Harman’s Daniella Peters on how immersive for live sound is gaining traction

Daniella Peters, Director, North America Tour and Rental Sales at Harman Professional Solutions gives an insight into her role, which saw her transition from a live sound, rock and roll background into a corporate position. She explains how chance meetings have led her to where she is today, why one should never underestimate the value of relationships, how immersive for live sound concerts is gaining traction, why the SRX900 was an unexpected success in the touring sector, and why if there’s a problem, you should always have a solution at the ready.

You say your career has been a series of chance meetings. Tell us about how you got your start in live sound…

I feel that I ended up here due to chance meetings. For my very first job outside of university, I was applying to work at L'Oreal, the cosmetics company. I met a girl in a nightclub whose father owned a cosmetics company and she said, ‘We're hiring too! Would you interview for us?’ I went to that interview in London, got the job and started the day after I finished university. 

Half of the reason I took it was because they had an office in Los Angeles, and ever since I was a little girl I just loved travel and languages. Fast forward, I was with that cosmetics company in Germany for a conference and we were all sitting in the hotel restaurant and on the next table was Dave Rat [founder of Rat Sound], who was there with the Chili Peppers. We started talking, exchanged numbers, and became friends. When I ended up in L.A with the cosmetics company, I called Dave and asked, ‘Do you know anybody selling a car?’

He introduced me to his shop manager Jon, who sold me his truck. After only one day the truck broke down, but Jon ended up fixing it and from that moment on we also became friends along with Karrie Keyes [founder of Soundgirls and monitor engineer for Pearl Jam]. From there, I started doing errands for Rat on weekends. I did everything from delivering amplifiers in my truck to helping production assist at weekend festivals such as Coachella (which was only in its second year at the time). 

One day I delivered some amplifiers to HHB, which was a British pro audio brand. They were looking for an office manager and I desperately wanted to work in music so I said yes to that and ended up working at HHB and then eventually at Rat Sound eventually creating and heading their sales and installation division. That was how I got my start in the industry.

It's an industry of relationships. Don't underestimate the value of networking.

You were at Rat Sound for almost 20 years heading sales and instals for them. What was it like to transition from a live sound, rock and roll company into a corporate role at Harman?

It's very different. JBL is under the Harman umbrella, which is owned by Samsung, so it's very corporate, and I've taken to it like a duck to water. Having that experience of being with a live sound company on the production side has given me insight that has been critical to my job. It was quite intimidating to start because a lot of my current clients are titans of the industry. 

People like Michael McDonald, the president of ATK was the ex-president of JBL and Dave Shadoan, for example of Sound Image, who I knew from my time at Rat, but who were both legendary names of the industry. I thought to myself, ‘How am I going to offer them something they know so much about already?’ That said, when I started, we had just come out of the pandemic, and I felt I had a responsibility to all of the clients nationwide to do my best from day one and give 100%.

What does your current role at Harman entail?

It's a sales position; I manage all my clients and all the production clients nationwide. The role is senior manager for production audio, so all the clients do their own live gigs, kind of what I was doing before. Now, I am the sales manager for those clients. It is way more than just selling. It is problem solving, building relationships, and being our production clients’ and sales reps’ go-to contact for all aspects of their business journey.

At Harman, your role involves assisting both existing and potential customers in navigating and selecting products from the company's extensive portfolio. Could you share some of the recent projects you've been involved in and what makes them unique?

We do have a lot of products, and that's something I like about Harman because there is something for every scenario. The team has worked on the SoFi Stadium, the Grand Ole Opry and The Roxy Theatre, which is a historic punk venue on the Sunset Strip. Something really cool about all those installations, or any live event gigs, is that there is a product for everything and every aspect of that job. It feels really good to play a small part in these massive jobs that our clients are doing. It's exciting.

The SRX900 became hugely popular with our touring clients.

With the launch of the SRX900 line array system, how has this product reshaped discussions within the market among your potential customers?

