The Pro AV industry is loaded with talented people, and at SCN, we're proud to celebrate the achievements of the newest members of our Hall of Fame.
After years spent traveling the world, it was an easy decision for Devin Sheets to return to Alpha Sound, the family audio business that was constantly in the background during his most formative years. As a child, Devin was taken out of school to shadow his father, Duane Sheets, as he managed live event audio for thousands of concerts and festivals throughout the Portland, OR, region. From tinkering at the company warehouse to learning to mix audio, Devin had the opportunity to use one of the largest AV companies in the country at the time to develop his passion for music and audio, leading him to not only become a classically trained musician but the present-day face of Alpha Sound.
Before starting the business that would encompass the next 40 years of his life, Duane Sheets was working as a touring musician and happened to become best friends with the sound technician. When the tour finished, Duane decided, in response to the growing number of local bands in the region, to start a recording studio in his mother’s garage. The rest was history.
To keep himself off the road, and utilize his music degree, Duane began teaching high school music and spending every dime he made on new sound gear and equipment. Eventually, people started offering him money to do local sound work, and he began picking-up gigs on the side. “Over a period of a couple years, it just transitioned to where I was making more money from my side gig than my teaching gig,” he explained. “It just grew from there.”
Duane spoke modestly of his experience, but Devin said there was a clear reason the business took off the way it did. “I think that pretty quickly people realized that Duane had a talent, a knack for things that most sound engineers, at least in our area at the time, didn’t have,” he said. “The classic story is that people will hire us for a gig or installation, and they will comment that they have worked with many companies before and this is totally different, totally unlike other companies. That was a big part of his early success—he was a step above the competition.”
Throughout the 90s, Duane was working with some of the biggest names in rock n’ roll, sometimes working up to eight events in a weekend. By the end of the 90s, the demands were becoming overwhelming and leaving the business with little net profit to show for it. With his children getting older, Duane decided to shift focus, transitioning to smaller events and eventually integration work for corporate clients, houses of worship, and classical music clients. This shift allowed the company to focus on high quality install work for clients with high end needs, decreasing the scale of the company but increasing their overall net profits.
“It’s not just can we hear it; we want it to sound amazing. We want it to sound stunning,” offered Duane. “If you just need sound, there are plenty of companies out there that do that. We are for the high-end experience.”
Today, integration makes up about 80 percent of their work, though select events for houses of worship and classical musical venues are a small percentage of their schedule. This shift really benefited the company during COVID-19 and the impact it had on the live events industry. Many companies in their area were wiped out because they primarily supported annual events and festivals.
“We were very lucky to have made the decision to move towards the integration side and really build that and get the ball rolling,” Devin said. “Looking back, we were very fortunate.”
After 40 years, Duane strives to continue within the business for as long as he is able, or as long as he is still enjoying it, but there was a clear sense that he knows the company is in the best possible hands. Mutual respect between father and son is clear, and each appreciates the unique perspective the other brings to the work.
“When you’re working with your dad, so many things just make sense, kind of like second nature,” Devin explained. “You don’t have to communicate about a lot because in many ways you’re the same person. It’s fun having a sort of copy of yourself—and if there is a problem that arises, you just look at each other and know you’re thinking the same thing.”