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Harman’s David McKinney: Full of Eastern promise

McKinney has returned from postings in Shanghai and India to helm the Soundcraft/Studer operations, write Frank Wells and Dave Robinson

Harman Professional announced in mid-January that David McKinney had been appointed vice-president and GM of Harman’s mixer business unit, where he will lead the global operations of the Soundcraft and Studer brands.
McKinney relocated from Shanghai to Potters Bar in the UK in late December 2014. In all, he has worked for Harman Pro for 11 years in four different country offices, including the position of senior director, India operations, and, most recently, serving as senior director and general manager of China operations.

Various strategic staff reassignments and new hires have been initiated over the past few months of transition, McKinney revealed during the recent NAMM convention. R&D and marketing will work together across Studer and Soundcraft brands where it makes sense, but both brands will also maintain their own identity and own emphasis on specific vertical markets such as broadcast, touring, fixed install and portable PA. Each brand will have a global sales director; whether distribution is joint or separate will vary by country. “The guys are all in their roles because they love what we do in the industry, they love the product side, they love the customers,” McKinney says.

New products from the Harman mixer team at NAMM included the Soundcraft Signature series of analogue consoles (pictured below right is the Signature MT22), which McKinney says “is being exceptionally well received”, adding that analogue remains important “in some geographical regions more than others”. On the digital side, the Soundcraft Ui series, previewed at NAMM, is a very visible foray into the nascent virtually controlled console market, so far dominated by Mackie’s DL devices. The Ui package of console and companion I/O builds on technology developed by Australian company SM Pro, which Harman has now purchased.

“We’ve managed to work with these guys in the background for about two or three months,” McKinney revealed. SM Pro’s R&D team is now working with compatriots from across Harman Pro and is an official part of the Studer/Soundcraft mixer team. (Incidentally, former head of ‘Mixer’ in the UK for 12 years, the popular Andy Trott, has moved into the Harman corporate technology group, where he will drive technology strategy, fuelled by his “love for R&D”, notes McKinney.)

The new GM was particularly effusive about the Ui launch at NAMM, saying it was one product that “redefined the portable PA market and [indicates] where we are driving the business”. Ui is undoubtedly an attractive proposition: effectively, it’s a stagebox-cum-wireless interface, controlled by mixing software on the user’s tablet or smartphone. “The software is not ‘app’-driven; it’s written in HTML,” says McKinney. “Open up your web browser, connect to the Ui’s WiFi, and you’re there.”

Effectively, he suggests, you can have 10 different users connected to the box – someone at FOH, someone at monitors, musicians with iPhones controlling their own monitor speakers and so on. Core SM Pro technology has been “Harmanised” (yes, they use that word, too) with the addition of DigiTech guitar amp modelling, Lexicon effects and dbx feedback suppressors on the Ui’s outputs. Then there’s the somewhat remarkable price: Ui12, with eight mic preamps, will retail for $399 (€375/£350). A product roadmap, with future boxes bigger than the current flagship Ui16 (12 mic pres), isn’t difficult to draw here.

Now he’s back in Europe and has had a little time to reflect, what has Asian/Pacific Rim culture taught the Northern Irishman? “I’ve worked in countries that were driving growth, where things change quickly. My last 18 months in China saw drastic change – we were shifting the business models every three months. That’s one of the things I bring to Mixer: how to drive the business and get a lot more growth out of it, with a dynamic team that can really bring us to where we need to be on the technology side.”

The reaction of visitors to the products on the Harman booth at NAMM had been very positive indeed, he notes. “I think the young [sound] engineers coming through will jump on [Ui] in a heartbeat… and you will see this technology spinning off to other brands. “We’re going to be spending a lot of time with users, with engineers, to make sure that we can take what they really require and put it into future technology,” he adds.

Surely, though, the pace of life in the offices in Potters Bar and Regensdorf, Switzerland (where Studer has a base), must be a lot slower than where he has just come back from? “It’s a different experience compared to India and China,” smiles McKinney, “but the hunger and passion are the same everywhere across Harman.”