The way Kevin “KG” Glendinning sees it, at JH Audio, everything the company does is a reflection of founder Jerry Harvey’s motto, “Go for it. You either rock or you suck.”
“It’s really as blunt as that, Jerry calls it like he sees it in the IEM game,” says the long-time monitor engineer and also now artist relations/business development staffer at the Orlando-based company, adding that, “It’s about doing the best job possible, regardless of what that job is.”
Like Harvey, Glendinning has always had a passion for music and audio. A “lifer” in the industry, he played drums before moving on to a career in audio, starting in the 1990s at Chicago-based dB Sound. And by starting, he explains, “I mean sweeping up the shop. Later, when I was up and coming, I was doing stuff with Metallica as an audio tech and assistant. Back then there were only a handful of in-ear monitor companies, but when I was working with bands like Pete Yorn, Deftones, and AC/DC, I kept seeing cases that said Ultimate Ears and hearing about Jerry Harvey.”
Getting It Right
He eventually met Harvey in Las Vegas in 2002 during The Rolling Stones 40 Licks tour, on which one of Glendinning’s main duties was looking after the band’s IEM systems. Knowing Harvey by reputation, Glendinning picked his brain and found out they knew many of the same people. “Meeting Jerry was one of the highlights of that tour,” he says, adding that over time they developed a friendship, shared information, and often sounded each other out about different technologies and workflows.
Glendinning recalls a later multi-band tour where he was working as ME with Deftones. “Jerry was there mixing Linkin Park, and every day he’d come out calmly with an RTA mic and a Smaart system and shoot the stage, just like you would a stadium or theater for venue analytics. There’d be five or six monitor engineers stage left going, ‘What’s he doing? But we all took a page from that. We had only about 20 minutes to get stuff right, but he always made sure everything was done properly.”
In short, he holds Harvey in high regard as much for his work ethic on the road and approach to business as for the IEM technology he’s created. Consequently, when Harvey asked him if he’d be interested in trying out a new set of IEMs coming out under the JH Audio name, he was all in.
At the time, he was mixing monitors for Alicia Keys, who, as it happened, needed a new pair of “ears” herself. Glendinning shipped off impressions for Keys and himself to JH Audio and took delivery of some of the first JH13 earpieces manufactured.
“We were in New York prepping for a ‘Saturday Night Live’ gig. I don’t know if Alicia even knew my name at the time because I was the new kid,” he says. “But I wasn’t nervous at all about the product I was about to give her. She sat at the piano for sound check, went down a scale, up a scale a few times. Over the talkback, I asked what she thought, and she jokingly said ‘Shut up’,” he adds laughing. “So, I let Jerry know I’d be making an order, because in my opinion, those IEMs were a game-changer and it wasn’t long before JH Audio really caught on.”
As big a fan as he was of the company and their IEMs, Glendinning was initially reluctant to trade in roadwork for a job at JH Audio when Harvey approached him with an offer. “It was after a New Year’s show in Las Vegas. Jerry was there and asked me how it was going. I told him everything was good and I was about to fly out for a couple of weeks off at home. But Jerry said, ‘great so you can start Monday.’” Glendinning protested, but Harvey was insistent. “He said, ‘I need another mixer who’s been on the road and who knows the pace of the touring community’.” Ultimately, Glendinning took a sales position on the condition that, if for some reason it wasn’t the right fit, there’d be no negative impact on their friendship.
Clearly, there hasn’t been. The position turned out to be a great fit, in part, Glendinning explains, because the company culture is so similar to the culture of a touring show, an inclusive, family-based atmosphere informed heavily by ensuring that everyone – staff and customers alike – “are in a good spot, everyone is part of the process ensuring we develop and build the best IEMs on the planet.
“And that comes from the top down,” he adds: “Before I was an employee, I was a customer they never let me down. The staff was smart, well-versed, honest, and efficient, and engineers like me trusted them because Jerry’s done everything we were doing. And when we work with artists, no matter who calls, we provide them with exactly what they need; if it’s a metal band, it’s like, well, they’ll probably pair well with JH16s or Roxannes. Or, say it’s a hip-hop act, well, the Laylas have real smooth low end.”
Accumulation Of Experience
Additionally, there’s a commonality between the approach the company takes in developing and supporting products and the way artists work – both fueled by an overarching passion for what they do. Similarly, Glendinning’s approach to artist relations is informed by the knowledge he’s gained in every role he’s taken on in the industry – as a musician and audio engineer – and by the recognition that every customer has a singular workflow and unique requirements. So, just as he did on tour, he always asks clients for an honest assessment of any product – good, bad, or indifferent.
