American Music & Sound’s Jeff Hawley

by Christian Wissmuller • in
  • January 2019
  • Upfront Q&A
• Created: January 23, 2019

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Before we dig in, I just want to touch upon some of the events in Thousand Oaks, California, where American Music & Sound is headquartered, that took place towards the end of 2018…

Jeff Hawley: November was a tough month for the state, the city, and West Coast American Music & Sound employees. The Borderline [nightclub & bar] shooting occurred November 7, less than five miles away from our offices. We watched the procession of the fallen police officer pass the offices the morning after the shooting, and rushed out of the office that afternoon as the Hill Fire crested over the hill adjacent to our parking lot. As I arrived home, my neighborhood was coming under a mandatory evacuation and I had just enough time to grab my two small dogs and head out.

Within a few minutes after leaving home, the president of AM&S – Lynn Martin – called me and said I was welcome to stay at his house. The Thomas Fire that tore through the Ventura area last December had burned his previous house to the ground, so I recall thinking that if something were to happen to my house in the Hill Fire, at least I’d be with someone who had gone through the same thing.

Needless to say, the entire ordeal was quite surreal. I am pleased to be able to report that while we had a number of very close calls, everyone is safe and there was no damage to AM&S offices or any properties belonging to our staff.

Can you give us a little background – your own history in MI and how you wound up at AM&S?

I started out my career early on working in full-line music retail. After a very brief stint at my first job (cleaning cotton trailers and other farming machinery), I realized that a nice heated and air conditioned retail showroom was probably much more my style.

In between retail sales gigs, I spent time touring and recording as a jazz bassist and trombonist, as well as recording and producing and engineering whenever the opportunity arose. The shift from retail to the factory side of things came next as I worked inside sales and then marketing and R&D with Protec Cases. From there, I jumped over to Yamaha in the Band & Orchestral Division as the product manager for Wind Instruments. This was around the time Apple released podcasting to the masses and I combined my production background with connections to B&O artists and launched one of the first MI podcasts, which set me on a marketing and content-centric path at the company. I basically followed (retired SVP) Rick Young around from division to division while spreading the podcast and marketing content bug, eventually landing the job of directing the inside marketing agency function there, spanning all musical instruments, AV products, and commercial audio in the U.S.

My current role with the AM&S and Allen & Heath team allows me to focus in on the things I’ve loved throughout my career – nerding out with market and product trend analysis, producing events, and designing content and playing with the latest and greatest tech toys… no complaints at all!

Many MMR readers are likely fairly familiar, but could you outline a brief history of AM&S and the products and brands currently distributed? How are operations divided across the L.A. facility and the Memphis office?

American Music & Sound was formed in 2002 and employs roughly 90 people across the various corporate functions and supported brands. It is a part of JAM Industries, so AM&S has the best of both worlds from a marketing and distribution standpoint – the ability to move quickly and focus in on supporting a brand, but with the strength and massive infrastructure and capabilities of a world-class distribution company behind it.

The Los Angeles area office is home base for much of the AM&S management and marketing function, with most employees working in the field located in the Memphis area warehouse facilities or in Montreal.

While most of my time is spent focusing in on Allen & Heath, AM&S also supports various marketing and/or sales and distribution functions for CAD Audio, dBTechnologies, Focusrite, Fostex, Hercules (DJ), Kurzweil Home, Kurzweil Pro, Lewitt, NORD, Novation, Reloop, Studiologic, and Xone as well.

Allen & Heath started in England in 1969, keeping busy in the early days making mixers for a few bands you may have heard of – Genesis, Pink Floyd, and The Who. About 120 people work at the Cornwall headquarters today, in very close collaboration with our team here in the U.S. and other distributors and partners around the world.

Allen & Heath has a big hit on their hands with the SQ Series, which just won MMR’s “Product of the Year” Dealers’ Choice Award (congratulations, again) and is up for a TEC Award. Why do you think that line is resonating with dealers and end-users?

The big thing that I hear from dealers and end-users is that the SQ Series offers an amazing amount of technical flexibility. Because of this, the sales folks on the floor don’t need to work very hard to overcome objections during the sales process since there aren’t many objections to be had. “I have to have a console that operates at 96kHz.” Check. “But I have older Allen & Heath stage boxes that are 48kHz.” No problem, they’ll also work. “I want to use my external Waves effects.” Ok, here’s the Waves card option. “Oh, I definitely don’t want to use external effects.” Cool, here are low-latency effects built right in. “But I want even more internal effects.” Ok, here are optional plug-ins you can download and add to the system. “I want it to be easy enough for my church volunteers.” Yep. “But I’m a power user and I want my faders to lay out exactly like this” No problem.

