CEO Mike Muench speaks to MI Pro about the firm’s on-going commitment to finding new ways of creating music...
You wouldn’t really finger Mike Muench as being a musician from the way he looks. He’s not visibly sporting tattoos to reinforce his metal cred, or unwisely sporting a thinning ‘do’ that echoes the worst excesses of an era. Probably wise.
He looks like yer average American CEO, he talks the same, but he probably spends more time than most thinking about the needs and wants of musicians because that is Line 6’s raison d’etre.
The firm’s mission, he fondly explains, is not to be clever with technology for the sake of it, but to use it to help musicians solve practical problems.
Settled into the cosy confines of Line 6’s (relatively) new office in Rugby, the firm’s president and CEO elaborates further on what makes Line 6 tick:
“We’re not a company that looks at a segment and thinks ‘we can do that too’. Our product designers start looking at customer problems and needs. We ask ‘what can we do that makes this product innovative and unique in the market?’
“A lot of the time the answer is there’s not a lot we can do, but we think ‘where is there an opportunity where some problems need to be sorted?’ R&D is our largest expense and when you have that you have to ask ‘is there an opportunity to innovate and is the market big enough to get a return?’”
Muench joined the firm in 1998, not too long after it was founded by Marcus Ryle and Michel Doidic, from another innovating technology firm – Apple.
“In the early stages the POD was the product that took us from being a kind of obscure company making modelling amps and then people suddenly got it. Timing is everything with technology and a lot of external factors came in at the same time. People began to move from studio recording to project-based recording.”
In one of the few remaining markets where valve technology still prospers, there are plenty of traditionalists ready to eschew attempts to add technological functionality to guitar set ups. But Muench believes the market needn’t become entrenched in linear thinking.
“For us it’s not a religious thing. People like to make it into a debate but we just want to create stuff that will enable people to enjoy making music.
“People just choose the tools they feel most comfortable with and gets the job done for them.
“For a lot of years it was a straight choice between tube or solid state. We’ve still got that, but we’ve also got some with two pre-amps and some with solid state front ends. The line is blurring.”
The line is also blurring between Line’s 6’s traditional MI retail oriented stuff and its new range of live audio equipment, including its StageScape M20d live mixer, designed to bring a more user-friendly experience to mixing live sound through its visual touch-screen interface, and the StageSource powered speaker range too.
The balancing act with the live mixing product in particular is to make it user friendly, but also with enough depth to convince professional sound engineers too, in a market where it has no real track record. Muench believes the M20d can do that and says the firm has enough brand recognition to gain a foothold in the sector.
“A lot of people in the pro-sound business know Line 6 because they see the gear the band are using. It’s new for us. But it has been a little surprising. We found early on that people knew us and knew that the products were associated with innovation and digital technology etc.
“They’ve been fairly accepting. Critical from the standpoint of ‘does it meet my needs as a professional’ but we’ve been pleasingly surprised at the amount of encouragement we’ve had.
“We look at it more from the standpoint of users and there seemed to be a gap we could fill. If you can get a sound professional to do front of house for you, great. But a lot of venues don’t have the luxury of that, so they are responsible for their own sound and that’s the customer we are targeting with these products.
“If you want to go deep in the mixer you can go down pretty deep, but if you’re not aware of that stuff the user experience is fairly simple.”
Muench knows how transforming technology can be to the industry and he also knows just how expensive it can be from an R&D standpoint. But he does see the MI industry increasing the pace at which it is ready to adopt new technology.
“Technology trends have a lot of influence on our industry, but how will it play out? Does it have the potential to do for the music industry what the PC has done for the studio?
“The aspect of integrating mobile devices with traditional instruments is very much a trend you’ll see. Just like people want to control their TV and heating through a mobile device.”
And if you thought the retail side of the business was established and settled, he sees further upheaval as a new breed of specialists enter the market, bringing with them game-changing in-store experience and integrated high street/online offerings.
“What I see happening on the retail side of the business is similar to what we saw in the computer business, which was that when PCs first came out, there were a lot of hobbyist accounts that sold it and as it grew, more sophisticated retailers came in.
“We saw that industry bifurcate into two segments – those who compete on the experience they offer customers and those that compete on price.”
Line 6’s model, as Muench reminds us a number of times, is optimised for the needs of customers. And as long as they’re having trouble finding a solution to their problems, there will be a need for Line 6.
LINE 6'S LINK EXPLAINED
Designed to bypass the complication of getting good live sound. Instead of keeping track of channel strips, the StageScape M20d live mixer puts the stage on screen as a graphical representation.
Instead of facing the complexity of multiple knobs and faders, StageScape M20d provides a picture of the set-up, complete with all the instruments, monitors and mics that have been connected. Plug in a mic and a mic stand appears on the stage. Touching that image accesses all the channel parameters.
Used with the StageScape M20d mixer, the StageSource L3t powered speakers form a digital networking system called L6 Link, integrating the mixer and loudspeakers into a smart system. The M20d will recognise which loudspeakers are being used as monitors and send them monitor feeds. Loudspeakers will automatically self-configure, pan stereo signals, adjust Smart Speaker modes and perform system-wide optimisation.
Add StageSource L3s subwoofers to the mix and the system automatically sends them the summed signals and sets the crossovers.