Category Archives for "MI/Audio Business"

Audio Gear Manufacturer Rane Acquired By inMusic

Rane CorporationSince 1983 Rane Corporation has been manufacturing well-engineered, well-respected audio gear that, unlike other audio gear manufacturers, is made exclusively in the United States. The Seattle-area company began in the inexpensive band and studio gear space, but soon found that it’s products were better suited to the sound contractor niche, and later, innovative DJ gear, where it has thrived ever since.

That’s a nice story but it looks like at least some of that will end as it’s just been announced that Rane will be acquired by inMusic, which already owns 13 audio companies like Alesis, Akai, Numark, Marantz, M-Audio and Denon. It seems like a good fit in terms of products (at least on the DJ side), but the downside is that Rane’s 60+ employees will be let go and the company’s manufacturing will shifted to inMusic’s Far East subcontractors.

While inMusic has been one of the better audio company conglomerates in that it’s taken companies that were faltering and brought them back to life, it’s still a shame to have another skilled American workforce on the streets. If you recall, a similar situation recently occurred when the Tannoy workforce was downsized as manufacturing was moved to China after 60 years in Scotland when its parent company TC Applied Technologies was acquired by Behringer.

A bright spot in this story is the fact that Rane is being acquired because the owners want to retire. They’ve have had a good long run, so it’s nice to see their hard work rewarded. Their workers have had a long run as well. Too bad it won’t turn out as well for them.

Another Iconic New York City Studio To Close

MSR Studio ABig studio facilities in large cities are very difficult to maintain, considering that real estate prices have skyrocketed and studio prices have plateaued in recent years. That’s why it’s no surprise that another of iconic New York City studio is about to close its doors. Manhattan Sound Recording (or MSR as it’s known) is shutting down as of later this week, but the reason for the closure isn’t what you might think.

Generally, when a large studio facility shutters it’s because the real estate has become too pricey or valuable and the amount of business or income generated from it isn’t sufficient to keep the doors open, but MSR is a completely different situation. The studio, which at one time was known as Right Track, is located directly in the heart of the city on 48th Street near Times Square, which has been a hotbed of construction for quite some time, and that’s been the problem. With the construction of a 50 story hotel next door going as late as 11PM at night, the noise became just too much to contend with. To top that off, another building is also scheduled for construction nearby that would last another 3 years.

The studio has been used by a variety of music superstars, including Beyonce, Madonna, Metallica, Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey, Elton John, Phil Collins, and many more, but it’s close proximity to the Broadway theaters and it’s large tracking room made it a favorite for Broadway soundtrack albums as well. Of course, actors are only free during the day, but if you can’t record because of the noise from construction, that pretty much means you go elsewhere.

MSR might resurrect at another location, however. After the studio is decommissioned (which could take quite a bit of time), owner Dave Amlen looks to open elsewhere, although it’s possible that the studio might have a new name.

That said, with 14,000 square feet, MSR was one of the largest facilities in NYC, and it’s demise will definitely mean that there will be a limited number of studios in the city left that can handle a large Broadway-style tracking date.

Fender Mod Shop Now Lets You Build Your Perfect Guitar Online

Fender Mod ShopIt used to be that if you wanted a custom neck, color or pickguard on your new guitar, you either started with a stock model and fitted it with aftermarket pieces, or it had to be ordered through a dealer and you had to wait a few months until it was delivered. It was a clunky process to get exactly what you wanted, and didn’t always work as planned. Fender has now tried to streamline the process with the launch of  its new Mod Shop online custom ordering. The store allows consumers to design a fully customized guitar with multiple options and features available.

Mod Shop allows you to customize a Tele, Strat, Precision bass or Jazz bass to your exact specs. There are a number of standard starting places, but if you begin from scratch you can select the orientation (right or left handed), body material and color, fingerboard, pickguard material, pickups, tuning machines, bridge, hardware color and strings.

The instruments have a base price starting at $1649, but some add-ons like color may add to the cost. The entire process from order to delivery takes about 30 days, and the instrument is manufactured in Fender’s Corona, California factory.

While this seems to keep dealers out of the loop, that’s not the case, as you can order through Mod Shop via a dealer as well (presumably to get a discount on the instrument).

