I cold called Eventide in the early ’90s because I wanted my own Harmonizer in my portable producer rack, but its hefty price tag of $3000 was beyond my humble means. I was hoping that the company would grant me an artist accommodation price because I had recently recorded some hip Sub Pop records for Hole, L7 and Reverend Horton Heat, all of whom were buzzing.
My call was directed to Gil Griffith, VP of Marketing (or something similar). Gil was somewhat of a legend: he came up with the idea for Steve Vai to create 48 presets for the H3000, which as a result became a required staple in every session guitarist’s refrigerator rack of doom and remorse. The presets were both twisted and beautiful, and they made a guitar sound like an otherworldly instrument that Shiva and Vishnu might play while destroying or creating life.
Gil was impressed that I had the balls to request a discount, given that my marquee credits were Seattle-centric as opposed to international. He was further impressed by the fact that I was prepared to actually purchase the H3000 when other cats from the Michael Jackson, Lionel Ritchie and Michael Bolton camps shamelessly begged for freebies even though they could afford to pay.
Long story short, Gil asked me enough questions to determine that my profile was more street, less corporate, than that of a “typical” Harmonizer user. He saw a fresh marketing angle that could attract a different demographic to the product. Gil planned to fly into Los Angeles the next week, and suggested that we meet in person to discuss various possibilities.
My wife Irina and I rode our mountain bikes 20-ish miles to Gil’s hotel, arriving in a glorious stew of Lycra and sweat. Fortunately we asked him in advance if he’d mind, and he was cool with the idea. He was getting into cycling back home in New Jersey, so he was curious to check out our machines.
Irina and I had state of the art race bikes, and we were wicked fit: she was an actress of renown and I was still ripped from racing at the UCI Pro MTB World Championships. For better or worse, there we were, flying our freak flags with only a thin veneer of spandex separating our flesh from the elements, taking a meeting with a tall charismatic VP in a well tailored suit. Talk about an indelible first impression!
Fortunately Gil bet on my character and enthusiasm. He singlehandedly positioned me, along with my colleague and mentor Keith Wechsler, to become perhaps the most in-demand preset developers (at the time) for not only Eventide, but also competitors Lexicon and TC Electronic.
As an aside, Keith and I took these preset gigs quite seriously, and our fees skyrocketed to $10,000 plus the product (times two) per project. Along the way, we became friends with the folks who hired us, so we eventually decided to completely forego our cash fees. Believe it or not, it was the right thing to do. Even though we could have continued charging top dollar, we believed that our karma (or dharma?) was to be of service in a pure way. With hindsight it’s clear that we wanted to do the preset work for the good of humanity, not as a career path that might interfere with our true passion of making records in the studio.
Anyway, back to the story of Gil, and how he enriched my life and my business…
Gil arranged for Don Teolis and me to write 91 new and unique presets for the H3000 D/SE and D/SX units. The former was geared toward studio applications while the latter was all about crazy guitar effects, including some trippy “backwards” Hendrix/Beatles stuff. By that time, Gil, Don and I were genuine friends, so we did the job for love, not money. Help a brother out, right? Don and I were on fire, and created all those presets in a single day! I distinctly recall writing a wish list of every cool idea we could fantasize, and then rolling up our sleeves and executing the plan. It was a helluva day, but not really a surprise because that’s the way it was when working with Gil. He attracts excitement and inspiration.
Eventually Gil exited Eventide to found his own company, Wave Distribution. The company launched coveted brands like Dangerous Music, Chandler Limited, Empirical Labs, Focal Professional, Kush Audio, Burl, SoundToys, Tonelux, Purple Audio, and others. Because of Gil’s high standard of excellence, I’ve relied on him to spec and supply much of the equipment in my mix room. He knows what I need, before I do. With that in mind, let’s get on with asking Gil a few questions in our first Pinging the Pros segment!
MJ:You always know what I need. How is that?
GG: I feel that the products I choose to represent tend to be designed by folks within the very market we sell to – they own or work or worked in recording studios as musicians, producers and/or engineers – and as such, came up with their product ideas from inside the studio – necessity being the mother of invention and all – so if they needed the very product they designed, you, as a recording engineer and producer, most likely need that product too. I’m not clairvoyant, it’s just easy for me to recognize symbiosis.
MJ:How do you decide which gear to represent?
GG: I actually look at the person behind the gear first. Dave Derr and I were friends and colleagues from the eight years we spent together at Eventide. I worked at his studio (Studio E in Garfield, NJ) after he left Eventide, recording demos for bands I was friendly with and trying to help promote. When he showed me the Distressor he had developed, and asked me to help him sell “a hundred or two”, it was a no-brainer.
When I met Wade Goeke from Chandler Limited, he had one product (the LTD-1 EQ) and two dealers. He had recently left Brent Averill, and had all these ideas for a range of products based on Beatles-era EMI gear from Abbey Road. His enthusiasm for the pro audio market and his exuberant personality were contagious. I liked him right away and wanted to work with him to bring his vision and passion for classic analog signal processing to the market.
All the best stuff that we love in life typically comes from the mind of a creative individual, who bends the forces of business nature to his/her will and makes something cool and useful (and typically disruptive) against all odds. Nicola Tesla, Thomas Edison, Alexander Graham Bell, the Wright brothers, Steve Jobs. In our industry – Georg Neumann, Rupert Neve, Les Paul, Saul Walker, Colin Sanders, David Griesinger – were the forward-thinking pioneers who bucked trends and produced new products and markets with a determined singleness of vision. I have been blessed with woking with a few modern audio pioneers over the years, including Richard Factor, Ron Noonan, Ken Bogdanowicz and Dave Derr. From that experience, it became easier for me to recognize the people who possessed the right combination of creativity, passion and design chops to bring the next “gotta have” brand to the pro audio market.
