Newly ensconced as VP of Professional Business Unit at QSC, the audio industry stalwart Gene Jolly talks to David Davies about the “boom years” of MI, the latent potential of the European market – and the inspirational impact of the mid ‘60s ‘British Invasion’.
It is now over a little more than 40 years since Gene Joly began his MI and pro-audio career in earnest as an employee of legendary Boston music store E.U. Wurlitzer. The dual passions for music and technology forged during this time have remained constant throughout his ensuing career, which has included roles as general manager, US sales & marketing at TASCAM, and EVP of stores at Guitar Center, among others. A few months ago, he took up a new role as VP of Professional Business Unit at QSC – although as he tells PSNEurope, it wasn’t before making a brief attempt at retirement…
How did you come to join QSC, and was it a company that had always been on your radar career-wise?
Towards the end of 2014 I decided that I was going to take a sabbatical of a year or so as I had never stopped working since I was a young man. I did want to keep doing bits and pieces of work, but as the year progressed I found that I was really getting used to waking up and reading for a few hours, or going hiking! I had left Guitar Center at the end of 2014 and was beginning to think about retiring permanently when I was approached by [QSC president and CEO] Joe Pham about a role heading up the Professional Business Unit at QSC. The company had long been on my radar and I was aware of how many new product categories it had entered with success, particularly since Joe came onboard. So here I am back at work again!
Did you feel that there was something specific you could bring to QSC from your extensive experience in both pro-audio and MI?
Well, it was certainly not a situation where one was required to come in and achieve a turnaround. QSC had been – and continues to be – successful in both MI and pro-audio sectors. But I think Joe did feel that I could assist with determining new opportunities for the company over the next few years – in particular, growth in non-US territories. If you look at the history of QSC, it has been primarily focused on the US for most of its history. That’s not to say that the company hasn’t had global aspirations that have been taken very seriously, and on a number of fronts, but I do think there is now an opportunity to really maximise this potential.
Some important groundwork has been in put in place in recent years – for example, we have updated our distribution partners, with AED adding the UK and Germany to its existing territory of Benelux in 2014. As of May 2016, AED and Algam have taken on distribution duties in France. So there has been a lot of effort made to understand the European market more deeply.
In which sectors do you expect the greatest growth for QSC in the future?
Through our strong relationships with AED and other distributors, I think we will see a lot of movement in the rental and production markets. There is also plenty of opportunity for growth in the systems business and fixed installation. In terms of specific product categories, I would highlight what is now a very strong loudspeaker offer. Of course, the growth of interest in active speakers has been very pronounced in recent years, but we still observe a significant demand for passive speakers – something that we addressed with the launch of the E Series products in January. So I think we are well-placed to maximise our sales there.
What is QSC’s philosophy with regard to IP-based networked audio, and will a format/protocol agnostic philosophy be part of its approach?
QSC envisages the future of AV media networking to be a blend of standards [with some being] open and some that are proprietary. Both methods are fine with us and we understand that there will always be a balance to be struck between just being on an open industry standard for its own sake, or some that are purpose-built and necessarily proprietary to serve the best interests of a particular customer segment.
[That said] we believe the most pressing question now is actually ‘does it meet the needs of our customer?’ And that customer is evermore the IT manager and network engineer. This means that a networked AV media protocol, whether open or proprietary, should work on a standard network (like Cisco, HP, Netgear, etc) without undue compromise, or [the need for] new or specialised switch hardware requirements.
The first half of your career was spent solidly in the MI world, so how do you view the challenging trajectory of that sector over the last decade or so?
I was fortunate to start working in the ‘boom years’ of the MI industry, having been one of the many millions who started to play music when The Beatles came to America and brought the rest of the British Invasion to our shores – effectively ‘saving’ rock’n’roll. During the ‘70s and ‘80s, demand for instruments was frequently such that manufacturers had to run three shifts a day to keep up.
Since the ‘90s, this momentum has gradually slowed and today it is clear that the MI market remains fairly flat. There are a number of possible reasons for the change and they probably include the scarcity of the kind of ‘star’ instrumentalists who used to inspire so many people to begin playing, as well as the reduction in spending on music education. Young people also have so many other things competing for their attention. But I definitely don’t think there has been a fall-off in affinity for music, so you never know – there could be a resurgence in the future.