Whether you’re new to the PreSonus family or you’ve been around since the 90s, you owe a huge thank you to THE Jim Odom, Founder and Chief Strategy Officer at PreSonus. Jim is a member of the Recording Academy Producers & Engineers Wing, AES, NARAS, NAMM, and other industry associations. Jim holds a B.S. Degree in Computer Engineering from LSU right here in Baton Rouge, LA and has a graduate studies degree at the Investment Banking Institute – NY, and the Venture Capital Institute. He also studied Jazz Composition at Berklee College of Music. He has received dozens of product awards, INC 5,000 Growth Award, and is the recipient of gold and platinum sales awards for various music and film projects. Pretty impressive, right??
To say the least, Jim has rallied together a group of employees who have accomplished a lot of the last 25 years. We thought it would be cool to highlight his story from the beginning and some of the products that helped shape who we are today!
Jim Odom with the DCP-8
So what were you doing before PreSonus?
- I started recording music in my late teens and built a studio in the hayloft of a barn. I started off with just an 80-8 TASCAM eight-track recorder, which turned out to be a great place to begin, because it forced me to think about the sounds, the parts, the blend, the timbre, the tone, etc. of each instrument. I received an invitation to join a local band and sign with RCA Records when I was 21. After five years of recording and touring, I went back to full-time audio engineering and session work. I decided to get more involved in the technical design of products, so I spent four years earning my Computer Engineering Degree, primarily to understand how to design the products I had in my head. I began designing the DCP-8 digital automation processor to solve some issues I was having in smaller recording studios, which required the formation of PreSonus to manufacture and sell that product.
Was owning a business something you dreamed of doing or did you just fall into it as the products came along?
- I’m an entrepreneur at heart, but I think that all musicians are entrepreneurs at heart. We make products, we promote, we sell, and we do it again. Our goal is to please large groups of people. Making products is very similar, but with the addition of technology-based creations. A company is just a vehicle to organize this effort, so having a structure that allows investors, creators, marketers, and consumers to all connect is really cool.
What’s the process for having a great idea to getting it out the door?
- We follow a well-defined process called Stage-Gate development, where we identify or imagine the product idea, then document what that will be and what position in the market the product is required to hold. This is different for each type of product, but the work is basically the same. Product ideas can come from two sources—market-driven or technology-driven. That said, the best products come from a meeting of both. You first have to understand the technology you plan to use, then use your best instincts to create the embodiment of that technology; like what knobs should it have, how many inputs/outputs, buttons, etc. After that, you need to design the product to that specification, build it, test it, then work with a factory to manufacture and deliver it. Simple!
What need was the DCP-8 supposed to meet?
- The DCP-8, Digitally Controlled Processor, was an eight-channel, digitally controlled analog processor that offered eight compressors, eight noise gates, eight VCA based automation stages, and 128 recallable scenes. It was designed to insert in an analog mixing console’s insert point and controlled via MIDI by a DAW, or external MIDI controller. It was used by Broadway theaters to automate scene changes during a play, for example. It was also used to automate mixes in the recording studio.
At the time, did you have any data supporting the need for this product?
- I needed it and my friends needed it and that was enough for me.
What was the biggest challenge? Major roadblocks?
- Having spent years in major recording studios, I was hypercritical of the sound of the compressor and noise gate. I spent a year choosing those circuits and perfecting the performance of the system. The next challenge was manufacturing—with over 1000 components, the circuit boards took a long time to build. We eventually built a factory in an old furniture store, converted the circuit boards to surface mount technology, and leased some robots to place all of the components. Our secondary challenge was to write the software that controlled the system, which at the time was bare metal, assembly language programming. We also built software drivers for MAC and PC based digital audio workstations—basically MIDI control maps and system state information.
In 1995, how did you define success?
- At first, we were satisfied that our product was accepted in the professional audio community, having won several awards and placement in high-profile environments. That quickly changed to sales, however as the need to build a sustainable company overwhelmed our small staff.
How did you guys come together to build it?
- I had some experience with manufacturing from my previous job, but not on the scale of the professional audio industry. We (Brian Smith and myself) built a small factory with local employees that built PreSonus products until 2002. We were lucky to have some great partners in the early days that taught us how to use the machinery; that being said, it was a pretty steep learning curve!
How did you feel when it was complete?
- I was nervous! What if it failed in the middle of a Broadway show? It’s always the feeling you get when you see your product being used in a major broadcast, performance, or recording session. I’m still nervous today! With all things considered, it’s an amazing feeling when you get a compliment from anyone using your product!
When you think about the last 25 years, how does it make you feel seeing how far PreSonus has come?
- One of my weaknesses is being obsessed with what we do—it doesn’t allow me to stop and take in the successes we’ve had over the years; I wish I could! Technology is in perpetual motion, and there is always something new to consider, so I’m looking forward to the next 25 years!