He also has plenty of experience to draw on in that regard, having mixed the stage for artists including Justin Timberlake and Paul Simon. He, too, continues to tour from time to time – a practice that’s encouraged at JH Audio.
And his gig in artist relations also has a lot of similarities to his work on the road, he adds: “My main thing is outside sales and consulting, which is a fancy way of saying working from the road, which is absolutely necessary because we’re a user-centric, artist-centric company. And we’re always willing to take constructive criticism when engineers come back to us with feedback. It could be (about) the ears overall, or suggestions about the cable and how it connects, or the length of cable on the IEMs for a small singer – anything at all.”
The willingness to be responsive to criticism, he notes, ultimately results in a higher degree of trust. “That’s part of the culture at JH Audio because our people come from the road and on the road, there’s no time for BS. It’s just ‘get it done right,’ and, again, that comes from the top down.” The bond Glendinning feels with Harvey and everyone at the company mirrors that he’s had with those he’s toured with over time.
But then, he notes, the ethic that informs his work on the road is also what informs the company’s work across the board. “It’s on full display, not just from a technological, R&D standpoint, but from the ‘get stuff done’ perspective that’s so important in our industry.”
Over the course of the past year, Glendinning notes, maintaining that perspective has become even more important. “We’ve had bumps in the road before,” he says, citing 9/11 and SARS. “I was in Singapore and India during SARS with the Stones, so we were right in the thick of it. And I’m not minimizing those times at all. They were scary, uncertain times, but this is something entirely different. Still, we’ve been able to diversify and keep moving forward and stay positive.
“I remember when the pandemic was declared,” he continues, “my phone going crazy with people calling and saying, ‘Cancel this,’ or ‘Don’t ship that order. We’re all coming home.’ The first thing you worry about are friends, family, and the guys and gals on tour we do this stuff with. And then, from a business perspective, it was like, ‘What’s going to happen? Are we going to be able to keep the doors open?’ But the answer was yes.”
That required a certain degree of improvisation, he adds, “On a day-to-day level we’re all wearing a few different hats around here right now. Everyone is looking out for each other and being very much like, ‘I’m done with what I need to do. Is there anything else I can do to help?’ Whether it’s packing up product for FedEx or taking out the garbage – whatever it is we need to do.”
This approach has also driven the development of the JH Audio’s most recent IEM products, most notably Contour XO, a cooperative effort with L-Acoustics to design an IEM with the same sonic signature of the company’s loudspeaker technologies.
When the deal first came together in 2019, Glendinning recalls being out of the office and coming back to Florida to find Harvey already on the bench putting concepts together. “The R&D process was very old school,” he says. “I’ve honestly lost track of how many times the prototypes went from Florida to LA to France and the UK and back to us. It was a very cool, very collective effort. The way I see it, this is kind of like the Yankees and the Dodgers making one team – the number one IEM and number one loudspeaker manufacturer putting their brains together.”
Working on that project was critical to morale at the company overall, particularly given the uncertainty of releasing a product like the Contour XO when the touring industry was facing unprecedented challenges. “We weren’t sure what was going to happen, but all in all it was a great experience and we’ve had a really good response. It’s a departure from what JH normally does, he adds, “But when one of L-Acoustics’ development engineers, David Brooks, said, ‘This thing sounds like one of our L’Acoustics rigs in my head,’ I knew we’d nailed it.”
Even more recently, JH Audio has rolled out Jolene, its first four-way IEM and the newest member of the Siren series, a hybrid with quad dynamics with the subs sitting in a manifold configuration, making the dual drivers work together, facing each other. “Honestly, I think it’s the best IEM Jerry’s ever made in terms of both concept and performance,” he says. “She has only been out a few weeks now and everyone has been chiming in across the globe with stellar reviews – everyone: audiophiles, broadcast mixers, in-ear monitor and conventional monitor engineers – it’s been terrific hearing the positive remarks on Jolene.”
Touring may not be possible at the moment, Glendinning concludes, but – like anything worth its salt – even when things get tough, you still have to keep moving forward. “As awful and crazy and unique as 2020 was, these were projects we could sink our teeth into and stay busy with,” he concludes, adding, “And I’m beyond proud of everyone here and very grateful to be a part of JH Audio and what we’ve done over the past year.”