What’s more, Fender isn’t stopping with just guitars. It will open an amplifier version of Mod Shop by next year, and may even expand beyond that to foot pedals and accessories if the idea catches on.

The Fender Mod Shop is a direct result of the success of Nike’s customization program called ID. If that idea could be so successful for shoes, then something as personal as a guitar should be a snap.

Check out the Fender Mod Shop and try building the guitar of your dreams just for fun. Beware though, it makes want to get your credit card out (and that’s the idea, after all).

Jukedeck Lets You Create Soundtrack Music With Artificial Intelligence

JukedeckEvery so often I need a cue for a video that I’m working on and inevitably I’ll say to myself, “It’s faster if I just compose something myself.” That’s never the case in the end since it always takes longer than you’d think, especially if you want something that’s really a custom-fit for the situation. That said, the thought of having music created for me via artificial intelligence goes against my nature as a musician.

I must admit that I have to rethink that position somewhat after taking a look at Jukedeck,  a website that uses AI to compose custom pieces designed as background music for videos.

Jukedeck let’s you select the time of the piece, then provides a number of choices in terms of the instrumentation (piano, folk, electronic, ambient, among others), and the mood (uplifting, melancholic, among others), and then in 30 seconds or so, spits out a piece of music that you can then download after you’ve registered.

The company is the brainchild of CEO Ed Rex and his team of 15 out of Cambridge in the UK, where they’ve raised almost $4 million in venture capital in two rounds of funding.

This isn’t exactly a free service, nor should it be, though. If you’re an individual or a business with fewer than 10 employees that just wants something for a video you’ve made, it’s free if you give Jukedeck credit, and $0.99 if you don’t in exchange for a royalty-free commercial or non-commercial license. If you’re part of a company with 10 or more employees, then the cost is $21.99 per download, which is very reasonable. In both cases, Jukedeck owns the copyright and grants you the license to use the music, which you can’t resell or make it available for others to use, which is fair enough. You can buy the copyright to the music if it’s an awesome fit, and the cost is $199.

I tried Jukedeck a number of times and I have to say that the results were pretty good in a generic sort of way. Let’s face it, for most of the things that Jukedeck is intended for, it doesn’t require a film composer, and the results were a lot faster than even sifting through a library trying to find the ideal track.

I hate to say it, but this might be one time when the robots are actually on the right track.


Avid Restructures To Please Wall Street

Avid RestructuresA few months ago Avid proudly put out a press release about how they just hired 250 new employees to staff new facilities in the Philippines, Taiwan and Poland, and how they would save $68 million as a result. Oh, and by the way, that was at the expense of closing down offices and downsizing its staff in the U.S.

Now the latest Avid press release touts how Taipei City is the “new home of hardware design,” the new “global support center” in the Philippines will be open 24 hours a day, and the new R&D center in Szczecin Poland includes “veteran staff for engineering, customer care and professional services.”

It’s also opening a new Boca Raton, Florida office for a “consolidated administrative support group, leveraging a strong work force to improve efficiency and productivity.”

Does this sound like a company that really cares about you, the user?

Does it sound like a great idea to can all the people in the U.S. responsible for the development of the hardware and software for the simple reason of finding cheaper ones off-shore?

How about taking the support for its complex products and moving it all to the Philippines?

These moves have nothing to do with the user, of course, since it’s all about looking good for Wall Street, which is something that Avid desperately needs. It’s stock is near an all-time low, down nearly 65% in the last year alone.

That’s the problem with public companies in general. For the most part, the execs get caught up in a game of “pleasing the Street” rather than looking out for its customers. In short, it’s stockholders become its customers.

Avid’s CFO and executive vice-president John Frederick has announced that he’s stepping down after the upcoming May 10th earnings call, which means that the outlook probably won’t be too shiny and happy, and the restructuring is a band-aid (and a poor one) at best on the hope that a few analysts will slap a “Buy” recommendation on it.

Those of us who use Avid audio products look at these moves with a great deal of skepticism, and at the same time keep an eye out for the next alternative.

Pro Tools and the other audio-related products are only part of the Avid’s product profile, but the company performance gives it’s users reason for great concern for the company’s, and their future.

(Photo: Maverx via Wikipedia)

Behringer Companies To Cut Staff

Behringer Owns CompaniesThrough the years Behringer has developed from a small company that copied successful products then pioneered making them China, to a powerhouse global brand.

