The annual Winter NAMM Show is billed as the “Super Bowl” of the music (and increasingly pro audio) industry, and it’s where manufacturers introduce their newest products.
Sometimes they’re ready to go, but often, prototypes are shown with the promise of future delivery dates. (This is how the NAMM acronym has also come to mean “Not April, Maybe May.”)
Over the years, folks came by the Radial Engineering booth (the company I founded) and were amazed by all the new products that we’d conjured up. At any one time, we might show a dozen new products, with as many as 30 more in R&D and well over 60 on the drawing board.
I recall one attendee saying to me, “You guys come up with products that I never thought I needed and afterwards realized I could not live without it. How do you do it?” Funny he should ask…
Product development is a process. It begins with an idea or concept. The best ideas always come by way of filling a need. When visiting sound companies, I would look at the gear they had on tour and pay close attention to what they were manufacturing in house.
If they had to build one-offs, it usually meant that the market was either not fulfilling their needs or the cost to buy was too high. If they were utilizing a particular widget, logic followed that others probably wanted to do so as well.
Another great resource was speaking with the touring techs backstage. I’d study the various setups used on guitars and bass, how keyboards were connected, and how the wired snakes and wireless systems were interfaced with front of house and monitors. Sometimes I’d suggest simpler concepts and sometimes they would lead to better solutions.
Once an idea was hatched, I usually sketched it on the back of a business card or napkin to discuss with the techs. Upon returning to the office, I would transfer it to a piece of paper and then to a scaled version in a computer art program.
I recall at one point we decided to build a balanced line switcher that could handle the +24 dBu output of a console without distortion, yet do it quietly and eliminate ground-loop noise. Once the first concept drawings were done, the development team got together to discuss the product and the feature set, and to work through various connectivity options.
Could it be used on digital guitar systems as a backup? What about situations where multiple wireless systems needed to be routed to the same input? Could it be expandable to switch multiple consoles? This invariably led to a more sophisticated design.