SANTA CRUZ, CA—Some of the most interesting developments in pro audio these days are happening in the world of plug-ins, so it’s only fitting that Plugin Alliance takes an equally interesting approach to making itself known in that corner of the industry. Created as a sister company to Leverkusen, Germany-based Brainworx GmbH, the Santa Cruz, CA-based company is dedicated to the marketing, distribution and support of products from its 12 Alliance partners, which include Brainworx.
Overseeing Plugin Alliance is Matt Ward, who brought a lifetime’s experience to the company in January 2014. After spending most of the ’80s in retail, Ward spent the ’90s with pro audio manufacturers such as Studer, Otari and EMU Systems. After riding the dot-com bubble at Liquid Audio, Ward moved in 2002 to Universal Audio, where he stayed until becoming Plugin Alliance’s CEO.
“The experience at UA taught me a lot about how to grow a company,” he says. “The process of predicting a growth curve and trying to stay ahead of it with how you plan infrastructure is a real challenge—but it’s extremely important because it turns out that waiting for something to break and then doing something about it is not the best strategy. The other things that I’ve learned are the importance of focus, and to figure out what your company is really good at and then put all your energy into doing that.”
That last point informs a lot of how Plugin Alliance works with its Alliance Partners: “The native plugin world is a crowded and crazy space with competitors ranging from large companies with big marketing budgets to a guy developing shareware plugs in his bedroom,” says Ward. “By coming together under the Plugin Alliance banner, these companies can concentrate on what they do best and we take care of the rest.”
The result is that Plugin Alliance has been growing, and perhaps surprisingly, it sees the United States as a growth market because it currently represents a lower share of the company’s total sales than is typical for the industry. “Part of the idea behind establishing Plugin Alliance in the U.S. was to add a bit more American flavor to marketing,” says Ward, “which has helped us grow in the U.S. As for product development, this takes two forms: the products that Brainworx develops and the additional developer partners we take on. Brainworx is a strong brand in the studio space, developing products with a hardware-like feel and tone, but also modern features you could only get in software. Brainworx has a lot more products that fit this mold which are coming.”
While Ward champions the idea of focusing on what a company does best, he’s not about sticking with the same old thing—just seeing that the next move is justified and well thought-out: “When you feel you’re done with what you can do in that area, move to the next logical step. Don’t jump outside your core competency just because someone else is having success in that area. An analogy I’m fond of using to illustrate this point is asking, if Mike Tyson were to walk into the room and offer to box or play Scrabble, which would you choose? It’s amazing to me how many companies decide it would be so cool to say they whipped Mike Tyson by choosing the boxing option and then, predictably, they get their noses broken.”
Walking that line between tried-and-true and thoughtful expansion, it’s not surprising that when Plugin Alliance considers partnering with companies, Ward is looking for ones that “fit well into our product line and appeal to our customers, while offering something different than what we currently have.”
One of his company’s strongest advantages, says Ward, is its plug-in framework which “makes it much easier for us to support all the different formats out there. Recently, we released 18 plug-ins in the AAX DSP format, which makes us the number-one AAX DSP developer in the world in terms of number of titles. This has led to some great partnering opportunities with Avid on its Pro Tools HDX systems as well as consoles. We are also the number-one third-party developer on the UAD platform.” While Plugin Alliance products are available through retailers worldwide, the company only sells downloadable software, and all those products are downloaded and authorized via plugin-alliance.com.
While Plugin Alliance has a lot on its plate, that hasn’t stopped Ward from looking ahead. Asked what’s next on his agenda, he says, “Looking for some new and cool partners and lots of new products! In addition, we’re partnering with Avid to expand our AAX DSP offerings and to fully support both its studio and live consoles. Stop by the Avid booth at AES and you’ll see some cool new stuff from us.”