Joe Bull, Managing Director, JoeCo Limited
Joe Bull, managing director at JoeCo, was at university in London studying electronic engineering when he landed a summer vacation job at Spaceward, a small 16-track recording studio in Cambridge, U.K. He says he jumped at the chance and started working as a tea boy, “as everyone did in those days.”
Bull continues, “I was made painfully aware that it was a temporary job and that the real trainee was due to join the company about six weeks later. That motivated me immensely, so I did everything I could to make myself indispensible and made sure that by the end of the summer, I was offered the full-time job and my competitor was shown the door. I never went back to university; I was learning so much more in the audio industry. The chief skill that being an audio engineer taught me was solving technical problems when time is short, which has remained with me ever since.”
Within a few months, Bull was starting to engineer sessions on his own and after about a year, he was made a director of the company (a junior director position, but he says it gave him a taste for real responsibility). The company also did PA for a number of live gigs and small festivals each year, which gave him a good grounding for the pressures in the live side of the audio industry. He adds, “We built a new 24-track studio from scratch in an old school building and grew the client list accordingly.”
Once the studio grew about as big as it was going to get, the company branched out into video work and then started manufacturing computer graphics equipment for broadcast. Bull adopted the role of production director for the manufacturing side and found that it largely involved solving technical problems, just like front line audio engineering. The company grew rapidly until it employed about 100 staff members. He observes that this experience essentially gave him a taste of entrepreneurship.
In 1991, Bull was one of the founders of SADiE, taking the role of managing director. When SADiE was sold to Prism Sound in 2008, he founded JoeCo.
“Having a solid audio engineering background influences and guides every decision I make,” Bull notes. “When I decided to create the Black- Box Recorder, the inspiration was to solve the problem of people having to haul workstations around to make their live recordings. Workstations are delicate; run on fragile and temperamental operating systems; are primarily designed to be used in studios; and are often so complex that live engineers want an operator on hand to keep them working. I wanted a solution that any live engineer or recordist could use straight out of the box, leaving them able to concentrate on their primary job of making things sound good.”
According to Bull, JoeCo is a small company but growing steadily. It is spread out geographically with the head office based just outside Cambridge, sales and R&D split between Cambridge and Portugal, marketing in London and manufacturing at various sites in and around the U.K. “Communications between multiple sites is so easy now that it’s better to have the right people wherever they’re based rather than insisting that everyone lives and works in the same area,” Bull points out. “This used to be the exclusive domain of large corporations, but we’ve found it to be very effective for JoeCo. We’re also very reliant on our distribution network, and we’re very fortunate to have such a great team in FullScaleAV in Nashville to handle U.S. and Canadian sales.”
Bull reports that the largest market for JoeCo is the capture of live music performances, but the company also supplies units across a lot of areas from broadcast and TV/film sound to classical music and worship—just about any genre that needs large-scale, multitrack recording. “I think people recognize that releasing a stereo mix off the live board really doesn’t cut it nowadays,” he explains, “and remixing from the multitrack sources produces a much more saleable result.”
One area of growth for JoeCo at the moment is the live playback market, for which the BlackBox Player is designed. This market sector ranges from theaters and installations through to live backing-track support for pop and rock music.
As far as company culture and philosophy, Bull says, “You have to design products with your ears, in every sense. A pro audio product obviously has to sound good, but at the same time, it’s also vital that you listen to the people working at the ‘coal face’, take their opinions and analyze how their work practices may be changing. This ensures that the products you’re designing will have relevance to those people and will solve more of their problems.”
Within the company, Bull tends to divide his time among all the different areas, but says his main efforts are focused on product design and some sales and marketing activities, because he finds those are the most enjoyable. “I also like the support side,” he informs, “as it gives you a chance to talk to customers directly and feed that back into the design process.”
At the end of the day, Bull says that his philosophy is that work needs to be fun and exciting: “If you’re spending most of your waking life at work, it’s better if you’re passionate about it.”
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