Display Ad
Hide Ad
Parnelli Awards Voting Now Open - VOTE NOW

James Gordon

by Suzi Spangenberg • in
  • April 2018
  • Current Issue
  • FOH Interview
• Created: April 12, 2018

James Gordon

The CEO of Audiotonix — the parent company of Allen & Heath, Calrec, DiGiCo, DiGiGrid and Solid State Logic — discusses life, career and gizmos.

James Gordon loves gear. It started at an early age when his father, who worked for EMI in London, started taking him to work.

“I got dragged into a lot of music studios from a young age and fell in love with flashing lights and moving faders and switches and buttons and all of that,” Gordon recounted. One needs only look at the EMI roster of the mid-1970’s to appreciate just who young Gordon may have been ignoring in the studio in order to focus solely on the console in front of him. “I was fortunate enough to get exposed to that world and realize that it was fun and hard work and late nights but very creative — and that appealed to me from a very young age,” says Gordon.

It was at Kingston University in London that Gordon met a Soundtracs employee whose persistent attempts at recruiting Gordon finally met with success in 1996, when Soundtracs launched the Virtua digital console. The rest is history as Gordon quickly moved up the ranks at Soundtracs and later with DiGiCo, after their merger in 2002. Gordon was named sales director in 2002, managing director in 2007, and CEO of Audiotonix, formed in 2014 when DiGiCo, Calrec, and Allen & Heath came under one umbrella to create arguably the largest console company in business today.

 

Gordon joined Soundtracs in 1996, just as the company launched its Virtua digital console.

With its eight touch screens, the Soundtracs DPC-II was an advanced design.

‡‡         Audiotonix: Leaping Ahead

With the acquisition of Solid State Logic (SSL), announced in December 2017, that position is solidified. “We got to the size at DiGiCo where we would have become an attractive thing for a bigger firm to buy, and we were worried that if it happened, the culture and the vibe of the business would leave at the same time. Our solution was rather than be consumed, to start growing the company via acquisition.”

Gordon made it clear that maintaining the separate identities of each company is a priority. “We’ve acquired some extra businesses to grow the company, but actually they’re still very much the businesses they were when we bought them — we just added strength to them in terms of R&D resource or purchasing or manufacturing or sales knowledge or whatever that particular brand needs.”

When asked what Audiotonix was most looking forward to in acquiring SSL, Gordon replied, “I guess as a group (Allen and Heath, Calrec, and DiGiCo) we didn’t have a strong studio brand.” He added, “It’s such a great brand. They want to make the best products they can, and there’s obviously some commercial constraints. Our job is to try and remove some of those and allow them to make the products they really want to make.” Most importantly, Gordon recognizes the importance of getting to know the culture of SSL, saying “It really takes a lot of time, and if you steam in and think you know it all, that’s when you’ll get it wrong.”

James Gordon, former DiGiCo marketing director David “Webby” Webster and John Stadius doing some serious field research.

‡‡         Friendly Competition

Gordon isn’t too worried about the need to manage internal competitive conflicts between the groups saying, “If you look at other industries, you can see where competing brands coexist within a group, and it comes out very effectively. We haven’t had those issues with Allen & Health and Calrec, and we’re not anticipating having those with SSL. I’m sure there will be some winning and some losing equally on all sides — a bit of friendly competition generally will help innovation.” Gordon added, “As things evolve, as different markets get investment, we’re seeing new theater complexes and convention centers being built, which is exciting. If you do a good job and you look after people — that’s the important part — and you make great products, then I think the industry is in a strong place.”

Lest you think that it’s all work and no play at Audiotonix, Gordon let on that he has a reputation as a bit of a mischief maker. “We did a distributor meeting, and made the footstool in front of the urinals of the gent’s toilet out of the fader panels of one of our competitor’s products. So every time the customers and distributors went to the toilet, they had to stand on a competitor’s product and have a wee. This appealed to our sense of humor.”

‡‡         Thank You, Mr. Stadius

A few short weeks after acquiring SSL, Gordon left England for the United States and the Parnelli Awards at NAMM. In an especially heartfelt introduction, Gordon introduced DiGiCo technical director and 2018 Audio Innovator award winner, John Stadius [See interview in FRONT of HOUSE, December, 2017]. It was clear that Gordon holds deep respect for his friend and colleague of 22 years, as well as a strong appreciation for his curiosity, willingness to push boundaries and dedication to his craft. He illustrated this by sharing that in their very first meeting in 1996, Stadius demonstrated the console soon to become the Soundtracs DPC II. Says Gordon, “John touched all the areas he had just told us never to touch, so we could experience the smell of his burning skin to avoid our own in the future.” He added, “the console had eight touch screens, truly ahead of its time, when you consider it was just 1996 and no one had even heard of an iPhone or iPad back then.”

