Our philosophy is that we help the customer, rather than ‘it’s not a current product - too bad’. We take the attitude that these microphones are of at least some historical interest, if not practical use, so we should have as much information as possible.
Also, if you look at the historical happenings of the 20th Century, you often see a Shure microphone in the picture. So it seemed to be a natural for me to take over the archives.
There was a technical writer here named Don Gayle, who retired a few years ago, and he served as unofficial archivist, doing a great job.
Since then, we actually hired professional archivists to come in and record/assemble all product archives, and to do the same with informational and photo archives.
This is quite valuable, because we can now look through a database real quickly to find information that assists customers. And many times we take things and re-use them. For example, the logo for the KSM32, which is cool, is from 1939.
We also get stylistic ideas from the past that we can draw on, and also avoid past mistakes. In fact, we’ve put together a two-volume history of Shure that every employee will be receiving soon.
So it’s fascinating to me, it helps customers on a daily basis, and it also helps continue a sense of history that everybody here has.
KC: How has the industry changed during your time in it?
Michael: There have been changes in competitors, obviously. Ten years ago, Shure and Sennheiser weren’t necessarily competitors, but now we’re head to head. Ten years ago, it was more along the lines of Shure competing with Electro-Voice.
So the competitive field has changed. And I actually think the total competitive field is a bit smaller. Look back to the early ‘80s, there was something like six or seven major microphone companies competing, and that seems to have contracted somewhat.
In addition, the products that are coming out seem to be understood by fewer and fewer people, based on the questions we get on a daily basis. I think we might be racing far ahead of what the average person can understand, perhaps because there are a lot more technologies to be understood now.
Also, there are more people with less experience using audio products, and there seems to be fewer competent installers. We get a lot of questions they should really know the answers to. I suspect that a lot of this is due to a lack of dedicated education for sound contractors - there isn’t a degree program for them.
One of the biggest things I’ve seen is change brought about by the Internet. Our web site has a technical Knowledge Base, which is basically an interactive FAQ system administered by the Application Engineering Department. This FAQ database has just been wonderful, because 24 hours a day, customers can go and look up their problem.
We have over 2,000 questions and answers up there right now, and they’re searchable. If their answer isn’t there, users can send us their questions and get a personalized e-mail response.
This allows more people to find answers, and at the same time, frees us up to work on the tougher problems, write educational pieces, and so forth. So some of the repetitiveness of Application Engineering has been relieved by Internet tools.
KC: Why have you hung on so long in this business?
Michael: Because they pay me to do what I would do normally anyway! (laughs). I have a degree in music, and have been an electronics hobbyist practically my whole life, building my first electronic circuit, a crystal radio, when I was in second grade. I’ve always had these interests, along with an interest in acoustics. So I get paid for my hobby. Why wouldn’t you hang around for that?
KC: What predictions can you make regarding products and technology for the next five to 10 years?
Michael: I think we’ll see that microphone arrays will be something of interest. I’ve read a lot lately about miniature microphones being placed on chips. I think it will be very interesting to see what can be done with a whole array of microphone elements on a chip, having different ones receiving the signal at different times and so forth.
I can’t even predict what this is going to do, exactly, I just know it will be very, very interesting.
Wireless systems will see change, although the specifics remain uncertain. The FCC (Federal Communications Commission) is altering the landscape about what frequencies can be used. I, along with everyone else, don’t know where that’s going to go – we’re all guessing right now.
I’m sure 10 years from now it will be quite different, but what, specifically? The audio industry is not the dog – we’re the tail being wagged by the FCC.
It will be interesting to see if there are any new transduction principles, changing acoustics and electronics. I haven’t read of anything, but that would be something.
And there’s been talk for years of optical microphones, and actually these already exist, where a laser beam is bounced off the diaphragm and it measures differences between the send beam and the return beam. But these have been very expensive and noisy so far.
I’m sure there will be many more new things that are software based, but we need more reliable computers to make this happen (laughs).
KC: Last question. Are you optimistic about the future of Shure, as well as that of the pro audio industry in general?
Michael: I certainly think Shure is well established. One of the advantages we have is that we’re privately held, and thus there isn’t the looming pressure of quarterly profit statements.
We have to be profitable, of course, but at the same time we don’t have hundreds of millions of dollars of debt hanging over our heads. Consequently, we can look out further and make longer term investments.
I can’t tell you the number of well-meaning MBA’s (Masters – Business Administration) who have come into this industry and decided they didn’t have to learn anything about it, that they know everything about business - and they’ve failed miserably.
The MBA’s who have been successful at Shure, and there have been some, have taken the time to learn this industry. Advanced education is great, but it has to be combined with knowledge and understanding of the industry. It’s quite unique, and that’s what I love about it.
Link to related articles:
History of Shure
Timeline of Notable Achievements
Interview With Michael Pettersen