When we launched the SRX900, we had a need in our product line for a high-feature, lower-cost powered line array that was usable for the masses. Originally, they were going to sell it as a retail product through retailers and music retailers. 

We did not estimate how popular it would be with our massive large-scale touring clients as well, because a lot of these clients have a broad spectrum of jobs that they do, like massive concerts, but they're also doing corporate gigs. So the SRX900 became hugely popular with our touring clients as well. We were not expecting it, but it's been an added bonus. It takes a lot less truck space to have a powered line array too, so people can put it in a smaller truck, and off they go.

Harman is extensively engaged in nationwide roadshows and customer demonstrations. How does this proactive involvement help you in connecting with individuals who might otherwise be geographically challenging to meet face-to-face?

When you demo tour sound systems, having the right sonic environment plus the space to try them out, it can be tricky to get it exactly right, so what we did this past summer was take our demo truck to strategic locations across the country. 

Then we rented out several theatres and performance venues and we did demonstrations. In effect, we went directly to the client. We chose 14 cities in total and it gave people the opportunity to listen to our products who might not have the ability otherwise. I love that part of my job – it's an industry of relationships. You see how the clients operate and the challenges that they're facing as a business and you get to build that relationship. There's something really special about that.

Immersive for live sound concerts is really gaining traction in the installation world.

What are some key topics and trends in the field?

We are on the cusp of something new with the role of AI. Immersive is a massive buzzword too, Especially with our recent acquisition of FLUX, immersive for live sound concerts is really gaining traction in the installation world. 

If it’s a fixed installation, you have time [to install], but on the live side like music festivals, for example, it's a little harder to do right now because you've got different engineers coming in day in, day out, and there's an expense: if you have more speakers, it's more expense. We're on the cusp of new things, so it's an exciting time and there's definitely some exciting things around the corner in live sound.

Reflecting on your experience in the industry, you've witnessed its evolution from your early years to the present. How do you compare the landscape of your initial years in business to the dynamic environment we see today?

Early on, it was like the Wild Wild West! A lot of clients got into the business because maybe they were ex musicians or loved building their own speakers in the garage, and off they went and built a sound company – it was a very different environment. 

There wasn't as much education like there is today: you have all the live sound schools and everything like that. Whereas in the past, at least when I grew up, it wasn't a big thing. You still need that experience on the job, because it's easy to learn in the classroom, but what you don't learn is all the back infrastructure of loading trucks and all the things that people don't see before you start a gig. Today, it's a lot more professional and it's a whole different experience.

there's definitely some exciting things around the corner in live sound.

What guidance or advice would you offer to people aiming to establish themselves in the business?

Don't underestimate the value of relationships. When I think back, I don't think I got any jobs during my career just through a resume – you have to say yes and take opportunities. I'm hearing that a lot of smaller sound companies are struggling to get good people right now, so the jobs exist, but you're not going to get a massive tour right out of the gate. You have to pay your dues, it's going to be very different from a classroom environment. There are skills that you can only learn by doing. Don't be afraid to start at the bottom and go for your dream, because it can happen. 

Every day that you go to work, it is a networking experience, because you never know: that person that you're working with might be the person who hires you for your next job. Or if they're out on a tour and all of a sudden somebody says to them, ‘We need one more person’, who are they going to think of? They're going to think of the hard worker that they worked with a month ago, for example. Also, have a really professional email name!

What is the best piece of advice you’ve received?

When I was at Rat Sound, Dave Rat used to have this catchphrase which was, “No problems, only solutions”, and that always stuck with me because it's true. That resonated when I went to Harman as well, so if I have a problem, I must have a well-thought out solution to go with it. Otherwise, it is simply complaining.

Do you have any advice for the industry? 

Let's go back to simplicity; you don't have to die on every hill. Prop people up, encourage people. Take care of yourself health-wise, get sleep. You're not your best self when you're overtired. Have compassion and empathy. Be kind to people; everybody's doing the best they can.