frequently in car audio, as does a multitude of familial relationships and friendships, all bonding over working on projects together. A fun example is my first car audio competition. I was 15 years old so my mom let me put a Rockford Fosgate 60ix amplifier and two 12” Cerwin Vega XL subwoofers into her Bronco II and she drove me to the competition. That kicked off a competition career where I’ve since been a six time World Finalist. Beyond that, traveling to shows has allowed me, and others like me, to find and bond with similarly minded people. We’ve built communities. Best friendships have been formed in front of my eyes. One of the largest car audio teams, Team Deadly Hertz, operates like a family. Marriages have been formed from the community, money raised to support one another in dire times, a sense of belonging, care, and love abounds. Friendships like these are inherent to any hobby that consists of passionate individuals, but healthy rivalries are also formed. I will say from experience that being involved in car audio has helped me overcome a lot of my social anxiety issues. Being able to work with and talk with people about ideas that swim in my head has made me feel a sense of acceptance and peace with the world. I have people in the industry that I look up to, and I found that I can reach out and converse with. It’s been fantastic for myself and has helped me in many ways through the years, as I’m sure it’s helped many others.
I may be a little biased when it comes to careers and car audio, but my intent here is to explain that car audio doesn’t just lead to careers within the field of car audio itself, but can branch to many others. As previously mentioned, participating in building a car audio demo or competition vehicle can enhance and breed a myriad of skills. The mere exposure to these skills can, and has, opened minds to pursuits in the trades. I know of people that tried welding for the first time in trying to frame out woofer enclosures and then went on to attend welding school and become professional welders. The same has happened with carpenters and mechanics. The idea is that something as fun as car audio sparks interest in someone that they never knew they had. The excitement of that interest takes them down a path of discovery and learning that ends up in a career they love. Beyond that, the exposure some people get may aid them in the pursuit of starting their own business of manufacturing, sales, installation, etc… The entrepreneurial spirit is present in a lot of car audio enthusiasts and is given a platform to come out when they get involved in the hobby at a deep level.
In short, physical and mental skills gained from being involved with car audio can help someone become a better person. They can learn things about themselves that they may never have been able to otherwise. They can implement those lessons to improve their life. The lifestyle itself leads to lasting relationships and the strengthening of current relationships through shared passion and experiences. When aimed in a professional direction, involvement in car audio can also direct and enhance a person’s career. The hope is that it’s a career they truly love, a career in which their passion can shine through and give them a sense of happiness and purpose.
Can you relate to any of these sentiments? I write based on my experiences and views of the topic at hand. My hope is that there is a value there that others can benefit from. I have passion for what I do and I’ll use it to the best of my ability. Always think deeper and take in all you can from what you are experiencing in life, catalog it, and pull from it when it comes in handy. Dream, plan, build.
Eddie Lester 02/2024