Now, my very good friend Bobby DeNiro told me that it’s not cool to drop names ;-), but my story is not about me, it’s about the people I choose to work with because of what I saw in them and their potential. And here I’m speaking of not only Dave Derr, Ken Bogdanowicz and Wade Goeke, but all the brands I helped launch or promote – Greg St. Regis (Studio Electronics), Andrew Roberts (Purple Audio), Peter Frampton (Framptone), Paul Wolff (Tonelux), John Arbiter (Carillon), Jaques Mahul (Focal Pro), Chris Pelonis (Pelonis Speakers), Ruben Tilgner (Elysia GmbH) and Gregory Scott (Kush Audio).
MJ: You do business in an enlightened manner. Every deal is a win-win, and you spread the wealth rather than hoarding it. When you were with Eventide, why did introduce me to Lexicon?
GG: I believe in healthy competition. If we didn’t have competitors, innovation might crawl to a snail’s pace. Good competitors keep designers and manufacturers on their toes. The best win-win for me is a friendly competitor, like Lexicon was to Eventide. A competitor whose products and design strategy you admire. I have owned Lexicon gear, have used it in the studio, and have been wowed by artists like Steve Morse who could do amazing things through a PCM 42. How do you not respect and admire a company like Lexicon? Plus, the man who ran it during my time at Eventide was Ron Noonan, who I had great respect for and almost went to work for in 1994. I got friendly with Lexicon’s Director of Sales Joel Silverman from seeing him at AES, NAB and NAMM shows – in Anaheim, Joel and his then-wife Kathy used to host a really nice Sushi dinner party every year during NAMM, and he invited me one year. I thought that was very big of him (and I *love* good Sushi!), and we kind of hit it off and started hanging out at trade shows, to the point that we even switched name badges as a joke at NAB and AES one year. Confused the hell out of people, but it was out little inside joke.
So since I knew the gear and liked the people, I was more than happy to share the love and introduce you to them, figuring if I liked and admired them and their products, you would too.
We all benefit when creative, clever, and passionate people bring cool products and brands to the market place – and there’s room for all of them – and it’s in all of our best interests that the pro audio industry be healthy and vital and alive and prosperous.
MJ: What’s new for 2015? What’s on the horizon?
GG: I’ve set up a web portal for our dealers and distributors (store.wavedistribution.com) to bring the efficiency and ease of use of retail on-line shopping to wholesale distribution. I’m launching two new brands this year, and there’s a plug-in coming that is a real game changer. With the Euro weakening against the Dollar, I’ve opened distributors in India and China to expand our market reach and take advantage of those opportunities. I’m as optimistic as ever about the future of Pro Audio, and am looking forward to bringing the next Wave (pardon the pun) of cool, cutting edge products to market… and of course, as always – having Michael James be one of the early adopters!
I appreciate all the insight, advice and feedback you’ve shared with me, it’s certainly helped to further fine-tune the course and development of more than a few products over the years.
Why did I know? Because Luis Del Villar, father of rising star Isaak Presley, handed me a business card for his production company, I.P.T., which stands for Isaak Presley Team. I’d like to underscore “team” because that’s where they “had me at hello.”
Team building has been an important part of my career and my spiritual development. From mentors to vendors to record companies to friends to consultants, I’ve surrounded myself with teammates who elevate my scene to the next level. I can’t imagine succeeding—or even basking in the afterglow of a successful endeavor—without the joy of sharing the experience with teammates.
Isaak is off to a good start. He has a new TV show, A History of Radness, ft. Henry Rollins and written by Andrew Green of Hannah Montana fame. Isaak is currently finishing a full length Christmas album. Obviously talented, he’s fully aware at age 12 that teamwork and specialization are key to his ability to focus on what he does best. His father Luis, who composed and produced the album, has an impressive pedigree, having toured the world working with Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Cher. Luis is devoted to his son, but not in a psycho Dance Moms way—he has raised his boy to be a courteous, polite and engaging young man with a down to earth attitude.
Isaak’s engineer, Kevin Lanctot, is a music lover with a genuine affection for both father and son. He’s a true team player: instead of being threatened by the decision to hire a ringer to mix “his” album, Kevin rose to the occasion and delivered all the “ready to mix” audio files in a manner that made my job as easy and efficient as possible. He even drove three hours to my studio so that I could show him how to prep the files for my workflow!
Although I probably don’t need to write this much about these guys in the attempt to make my point about team building, I’m happy to do it because they’re good people who are destined to provide the rest of us mere mortals with worthy entertainment for many years to come. Keep them on your radar!
A good team not only ensures good quality, it also expands one’s professional network. Another member of the IPT Productions team, BJ Smith, is an amazing singer/producer/artist who’s toured with Toni Braxton, Rick James and En Vogue. He’s been vocal coaching Isaak, with excellent results. BJ called me for the mixing gig because one of my IndieProMix teammates, Tony Shepperd, who mixed BJ’s new album, recommended me.
While Tony has marquee name recognition thanks to his work with Kenny Loggins, Take 6, and Shelea, there are several other folks on my team who are unheralded, but vital to my ability to provide such a high level of service to my clientele. Industry insiders know, and rely on, these folks, but music fans probably have no idea of what these people do and why their services and products improve my quality of life. From time to time I’ll spotlight them in Pinging The Pros, a new facet of this blog.
The format of PTP will be a brief introduction that explains why we are teammates, followed by 3-4 interesting questions. I’ve already set the wheels in motion with Shane Gaalaas (drummer from B’z, who’ve sold more than 80 million albums), Gil Griffith (Wave Distribution, Eventide), and Doug West & James Aschow (Mesa/Boogie). I’m looking forward to sharing some of their behind the scenes stuff with you guys. Until then, happy team building!