Phil Ward talks to QSC’s newly appointed director of systems solutions, Cory Schaeffer, now that ‘Audio’ has been excised from the company name so that it can evolve beyond specified restrictions on technology.
On joining QSC, what experience do you bring to bear on the priorities at QSC right now?
My experience is perfectly aligned with helping QSC in its Systems division, and the company is perfectly aligned to help me grow: I know corporate AV particularly well, and that’s where QSC is heading.
What are those priorities?
To get the industry to overcome the perception that QSC is exclusively an audio company. We serve three business units: Live Sound, which includes touring and installed sound and especially amplifiers; Cinema; and my unit, Systems. It’s a completely new departure into corporate AV: we’re taking the power of Q-SYS into boardrooms, meeting room audio and control.
Moving from Listen Technologies, which you co-founded, there was a bridge from ‘traditional’ AV in a specialist sector to mainstream pro audio – briefly with Harman and now at QSC. Is AV ready for better audio?
Sadly, audio is all too often an afterthought because users take it for granted while focusing on video and displays. Then, typically, what goes wrong at meetings is the audio – at which point there is no meeting. Too often ‘good enough’ is accepted without much thought to how our room sounds at the far end. We’ve all been in remote meetings where we have difficulty hearing someone in the room because they’re on a ‘star phone’ and not close enough to the microphones. Time is currency, and if a meeting is worth having it’s worth having it be as productive as it can be. This will include the need to improve the audio experience: so much of meeting content is in the audio. At QSC it’s our goal to provide products so good, that exhibit so much quality all round, that the user will ‘wear it well’ – be proud of their choice and build a lasting relationship with our brand. We want them to know and experience the quality, and naturally that includes audio.
What prompted the move from a business you built up from scratch to a multinational corporation, and then from Harman to QSC?
As a co-founder of Listen Tech, I’m proud of what I was able to build there and Listen is carrying on successfully without me. I began to have discussions with Rashid Skaf, the former CEO and president of AMX, about joining AMX. These discussions started over a year ago – this got me thinking about ‘what’s next for me’ – and this process allowed me to begin thinking about life after Listen Tech. I then met with my partner and stated that it was time for me to leave Listen Tech as I was seeking new challenges to learn and grow.
I joined AMX by Harman in early July 2015 and, by the end of July, Rashid had resigned and Harman began to go into a reorganisation – all of which I believe in and supported. I think their direction is a good one for them; I just wasn’t a good fit. No right, no wrong: just not a good fit.
In realising this, I made the decision that I wanted to be in an organisation that was much larger than Listen Tech, however one where I could still be entrepreneurial and where the culture and I were better aligned. So I called Joe Pham, the CEO of QSC, in an effort to get to know him and the QSC organisation better. The more I learned, the more I knew that I wanted to be a part of it.
QSC introduced some disruptive technology at the InfoComm show and is entering the corporate AV space with an amazing product roadmap, so it’s a great time to join. QSC is special – it’s unique for being as large as it is – and it still holds a small-company type of culture with a talented group of people and a structure that is unlike anything I’ve seen. I’m working with an amazing group of people. I have many new technologies and methods to learn from a group of fantastic people. It’s a great match for me, and it’s just what I was looking for.
What trends are you seeing in the corporate AV sector?
One of the biggest that we have to address is Bring Your Own Device [BYOD]. It’s one of the evolutions of the workplace that you’ll see reflected in our output. End users also want to manage and monitor systems globally, so beyond the LAN.
How will QSC’s technology adapt to those and other developments?
QSC introduced the Q-SYS Core 110f at InfoComm, which is a full line up of network products that are built on Intel-based technologies and a Linux real-time operating system. Our system delivers a seamless collaboration experience in boardrooms, conference rooms and other corporate spaces. With this system we offer the Core 110f table or wall-mounted control panels and of course QSC amplifiers and speakers. The Core 110f is designed to deliver seamless networking integration, making it easy to manage and monitor the systems.
It’s also AES67-ready to provide interoperability with a growing list of third-party network audio products and will support this standard. We’re taking a full systems approach to the market with rigorous testing and measurements, saving valuable set up time. We also have a full line up of speakers for these environments, including shallow-can ceiling speakers when ceiling space is tight. Yes, we are known for exceptional audio quality and audio is key to having productive and collaborative meetings, yet it’s often given the least amount of time and attention – until there are audio issues. QSC is leading the industry in educating this sector.
The roadmap and vision at QSC is extremely exciting and progressive. In fact, we just recently changed the name legally from QSC Audio to QSC. QSC is removing the limits of specific technology segments so that we can take full advantage of the many opportunities we see before us.
Are there specific support platforms, such as for Dante or the Open Control Alliance?
People often ask us about Dante, and we absolutely do have an interface for that. We’re not just trying to create our own eco-system, however wonderful an exclusive world of QSC would be! We do see that we have to be a part of this world of integration, so as we roll into this new arena of corporate AV everything from QSC will play well with other solutions. We will be compatible, not least because potential customers of ours may well have begun some kind of standardisation on something else and we want to make it easy for them to do business with QSC.
However, we are not a part of OCA as we are firmly behind progressive platforms that support command and control scripting engines – Python and Lua are examples of these. We’re not constrained by trying to encapsulate every OCA command structure, and we do have the ability to command and control anything including OCA and IT devices. This gives us the ability to say ‘yes’ to controlling anything.
Presumably that takes you beyond corporate AV into other installation sectors too?
For sure: because of other features of Q-SYS apart from those optimised for corporate meeting rooms and so on, and especially with our amplification and loudspeaker expertise, I’m looking for opportunities in hospitality, in transportation, in retail… QSC is already in many of those, but one of my responsibilities is to accelerate that diversification.
Having been acknowledged as a leading businesswoman, do you have any views on how pro audio/installation needs to break the ‘glass ceiling’ in the boardroom?
Our industry continues to be male dominated – however, we are making progress. I first became involved with the issue of women in our industry when I was invited to be on a panel for Women In Audio at an AES show, early in my career. It was a gift to be included and made aware of a responsibility that I had to help other women. Later I was a founding board member for Women in AV and I’m also involved with Women of InfoComm.
Groups like these support, uplift and help women in their careers, offering a setting where we are comfortable seeking out support. Many men and women have helped and supported me over the years – this is what I love about our industry. So many people are willing and wanting to help, with no hidden agendas. I feel as if I’m the luckiest woman on the planet to not only be in this industry, but to have had all the opportunities and experiences I’ve had from the generosity and help of others. My path has led me to QSC and I’m looking forward to this challenge. I have the opportunity to learn and grow from like-minded, passionate people and from some of the most brilliant minds in our industry.