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New AES exec on forwarding the pro audio community

Despite being relatively new to the pro audio world, Colleen Harper has extensive experience in running associations of similar stature, and brings a fresh perspective as a woman in a male-dominated industry

Colleen Harper was selected as executive director of the Audio Engineering Society on January 21 2019, and now reports to the executive committee of the AES board of governors. 

Despite being relatively new to the pro audio world, Harper has extensive experience in running associations of similar stature, most recently working as the COO and interim CEO of the American Society for Parenteral and Enteral Nutrition. Other associations that Harper has served in senior roles at include such vast and varied organisations as the National Investor Relations Institute, the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers, and the Geoprofessional Business Association.

Notably, she has been a Certified Association Executive (CAE) since 2012 and was formally recognised with an Association Forum of Chicagoland’s Forty Under 40 Award in 2014. Not only does she have an array of interesting experience, but she brings a fresh perspective as a woman in a highly male-dominated industry.

Harper tells PSNEurope’s Fiona Hope about her actions to develop and propel AES forward, using her wealth of experience with nonprofit societies and associations and passion for the cause to assert it as the top professional organisation in the pro audio world…

What are the biggest opportunities your new role offers?

AES has such an incredible reputation and has done so much work on behalf of those in pro audio. Now that I’ve been on the AES team for a few weeks, I believe the biggest opportunities my role offers are to increase the collaboration between traditional and emerging specialties within the Society; keep us up-to-date with technological developments in areas such as virtual reality, gaming, and streaming; and solidify AES as the professional home for the pro audio community.

How is this role different to your past positions?

The largest difference is the industry itself. While I have worked with engineering societies in the past, I have not been this closely involved with audio specifically. Otherwise, there are actually many similarities and overlaps to my past positions. Running an association requires a skill set specific to associations, and I’ve been able to hone those skills – such as membership engagement, marketing, budgeting, and so forth – throughout my nonprofit career. I believe my past positions and experiences will help a lot as I work with the team to move AES forward.

What are you bringing to the role?

I think my background of focusing on membership and member value will be a significant contribution to AES, as well as the experience of running the business operations of a nonprofit professional society. My career has also included working with younger professionals specifically and increasing their involvement with the organisation, which I think will be a great fit at AES given the high number of student members and student sections that we have.

How do you define the importance of AES?

AES generates critical information in the form of standards, journal articles, and other technical content that is presented at our European and US conventions. For example, AES3, AES10, and AES67 are monumental standards that have changed and improved the business. The members and volunteers who work on this important research keep the whole audio industry up-to-date and operationally efficient. We have a diverse community made up of both academics/researchers and practitioners, and the vibrancy of the community makes it a necessary part of the career of anyone in pro audio.

Why do you believe in AES?

We live in a world than can change in the blink of an eye. Absolutely everyone benefits from ongoing professional development and education – if you are unwilling or unable to learn about current issues, trends, and developments, your business or career can suffer greatly from that. AES is 100 per cent committed to leading the education and training related to pro audio, and making sure that audio’s contribution to so many other industries is both respected and celebrated.

What do you think the biggest challenges facing audio engineers in today’s market are?

I think the biggest obstacle relates to audio not being such a standalone discipline anymore. Many audio engineers now have to learn new skills – such as networking, video, gaming, and streaming – in order to keep up with the interdisciplinary nature of their jobs and carve out a viable career. Additionally, the way people consume audio now is very different than it was 10 years ago, and that can be a challenge as well.

What will AES be bringing to 2019?

We expect to explore and generate more collaborations with manufacturers and like-minded organisations, with a strong focus on providing stellar education.

What makes you passionate about pro audio?

I have never seen a community as passionate, energised, and familial as the pro audio community. I have the utmost admiration for all of the AES members and volunteers who have given so much to the Society. Now that I have a greater understanding of the importance of the pro audio industry, I want to do whatever I can to drive it forward and provide even more to the people who comprise this unique community. 

What will your day-to-day look like as executive director? 

Honestly, I’m still figuring this out! I expect my day-to-day to be a combination of business operations, membership, and content generation. AES has so many wonderful opportunities in front of us, and I’m excited to spend my time working with the excellent AES team to capitalise on them.