System Designers At Work

Oct 6, 2010 5:11 PM, By Blair Jackson



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With more than 200 employees and an enormous flagship store on 23rd Street in Manhattan, Tekserve prides itself on servicing the Macintosh community, according to co-owner Matthew Cohen, but also strives to live up to it’s down-home slogan, “The Old Reliable Mac Shop.” Started in 1987 by Dick Demenus and David Lerner as a Macintosh service center, Tekserve started branching out into other areas, including pro audio, when Smart Machines CEO Cohen merged his company with theirs in 2000, bringing in his extensive experience and expertise to form the entity known as Tekserve Professional.

“In 2002, when Tekserve Professional promoted Chris Payne to head up our pro audio practice, we really took off as a force in professional audio,” Cohen says. “The [audio and video] manufacturers were going to market with very sophisticated solutions and they were not always well represented, so when they found a group of people who could represent their products really well, they gravitated to us and we increasingly became a resource. We took them into environments where they weren’t being considered, including the major broadcast networks, cable channels and various higher-end studios looking for points of integration between their existing technology and cutting-edge digital systems.

“What’s interesting now in integration is the systems are becoming much more sophisticated,” Cohen continues. “You’re not just talking about an audio workstation and a mixing console. You’re often talking about a collaborative workflow and a collaborative storage platform that will allow you to share resources and assets. You’re talking about an asset layer that really organizes and forces the users to make the content meaningful over time so you can manage it over time. Workflow enhancement has really become something that everyone’s after these days, and it involves a lot of complex issues.”

Tekserve Pro has worked with a wide range of clients through the years, including the above-mentioned networks, radio giant XM, the Chicago White Sox (for whom they’ve done a multifaceted IT video application), Jazz at Lincoln Center Studios, and other top Manhattan post houses: Sonic Union, C5, Sync Sound, Postworks and many others. Tekserve was also saluted by the Grammys for a special system it designed for that show’s telecast, which allows for a smoother transition between acts by capturing and tweaking automations during rehearsals.

“To stay on the cutting edge,” Cohen suggests, “you have to know what can be done and where the integration points are and what’s valuable to the application. We’re very good at walking into a situation and listening and trying to understand what their circumstance is, and from that make good suggestions. In every area of our business, I’ve always felt that our responsibility is to make sure they understand what their choices are, what the ramifications are and how to make good decisions for themselves. Instead of going in and trying to sell somebody—‘I’m gonna make this perfect, I’m gonna do this, I’m gonna do that’—I want them to come to the realization, ‘This is what I need. This is what I want to do. This is why I want to do it.’ We’re in it together, and I think that’s much more powerful than just selling somebody a solution.”

Cohen says that having both a pro wing dedicated to solutions and a thriving consumer-oriented enterprise stocked with thousands of products works out to be a strong symbiosis: “It’s the only way we’re be able to do it. It’s a pyramid you could tumble on any side and each aspect benefits the other. The business we’re in is of relationships with manufacturers and serious customers.”

GC Pro's Rick Plushner

GC Pro's Rick Plushner

If you’ve been to any kind of audio show in the past 25 years, chances are you’ve met Rick Plushner. He was national sales manager for Sony’s Digital Audio division in the early ’80s; then general manager for Neve’s West Coast branch; followed by VP of sales for Euphonix and president of SSL’s North American operation. It was while he was at SSL that Plushner teamed up with Guitar Center’s then-new GC Pro division to introduce some new pieces of outboard gear, plus the SSL AWS 900 Series console. That then led to Plushner going over to GC Pro full-time—he’s now director of the company.

Asked how it feels not to be working for a single manufacturer for the first time in decades, Plushner laughs and says, “In a word, it has been liberating, and it’s part of the reason I chose to go this route five years ago. What I recognized was that so many of the products that were being designed are very plug-and-play-oriented. Certainly, Digidesign [now Avid] was one of the manufacturers that rode that—designing a very sophisticated product that’s to some degree plug-and-play. And I recognized that distribution and sales were changing, and that’s why I thought to help develop a channel like GC Pro, where we can represent a wide range of manufacturers—SSL’s AWS 900, Neve Genesys, Avid/Digi with their wide range of products. But they actually all require a lot of expertise, too. As we all know, you don’t just plug in a computer and expect it to work. You have to load the right software programming and integrate the systems properly with other pieces, so there’s still a great deal of expertise involved. The good news is the two weeks of commissioning a studio is down to a few days.”

Though he has helped guide GC Pro to the point where they now have 35 offices (compared to 214 Guitar Center retail outlets) and some 70 employees, he credits Guitar Center CEO Marty Albertson with having the vision to “want to seed and develop a division that would be the outside sales division of the company—non-retail business-to-business. The idea was to reach out to recording studios, post-production houses, houses of worship, live sound venues; go out into the communities and call on these customers directly and respond to bid specifications and provide services beyond what a retail organization would do.”

Was there any hurdle in convincing pro-level people that usually more consumer-oriented GC was a viable route to take? “Yes, because in the early days, some of the manufacturers of very specialized, high-end boutique products didn’t really view Guitar Center as the type of company that could or would represent their products. So it was really a matter of contacting those manufacturers, and explaining, ‘No, no, no—this is how we’re doing it. We’re different. We’re a boutique-style operation, with highly trained sales engineers nationwide able to represent your products properly. We offer on-site demos, equipment loans, and truly focus on properly presenting highly specialized products.’ Slowly but surely they came on board and every one of them has had a great experience.” GC Pro sells many products the regular retail chain does not, and, of course, also has a trained staff of system design experts and gear integrators.

GC Pro has enjoyed substantial year-on-year growth since Plushner arrived, and he notes, “We’re continually evolving as a company and our customers evolve with us. A client will come back six months, a year or two years later, and say, ‘I’m really ready for that console we talked about.’ ‘Great! Are you considering upgrading your studio monitors and effects processing?’ We enjoy having this ongoing conversation with our customers. We help them refine their craft—and I do believe that audio is a craft.”

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