“The quality customers expect from a plugin now is really quite high,” says Matt Ward – and he’s not kidding.
Introduced as CEO of brainworx USA in February, Ward knows exactly what plug-ins mean to pro audio. And he’ll be leading the American expansion of one of the most innovative plug-in developers out there, producing hugely respected mixing and mastering solutions including the bx_digital V2, bx_hybrid, Vertigo VSC-2, bx_limiter, and Dangerous BAX EQ for UAD.
And the company’s reach goes far beyond its own product line. As the development team behind Plugin Alliance, Brainworx’ software partners include SPL (Germany), Shadow Hills Industries (USA), Millennia Music & Media Systems (USA), Mäag Audio (USA), elysia (Germany), Dangerous Music (USA), among others.
In his latest endeavor, Ward will be guided in one way by his deep experience with the audio industry and in another way by a wholly open mind. Over the years, he has worked with the likes of Studer Revox, Otari, and E-mu Systems, along with a ten-year tenure at the executive level with Universal Audio.
As he’ll readily tell you, the biggest thing he’s learned from each professional post is to be ready for anything.
Ward spoke with SonicScoop from his Scotts Valley, CA office about why he joined this fast-growing company, and what he and Brainworx Germany CEO Dirk Ulrich have planned. In the process, he provided an up-to-the-minute snapshot of the enormous opportunities – and intriguing challenges – that the plug-in sector faces in 2014.
Matt, why are you joining Branworx as CEO of Brainworx USA? What makes you and the company a good match at this time?
Brainworx, while still relatively small, is growing very fast so while there is tremendous opportunity, managing growth at this rate has its challenges.
There is a constant balance which needs to be struck between the growth of a company’s sales and its expenses. When you’re growing quickly, making these choices at the right time can become difficult.
Hopefully, the experience I’ve had managing growth at other companies will help us to find the right balance for our growth path. For me personally what’s really exciting is that the people and technology here are so great. There is so much passion for music and quality audio in this company and it shows in the products!
You spent ten years at Universal Audio, which were followed by strategic advisor roles for Manley Labs and PreSonus. How have those different experiences informed you as an executive?
I think the most important thing I learned is not to get stuck into the mindset that, because something you did at one company worked there, it will work everywhere.
UA, Manley and PreSonus are all very successful companies but they have very different cultures and do things in very different ways.
When I first started working with Manley, my instinct was to try to get Manley to be more like UA as UA had enjoyed such strong growth and success. At one point I took a step back and said “Wait, EveAnna has run this company successfully for 20 years and it’s become an icon of the pro audio industry, so clearly she’s doing something right.” At that point I was able to take a little clearer look at the whole picture and work effectively with her, building a strategy focused on the highest value items.
With PreSonus, they’re an amazingly bold company. Their product development cycles are very aggressive and they are fearless about branching out into new markets. This was a big change from the approach we used at UA, which was more methodical — we focused on what we thought we were best at and moved into adjacent markets and product categories more slowly.
Obviously, these different methods have worked out well for both companies so again, the lesson for me was there is no “by the book” way to build a company. You have to find the right path for each company based on its culture, capabilities and philosophy.
So how would you characterize your role now with Brainworx USA? What’s a typical day/week/month going to look like for you?
Initially, my focus will be on business development and marketing. Partnering has become a big part of our business and increasingly we’re partnering more with US-based companies so it makes sense for me, both geographically and because of the strong relationships I’ve built with US. companies over the years, to drive those efforts from here in the US. We’re working on a few really exciting deals with US companies right now so stay tuned!
On the marketing side, it makes sense to build up our marketing team here as the US is our largest market. This will also allow us in the future to offer things like local customer support.
What is it about Brainworx’ offerings that make them unique – what is the specific design philosophy of Dirk Ulrich and his team?
We want to solve problems. Dirk, before starting Brainworx, was a successful musician and producer and he still works in the studio frequently so he’s always been interested in creating tools which solve real world problems and offer useful creative tools.
Matt, how does Brainworx see the overall production landscape changing? How are the preferences of studios, producers, engineers and artists shifting, and what part do plugins play in that environment?
The trend of more and more music production getting done in home or small project studios which are based around a computer continues, and the requirements of these users are also becoming more sophisticated.
The quality customers expect from a plugin now is really quite high. This has led us to try and combine the deep musical and production roots of the company with our sophisticated technology to bring high-end studio tools to these users.
So, in turn, how is the Brainworx line evolving? What’s going to be new in 2014, and what’s on the horizon?
While we’re still deeply involved in creating studio processors and you’ll see some great new products from us in this category later this year, we’ve also expanded quite heavily into guitar amplifier emulations.
Last year we released Engl amp emulations for the UAD platform which have been well–received and you’ll see some really cool additions to that lineup soon. We’re really proud of these amps as they solve a huge problem for customers who want great guitar tone but don’t have the studio, mics and processing gear to get it by miking a conventional amp.
We spend a great deal of time in the Brainworx studio tweaking the impulse responses, which include a variety of speaker cabinets, microphones and studio hardware signal paths, so that users can quickly get a really solid tone inside the box.
Is there a user base you’d say Brainworx currently appeals to most? And who would you like to see your user-base grow to encompass next?
As I mentioned above, we’re really excited about our expansion into the guitar space, so I’d say getting guitar players to love digital is our next big mission.
(M/S mastering, M/S recording, L/R stereo)
What has been the most popular Brainworx plugin to date? Why do you think it’s been a success?
The bx_digital EQ has done really well. It’s an incredibly powerful EQ that does a lot of things ranging from MS mastering to surgical tweaking of individual tracks. Customers love it because it can do so many things and they tell us it sounds very musical.