John Stadius (right) prevents an excited James Gordon from revealing too many secrets about the DiGiCo SD7

As far as what the future brings, Gordon shared: “There’s lots of cool stuff coming — I know what our road map looks like and it’s pretty cool. Perhaps the most exciting for us is that John recently did his 32-bit mic pre-card. That was pretty amazing and he’s got a line output card we’re testing at the moment that’s showing an even greater improvement than the input card, which I think is phenomenal. As a company, we’re pretty excited about that one.”

Gordon talked about their friendship, strengthened over the years by shared adventures. “He is just inspirational with everything in his life. We traveled down to Australia — they tell him ‘watch out for redback spiders,’ next minute John’s got one on his hand and he’s taking a photograph with his camera because it’s the coolest looking spider he’s ever seen.”

Gordon touched on what he considers to be the reason for the success of his working relationship with Stadius, “I think I have a passion for products that obviously John is very passionate about — I think our two thought processes are very different, but the trust level between us is very strong.” Gordon went on to say, “He has no ego attached to it at all — he’s just always about learning new technology and new things. His inspiration has achieved an awful lot when you think he put MIDI, SHARCs, multiple touch screens and large-scale FPGA’s into consoles before anyone else. His ideas and things he’s come up with have really helped change our industry. He’s a very worthy winner of the award and it’s great that he got selected for it.”

‡‡         A Winning Team

Gordon went on to say, “I’m very much a team player and individuals are important, but ultimately you can’t really do anything without a team. We’re lucky that we’ve got a good team, and John made that point with his acceptance speech. He’s obviously an incredibly bright individual, but he couldn’t have achieved anywhere near the things he did without the support and trust of people around him. I’m very fortunate that we’ve got an awesome management team here who’ve worked with me for a long time and trusted me to do the job I never wanted to do. I think that says a lot, too.”

Among the 2018 TEC Award honors for Solid State Logic was a TECnology Hall of Fame induction for its 2004 AWS900 console.

The Audiotonix winning streak continued at NAMM 2018, as Solid State Logic scooped up three TEC awards, including FRONT of HOUSE editor George Petersen presenting a TECnology Hall of Fame award for the 2004 AWS900 console, which continues in production today — 14 years after its introduction. According to Chris Jenkins, SSL’s director of commercial applications, “Engineers and producers needed a reduced footprint and a better value proposition for smaller spaces without compromising quality or creativity. And they didn’t want to have to choose between the analog audio path, DAW control and the sweet spot. So we set about integrating everything and bringing a wide range of SSL magic to a new type of user. We’re very proud that AWS has made it into the TECnology Hall of Fame.”

Also winning technical awards were the SSL Nucleus2 [2-SQUARED] system in the Small Format Console category and in the Large Format Console category, the SSL AWS Delta V2. This brings SSL’s TEC Award count to 20 in 10 years.

Gordon expressed appreciation for more than just the awards his Audiotonix team won. He was quite impressed with NAMM’s new pro hall saying, “They did a really good job. The halls were lovely — balconies and out spaces — they made it a really pleasant environment to be in — and it’s really hard to make an exhibition hall a pleasant environment. NAMM created a good atmosphere for our industry and I think it’s impressive what they achieved in their first year of having a pro element of the show. I’m quite excited about what it will be like next year. I think if they build on the foundation of what they’ve started, it can be pretty amazing.”

James Gordon at the 2018 Parnelli Awards

‡‡         Loving It

When asked what Gordon loves most about his work, he didn’t hesitate: “I love it when you make a product you think is cool and then you see a customer’s reaction to it and they love it,” says Gordon, adding “it makes their lives easier or they achieve something better and that’s ultimately why I got into the industry. I love kit — I love playing with sound and seeing what you can do. I love the cool gizmos that our industry creates. We just launched some products for DiGiCo, and it was great to see the first time that customers actually got to play with them. We thought there were 10 applications that they could be used in and they came up with another 10 straight away. It’s great to see products that you spent years evolving, developing, and you let them out into the world and hopefully people like them. We work in a great industry full of nice people that work really hard and are all madly in love with what they do. It’s a great place to be. My dad told me if it’s more than four days you go into work not happy — then change jobs. I think that was pretty good advice. I’ve never had to do that. I certainly can’t imagine doing anything else for a living.”

Gordon was asked what his favorite moment was while in California. Without hesitating, he replied, “I spent some time with Jack (Kelly) and we were driving down from LA to San Diego, and suddenly the road opened up. We were listening to Del Amitri on the radio and there’s the Pacific on our right, and it’s not bad, really… and we’re working! (laughs) I’ve been to some of the best shows in the world through work — shows friends of mine would have been given their right arm to go to and I’m working. And visiting all of the different countries — that was something I never aspired to as a youngster. I never thought it would be great to do it, but when you’re out with friends and say “Yeah, I’ve been all over Asia, all over Europe, all over America, and well, it doesn’t suck, does it?”

Nope. Doesn’t suck one bit.

Suzi Spangenberg is a freelance writer based in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Leave a Comment:

Check Out Some Past FOH | Front of House Magazine Issues