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Turn on and plug in with Plugin Alliance

Dave Robinson 28 December 2015
Dirk Ulrich, Plugin Alliance

On the surface, Plugin Alliance looks like just another online distribution and licensing company, albeit one that deals with a growing group of software tool developers. It was founded in 2011 by musician Dirk Ulrich (pictured); since that time, PSNEurope has watched from a distance as the US-based company has flourished and become more ambitious with its plans. With NAMM just over the horizon, the time seems ripe for Dave Robinson to analyse the Alliance and probe its plans…

PSNEurope: How and when did you get your start in the pro-audio business?
Dirk Ulrich: I started working at Uli’s Musik, a great local music store in Leverkusen, Germany, when I was 19. I was in a band, and I also opened my first semi-professional studio (recording punk and metal bands on 1” 24-tracks). The studio business picked up and I decided to produce music instead of becoming a law student, and ended up publishing a lot of bands on my own label (and for other labels) over a span of 15 years. For example, I recorded with and/or produced bands and members of bands like Dream Theater, Toto, Pro Pain, the Michael Jackson Band, Joe Cocker, and more. I also made demos, radio spots, and other productions during that time.

Concurrently, Brainworx was founded and I started working with US companies, like Mackie, demoing their gear on trade-shows in Germany. This is how I made my international friends in the pro-audio biz. One of the first people I ever met was Matt Ward, who worked at Universal Audio at that time.

How did that background influence what you do?
The Brainworx bx_digital (pictured), an award-winning modern classic M/S EQ, was the beginning of the whole Brainworx and Plugin Alliance story because it really started it all. I had the idea for this plug-in because I was mastering stereo mixes using analogue M/S technology, and I wondered why nobody had ever made a plug-in that uses this technology.

Plugin Alliance Brainworx bx_digital V2Like many small studios, I was recording, mixing and mastering the music I produced myself, and the know-how I gained in these years led to the design of the bx_digital M/S EQ and other Brainworx plugins. Being an experienced producer/engineer enabled me to pitch this plugin to Avid, introduce it to other producers at trade shows and design plugins that are desirable for other producers as well.

Brainworx started making plug-ins with, and for, other companies such as SPL, elysia, etc. The next idea we had was to combine these plug-ins under one virtual roof and design our own user-friendly licensing technology and web shop. Plugin Alliance was born as a natural evolutionary step.

And now?
Plugin Alliance is based in Santa Cruz, California, and is headed up by… CEO Matt Ward! Matt and his team take care of all aspects of Plugin Alliance’s business, from finding and working with new Alliance
partners to all website development, customer relationship management and sales and marketing. Plugin Alliance’s sister company, Brainworx, is located in Leverkusen, Germany, and this is where I’m based. Here, we’re focussed on the development of new products, as well as offering technical support to Alliance partners to make their transition to our platform as smoothnas possible.

It’s not just an online company selling plug-ins though, is it? How much influence do you have over third-party software you promote?
It really isn’t influence so much as selection. We look for products and technologies that would be interesting to our customers. Up to this point, we’ve had an emphasis on studio processors, but we’re starting to expand outwards a bit. Our most recent partner addition, Unfiltered Audio, which makes innovative technology tools which really appeal to the EDM market, is a great example of this expansion, and you can expect to see more of this.

Plugin Alliance SPL Transient Designer‘Alliance’ suggests more than ‘Inc.’ or ‘Company’. Can you explain what the term implies?
The Plugin Alliance is really three things.

The first is a group of companies who have banded together to make use of a common authorisation system, as well as marketing and distribution.

The second is group of engineers and producers who share tips, tricks and carrier advice on our ‘Learn’ blog – many of whom are Grammy-winners who really enjoy sharing their experience with other Alliance members

Last but certainly not least, Plugin Alliance is a group of customers who, by virtue of their membership, can not only access all this useful material but also special promotions and deals only available to Alliance members.

What about company philosophy?
Our focus is on the total customer experience. This includes the first moment someone hears about Plugin Alliance, the process of leaning about what we do, getting more specific information about our products, trying them out, buying and using them and after-sales support. We want customers to enjoy every step of this journey so we’re always looking at ways we can tell our story better, make our products more useful and reliable and to ensure that customer always feel taken care of.

What are the biggest markets for the company right now?
One of the reasons we made Plugin Alliance an American company and hired an American marketing team was that we saw the US as a growth area for us. We have seen some growth in the US market for sure, but we’re still relatively stronger in the rest of the world, particularly in Europe, so we do see additional growth in the US market. As for products, as I mentioned previously, our focus has been on studio processors but you’ll see us move into new categories via some exciting partnerships I can’t tell you about yet.

How do you deal with competition?
While we certainly pay attention to what other plug-in developers are doing and stay on top of market and technology changes, we really try to keep our focus on our customers. The whole ‘Game of Thrones’ thing that some companies like to get into might be fun, but we consider it more important to make sure we understand what sorts of problems our customers are having and strive to solve them.

Plugin Alliance Maag EQ4What are the big sellers?
A few of the real staples of the Plugin Alliance line-up would be the Brainworx bx_digital V2 EQ, the SPL Transient Designer and the Maag EQ4. That said, we’ve had tremendous success with our recent Lindell Audio launch, and the new 254E Limiter has been especially popular with our customers.

Longer-term goals?
You’ll continue to see us come up with ways to make it easier and more attractive for additional partners to join Plugin Alliance, as well as creating more compelling content to help our Alliance members improve their craft.

A final word?
We’re in this business because we love audio, so it’s been gratifying to be able to build a platform which makes our customers’ music sound better. Thanks for letting us tell that story!

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