Isaiah Bird talks to the man behind one of the UK’s first Pro Tools resellers
Eric Joseph is managing director of Glasgow-based Mediaspec, one of the UK’s first digital audio and post-production technology resellers and still a leading force after over 20 years in business. Joseph speaks about how ‘viva voce’ is the most important form of marketing, and how his experience as a restaurant jazz pianist and being signed to Island Records made him the man he is today…
What was your first love: music or film?
I would have to say music. My parents were from Dominica in the West Indies, and I was brought up in North Lanarkshire in Scotland with my two older brothers in a working class community outside of Glasgow. Back then, there were very few black families in the area and it was important to make friends. Music was and is a great way to connect people. Although my dad was a wonderful piano player – resident pianist at Gleneagles Hotel and Golf Course, no less! – I taught myself to play piano, and by my late teens I was getting paid gigs in bars and restaurants. As digital synths and drum machines became a big thing in the ’80s, music technology and production techniques began to fascinate me. I can still remember spending hours in my teens with my best mate discussing the merits of certain recorded snare drum sounds and synth stabs, and the importance of good sound separation. A love of film wasn’t far behind though. I can recall playing video tape sequences of movies backwards and forwards over and over again just to admire a piece of direction or a great sound effect.
Is it true that you went on a world tour with Womack & Womack?
Oh, well that was an amazing experience! In my early ’20s, I started to work as a session musician for a Scottish R&B band called Tissum. When they signed to Island Records I was asked to join the band and we went on a world tour with Womack & Womack. On return from the tour we recorded two version of our first album with two producers in two studios, but due to artistic differences the band called it a day before we could release either version. It was an exhilarating experience, but also a valuable insight into the workings of the music industry – both good and bad.
Was that the end your own involvement in the creative music industry?
In a way it was. I felt very little inclination to be in the spotlight again after that. I continued playing piano in and around Glasgow, but became more and more interested in music technology. I started work at Sound Control music store in Glasgow and quickly became head of technology there. Working with people and helping them to achieve their own musical goals always felt comfortable to me and suited my personality. I still get an enormous buzz out of knowing that we’ve played a part in getting the right equipment to help someone realise their dreams, and that we’re there for them when things go wrong and when they need support to get back on track.
How did Mediaspec come about for you?
When I joined Mediaspec it was just me and a partner selling the very early versions of Pro Tools and Apple computers back in the early ’90s – way before the iPod or the iMac – trying to explain non-linear editing to people still talking about the love of analogue and tape, and believing that digital would never really take off. It was a bit like being the first settlers in a new and hostile land. A few years later, I bought out the company. As Pro Tools, Digidesign, Apple and Avid grew, so too did Mediaspec, and we’ve served the music, post and education sectors across the UK ever since.
Can you run a successful reseller business from Scotland, when so many of the main studios and companies are in London and Manchester?
We’re proof that you can. The main thing that big studios, artists and post-production facilities are looking for from a reseller is knowledge, plus a genuine desire to be there for them when they need after sales support. I’ve always hated the word reseller – it has connotations of just selling a box at the right price. That’s such a small part of what we do. I feel we are creative, knowledgeable people supporting other creative and knowledgeable people to realise their goals. When you have that connection, you can be based just about anywhere! Without empathy and the ability to see what someone wishes to achieve, you can’t sell anything. Well, you can. But you can’t do it continuously for over 20 years.
And yet with very little advertising?
It’s true. Mediaspec does very little traditional promotion of our brand and services compared with other companies. And that’s always been the case. ‘Word of mouth’ has always been what’s grown our company, and I don’t see that changing.
So, are the musical ambitions totally dead and buried?
Well, once you’re a creative person you never quite lose that side to yourself and it needs to find a way out. I see what we do at Mediaspec as being equally as creative as the clients we support, so there’s not really a frustrated artist trying to get out. Having said that, I now have a converted garage that is steadily being equipped with musical tech, so who knows where that may take me!
But no more world tours?
Well, my wife and I have a passion for travelling. In our spare time, our feet rarely touch the ground. So, in a way, the world tour has never ended.