Basically the product is designed to play nicely in just about any live sound use case, get along with just about every popular audio protocol out there and strike just the right balance of ease of use and the ability to customize. It is a tricky formula to get right!

Relating to the above, this is the first time the “Product of the Year” DCA has gone to a Mixer. In fact, it’s the first time the award hasn’t gone to a traditional musical instrument. With the continued trend towards home recording and amateur/ semi-pro live mixing et cetera, the distinction between pro audio and home/consumer gear seems vaguer than ever. What are your thoughts on this trend?

Looking back at the MMR “Product of the Year” winners over the past decade, an interesting trend begins to appear. What if we could have the benefits of an acoustic piano combined with the awesome features and connectivity that digital can bring? Cue Yamaha Disklavier. What if the warmth and feel of a tube guitar amp and analog effects could be packaged up in a compact digital package? Cue Boss Katana. While there have certainly been digital mixing consoles out in the past that sound amazing, SQ is one of the first (in the price range of mere mortals) that brings the benefits and charm and flavor of analog desks together with the power of digital without sacrificing on some other major point.

For instance, latency in many digital consoles makes monitoring a mess for musicians. In most cases, latency above 16ms in open air (floor monitors) and 6.5ms with in-ear monitors is noticeable (as comb filtering or ‘echo’) and begins to negatively impact musicians on stage. While you may be able to get away with slightly more latency for keyboardists, vocalists (and particularly vocalists with IEMs) are highly sensitive to latency in a system. For this reason alone, the industry saw a slower switchover from analog to digital desks at the monitor position compared to what we witnessed at front of house. SQ leads in this space with a design that keeps latency consistently low (under 0.7ms) without requiring the engineer to delay things manually to compensate. In short, offer the benefit of clean digital monitor mixing without the pain of managing latency.

To the same point, the generation coming up who was raised in a “drag and drop” touchscreen world expects a high degree of customization without limitations being imposed by a fixed UI or workflow. Look over at your friend’s iPhone home screen layout and I’ll bet it is almost completely different than yours. Different apps, different arrangement of apps and folders, etc. SQ excels on this front, allowing for the mix layout and effects to be personalized in much the same way.

What are some the approaches to promoting, displaying, and selling gear such as digital mixers that you’ve noticed successful retailers adopting?

This one may sound obvious, but the approach that has worked best is to do an A/B listening test. Put the SQ up against other consoles with really high quality source material or a live band and good PA speakers, and the SQ consistently wins.

There are many reasons I could point to as to why the SQ sounds great, but the 96kHz system sampling rate is a biggie. Most of the other consoles in this price range run at 48kHz and jumping up to 96kHz with SQ is often described as being like “lifting a blanket off the speakers.” You can have lots of fun reading up on the Nyquist-Shannon Theorem and the Fourier transform and the psychoacoustics of this phenomenon, but it is best to demonstrate the effect in person. Do the demo, sell the SQ.

How would interested dealers go about partnering with AM&S?

The easiest way would be to contact us at info@americanmusicandsound.com and our awesome support staff will connect you with the right folks.

Are there any recent or upcoming products or developments that you’d like to share with our readers?

I think you hit on a great point earlier around the possible trend of a collapsing distinction between amateur and semi-pro mixing, pro audio and consumer gear, et cetera. One thing I think we’ll see more of in the near future is the expanding definition of just what a mixer can and should look like. The popularity of tablet-based mixing came on fast and having additional iPad control options for a digital mixer is now table stakes. I continue to be surprised by bands at huge festivals using mixer control surfaces that they could easily have checked on as baggage vs. needing a giant truck. These changes in consumer demands around flexible control surfaces will likely drive the need for increased interoperability and more open (or at least standardized) audio networking in the future. I’d recommend that dealers keep an eye on this trend and begin to think a bit outside of the traditional mixer-shaped box.

Lastly, what are your expectations for your market segment in the coming months?

Well, you know as a marketer with a strong sales background I have to say, “Sales are going to grow, grow, grow!” All kidding aside, we have had a record sales year and knowing what we have in the product pipeline for 2019 and beyond, I am confident that the live sound space will be fun to watch for the foreseeable future.

Given the crazy November we just had and the amazing outpouring of support from industry friends that we all received, I think it is a good time to sit back and really put things in context.

Winning awards and having hit products and launching a successful marketing campaign is great, but the people and the relationships are what matter. Remember what is truly important. As noted in a common refrain around the office when a project goes a bit sideways or the stress of NAMM planning starts to build, “It’s pro audio, nobody’s going to die.”

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