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View from the Top: Paul Tapper, NUGEN Audio

By Clive Young. Paul Tapper, CEO of NUGEN Audio, shares how a PhD in pure mathematics, a background in programming and being in the right place at the right time brought NUGEN to life.

Leeds, UK (July 29, 2019)—What are the odds of being in the right place at the right time? With his Ph.D. in pure mathematics from Leeds University, Paul Tapper could probably work it out for you, but he could just as easily give you an example from his own personal experience—one that led to forming NUGEN Audio with Jon Schorah in 2004. Today, the company is a notable player in the broadcast, post-production and music production markets, creating tools for audio analysis, loudness metering, mixing/mastering and tracking, and Tapper recently transitioned from the role of technical director to CEO. It’s just the latest step in a journey that began when he was in the right place at the right time to do a favor for a friend.

After graduating in the late ’90s, Tapper entered the videogame industry as a programmer, working successively for the likes of Gremlin Interactive, Runecraft and Team 17 through 2010; meanwhile, Schorah was working as an EDM producer and DJ with a major UK record label. “We shared a musical artist friend who was looking for a software solution that would effectively enable him to cut a track to vinyl after [his track was rejected] by a local mastering studio due to a stereo problem in the bass on the track,” recalls Tapper. Drawing on both his Ph.D. and his experience as a programmer, he worked up a software plug-in that provided a musically pleasing correction to the damaged audio; realizing that other musicians might find the effort useful, Tapper continued working on the design and user interface, and the result became NUGEN Audio’s first plug-in.

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NUGEN launched in 2004, and as time went on, more stereo image-related solutions emerged from the company, and then plug-ins exploring methods of applying mathematics to music and audio in general. In recent years, the company has been on an upswing. “We enjoyed rapid growth as a company about five years ago,” says Tapper. “Since that time, we experienced more moderate sustained growth and recognized this as an opportunity for us to consolidate and upgrade our processes, infrastructure and staff to match the increased scope of the company.”

That broadening scope means NUGEN can regularly be found presenting its products at NAB Show, AES, NAMM, IBC, InterBEE and other trade shows around the world, but its home base is inside a modern riverside office in Leeds, Yorkshire, UK. The location has its benefits (“I can glance up from my desk to watch the kingfishers, ducks and herons flying past the tree-lined riverbank—great for lunchtime runs!” says Tapper) and also puts the company near several music and audio technology colleges and universities. “Quite a few of our employees initially worked for us part-time in customer support while also studying,” says Tapper, “and then moved into full-time roles within other departments of the business after graduating. This helps us maintain a strong awareness of customers’ needs at the coalface [in the real world] throughout our company…. Everyone needs to be an advocate for the user.”

Keeping the customer firmly in mind has served the company well as it has grown. “Right from the outset, NUGEN Audio has been fully focused on providing solutions to real-life problems,” says Tapper. “Despite our fascination with and love of the technology and theory behind audio processing, we believe that NUGEN’s role should be to apply those techniques to create the tools that real users actually need day-to-day. The goal is always to enhance our users’ lives—either making existing challenges easier to overcome, or producing new and exciting possibilities to ignite the imagination.”

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For Tapper, this isn’t merely marketing-speak, as he knows from personal experience what goes into creating products that achieve that goal. “My personal involvement in this initially was the audio algorithm design and software implementation of the products, but over the years my role has gradually transitioned into more management and business development,” he says. “This led to my current position as CEO—although I do still enjoy being involved in the occasional technical discussion, and still offer advice on audio processing.”

Leading the company now, Tapper applies his business philosophies to fuel NUGEN Audio’s progress in the industry. “I strongly feel that if a company is to be successful, it must have a strong connection to its customer base,” he says. “Our team is constantly listening to customer feedback through support queries, one-to-one conversations at trade shows, site visits at customers’ facilities and semi-regular user surveys. As a result of all this listening, we always have new feature requests to address, as well as a bevy of new product ideas, wishes and pipe dreams to make come true—so we’re never short of concepts for our existing products or the creation of new ones. The challenge is in deciding which ideas will add the most benefit and value to our overall customer base.”

While NUGEN Audio is perpetually on the hunt to identify product categories that are either new or underserved and then address them with its solutions, there’s more to gaining and retaining customers, Tapper notes. “As our brand has become more established within the music and broadcast/cinema audio post-production communities, we have been working hard to provide truly professional-grade robustness in our software engineering and QA processes, as well as for our customer support. We know that our customers rely on our products to get their jobs done, and we take this responsibility very seriously.”

That means not only listening to customers’ needs but also being reactive to changing standards within the industries NUGEN serves. Discussing the success of the company’s set of loudness measurement and correction plug-ins, the Loudness Toolkit, he concedes, “It sometimes feels like every few months there is an update to, or new requirement of, the various international loudness standards. We are devoted to keeping up with these and realizing the potential of our software for the future of loudness in the best possible way.”

That said, every NUGEN Audio product gets reassessed every so often, as the company looks to keep its product line ahead of the curve. “We always have a wide array of developments and planning underway,” says Tapper, “from usability improvements and feature extensions for existing products to entirely new product ranges. But, of course, I’m not going to tell you much about them … yet.”

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Pressed, he allows one tantalizing hint about an upcoming product: “One really interesting project in current active development, which I can allude to, is a collaboration with a UK university that utilizes a unique new audio process to provide a new level of user control. This functionality is currently unachievable with existing methods, including a much-used common audio process. It’s always exciting to be on the cutting edge of technology, and I personally really enjoy the challenge of taking some groundbreaking new ideas and turning them into practical software that can really make a difference for users.”

If NUGEN Audio doesn’t want to spill the beans on that project until it’s perfect, that’s just indicative of the company’s aim to, as Tapper succinctly puts it, play the long game: “It impacts everything we do and every decision we make. There’s often a temptation to cut a corner for a quick gain in product development, customer support or marketing, but we always choose the option that gives the best result for the customer, and the company, in the long-term. This often involves taking the route that is less convenient in the short-term, but our belief is that, over time, users and partners come to appreciate the approach, and it works out better. We’ve been playing the long game for 15 years now and plan to keep playing it for the next 15 ahead.”

NUGEN Audio •