In fact, the company has grown into a holding company known as MUSIC, that controls not only Behringer, but well-respected brands like Midas, Klark Teknik, Turbosound and the TC Group (which itself controlled TC Electronic, Tannoy, Lab Gruppen and Lake).

The company has grown so powerful that it even has what amounts to its own manufacturing city in China.

One of the problem with so called “roll-ups” of companies is that as much of the work as possible is consolidated under one roof, and as a result, sooner or later, redundant staff is let go, and that’s exactly what’s about to happen now.

The first to feel the burn is Tannoy, where 70 staff members at its manufacturing plant in Scotland (which had been there for 35 years) and its office in Cambridge will be eliminated. That great English imprint will now be made in Zhongshan, China instead. Will the product suffer? Maybe, or maybe not, but it’s bound to be different from what it was.

Hardcore Tannoy fans already long for the days of the long out of production SRM series (arguably some of the finest mix rooms speakers ever made), so they might not be phase by the plan. Current fans of the product may feel otherwise though.

MUSIC is now one of the largest, if not the largest, conglomerates in the musical instrument/audio business, for better or worse. On one hand, the prices of its products (even the high end products by Midas) are very reasonable considering the performance. On the other, there’s a group of talented craftsman that will soon be looking for work while Chinese robots take their places.

Here’s a video that shows Behringer City in China.

April 12, 2016

Is Gibson In Financial Trouble?

Gibson BrandsThere are signs that Gibson’s move to diversify isn’t working out as planned. Moody’s Investor Service has downgraded Gibson Brands (formerly Gibson Guitar Corporation) credit to junk status, and according to reports, the company has put up two of its Nashville warehouses for sale as a result.

Moody’s gave 3 reasons for the downgrade:

1. “Weak operating results” as a result of a poor reception to the company’s 2015 guitar line.

2. Frequent management changes in its finance department.

3. The company’s recent move into consumer electronics and the associated risks of doing so.

Starting in 2012, Gibson began to buy consumer electronics company like Onkyo and Teac. Prior to that, it had purchased the Stanton Group, which included Cerwin-Vega, Stanton DJ and KRK. In 2014 the company acquired Woox, a Singapore-based company specializing in consumer electronics accessories.

According to an article by Ted Green, this most recent acquisition left the company over-leveraged and the company is facing $100 million in payments over the next 22 months. Speculation is that the company doesn’t have the cash to make these payments, which is the reason for the sale of the two Nashville warehouse properties.

Gibson has done a number of business maneuvers in the last few years that have been head-scratchers, but the fact of the matter is that the company is trying to grow by expanding beyond MI. The problem there is that unless you know the other markets well, it’s very difficult to play in the land of the really deep pockets. Let’s see what happens over the next few months.

New Speech Enhancement Technology Let’s You Hear Over The Crowd

speech enhancementWe’ve all been at an airport or train station, or even a concert, where there’s an announcement and we can’t quite make out what it was over the noise. Those days may soon be over thanks to a new speech enhancement technology from Fraunhofer called ADAPT DRC.

Researchers at the Project Group Hearing, Speech and Audio Technology at Fraunhofer Institute for Digital Media Technology developed the ADAPT DRC software in an effort to improve any type of electronic communication, but venues with congregations of people were the primary target.

What happens is that microphones are strategically placed around a venue to constantly monitor the ambient noise level. When the noise gets too loud, the software boosts the speech frequencies instead of the overall volume of the speakers. This keeps the speakers from distorting, making it even more difficult to understand the announcement.

Instead ADAPT DRC strategically boosts the consonant sounds like “P,” “T,” and “K,” which are often spoken quickly, but are really the key to understanding what is being said.

The software also takes into account the parts of the speech signal that are naturally at a different volume and uses an intelligent algorithm called Dynamic Range Compression (the DRC in ADAPT DRC) to boost the intelligibility. This technology is already used on many cell phones.

I always marvel at how crappy some announcement sound systems can be, considering the technology that’s available today. Let’s hope that ADAPT DRC speech enhancement works as sited and is widely adapted so we don’t miss that next flight to AES.

(Photo credit: Dornum72 via Wikipedia)