Plasa MD Peter Heath talks career highlights and his predictions for this year’s show14 September 2017
After almost 20 years as a figurehead at Roland, Peter Heath has swapped kimonos and keyboards for the front line of trade association politics. In truth, he had more to do with mixers than MIDI, and a desire to elevate professional audio and video to new heights of dedicated management. Perhaps now, at Plasa, he’ll see his visions realised even without the knobs and faders to hand…
You went to school in Wiltshire, not known for its rock and roll edginess…
You’d be surprised. True, I was a child chorister, without any say in the matter, and later was taught trumpet. But when I achieved some autonomy – meaning I became a teenager – I taught myself guitar. Naturally the band I was in at school had no PA, so we built our own, including lights. It was completely illegal, even then.
We took it very seriously. My dad’s attitude was, if you’re going to be a pop musician, be the next Beatles. But it applied to everything: I was also a golfer, and he’d say if that’s what you’re going to do, be the next Tony Jacklin. Just be the best at whatever you do, he would say, or there’s no point in doing it.
Unless I missed it, I don’t remember you being on Top Of The Pops…
I did achieve the dizzy heights of supporting a number of cheesy pop bands on tour that did appear on Top Of The Pops in the mid-‘70s… Then I worked in music retail – before MIDI! – and it gave me the chance to see and meet a lot of bands and musicians from the area, including XTC who were just breaking big at the time. In Swindon, the main gigs were The Brunel Rooms and The Affair nightclub, which had The Clash, Elvis Costello, The Buzzcocks and everyone coming through, while Andy Partridge and the rest of the XTC boys used to come into the shop regularly.
As the ‘80s began I formed a duo with my brother and we were gigging every night, complete with the classic shitty record deal and a few plays on BBC Radio 1. Support tours in those days included Shalamar, Odyssey, Showaddywaddy… poptastic. My brother remains a very successful songwriter and music therapist.
All too soon I had to get a real job to pay the bills, and ended up in real estate. Dreadful. I just walked out, eventually, and went back to working in a music store. Still playing, obviously. I’d built a small recording studio, too, but I was much more interested in PA. I persuaded the store to stock more live sound equipment, and carved out a great niche for myself installing and operating PA systems. That was more like it.
And the big break into manufacturing?
My first position was at Roland UK, which by that time had moved to Swansea. When John Booth took over in 1996, he wrote to all the dealers saying he had vacancies. I kept it for ages, wondering if I was worthy, but finally applied and got a position as Area Sales Manager. At my first NAMM, they told us they were introducing a raft of sound reinforcement products and I jumped in immediately. That was my gig!
My first trip to Japan was with a group of guitar dealers, ironically, but it was always an organisation attuned to the musician-consumer. Latterly they’ve connected with video professionals and, through that, more so with pro audio. But I kept getting pulled back into MI, and didn’t really get stuck into proper, pro AV till around 2006. There was a vision for it by then, and [Roland founder Ikutaro] Kakahashi was still leading the way. Going to Japan to listen to his speeches became a real highlight. We sold a huge amount M-400 V-Mixers, which drew a lot of compliments especially for the sound of the preamps.
Could you explain your departure from Roland?
This is still a very young industry and generally we are behind other areas of electronics and entertainment – including MI. That’s far more mature. They look similar, but only in the way that football teams and rugby teams are similar: same grass, similar shirts, white posts… but they address the ball – which is a different shape – uniquely. They will never play together, and they will never play against each other.
Going to Japan to listen to [Roland founder Ikutaro Kakahashi’s] speeches became a real highlight. We sold a huge amount M-400 V-Mixers, which drew a lot of compliments especially for the sound of the preamps
I spent much time trying to explain this to Japan, pressing for stronger pro AV sales channels, but after the management buyout of Roland by Taiyo Pacific Partners in 2014 there seemed to be a return to the dilution of pro management into MI. That, I felt, marked out a departure from my aims and so, sadly, it was time to leave. It was a wrench.
I just couldn’t see myself working for another manufacturer. I felt I had orange blood! PLASA was a very attractive alternative, and luckily there was a vacancy right at that time. They lost my CV, at first! But I got an interview anyway, and that was it.
What are you bringing to the party, following retail, Japan and Showaddywaddy?
I arrived at the tail end of a bad patch, with the show receding and the merger with ESTA taking a financial toll. My first priority was to complete the plan put in place by the executive team to get the organisation commercially stable and viable, so there’s been a lot of focus on internal issues. I’d like to think the work I’ve done already has helped us to turn that corner.
The London show is back in growth; Lighting & Sound International is an audit-proven, market-leading product; and all PLASA staff now work from one location, maximising collaboration. It needed a change in culture, and that’s a value I learned from John Booth and Roland UK. If you get that right, things like strategy and tactics fall into place – because people ‘get it’.
What are you selling, now, as opposed to products?
Good question. There are times when I do miss a button or a knob to twiddle. The focus is on membership, skills and technical support – reaching out to members and offering new skills training like sales management, a new branding workshop and other career development benefits.
[Plasa] needed a change in culture. If you get that right, things like strategy and tactics fall into place – because people ‘get it’
At this month’s show, we’ll be setting up new Working Groups on many topics from HR to salaries to finance. Our membership benefits are used every day, and the industry needs to know about them.
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