Installed Audio

Harman’s Saben Shawhan on keeping up with technology & the art of the demo: “People are trying to do more with less”

In this Everything Audio interview, Saben Shawhan, director, partner BD and PAS audio sales at Harman Professional Solutions discusses the art of the demo, why people are trying to do more with less, the importance of learning from your mistakes, and why keeping up with technology and investing in training is essential.

At Harman you started as consultant liaison manager for audio systems east in 2015, then were appointed to senior manager business development for three years, and you’ve spent the past four years as director of partner BD and PAS sales audio. What does your current role at Harman entail?

It is a broad spectrum, and like my career path, my current role is a mix of all of those things that I have done over the past 20 years. I manage a couple of different slightly unique teams, one of which is our pre sales support team for integration. We call it a PAS team, which is the same kind of support but for our production and touring partners. 

Along with that, some of the people on my team are what I like to refer to as partner or specialty business development – they're talking with the very high functioning and users that maybe have their own design departments, like a lot of themed entertainment or professional sports where the in-house staff are very elevated and very good at their job. 

I manage a couple of different groups simultaneously, which is really great, because there's a lot of cross coordination and collaboration where our touring specialists might bring something to the table that an integration person didn't, and vice versa.

You’ve just finished a very successful 15 city JBL audio roadshow. How has this helped connect with customers?

It went really well. We've done this for two years in a row and it's a really great way for us to bring some of these products to the customers to let them hear them. In audio, I've found that nobody buys a system unheard; part of the experience is listening to that system and deciding what is right for you, your project or your production, and this is a way for us to do that. 

A lot of these systems are too large to easily demo without setting them up in a proper theatre or house of worship, so setting them up in an appropriately sized space lets us the customer get firsthand experience to put their hands on the gear. That really gives them a sense of what it is capable of doing without having to travel to a show.

In audio, I've found that nobody buys a system unheard.

How does demoing the products help build trust with potential customers?

I have the luxury of doing a lot of presentations, and some of those presentations are fast and to the point where I have 45 minutes to talk about a new product, and those are great. But what they lack is that hands-on ability for the customer to go, ‘Oh, I understand how this new rigging system functions now’, or, ‘I want to listen to this in a slightly different application; I want to stand off to the side or behind it’, or they want to do something that's more relevant to their use case. 

This tour allows us to do that. It gives us more time with the customer and gives us a little more flexibility with how they interact with us if they want to do something that's a bit more unique.

JBL launched the SRX-900 last year. How has the market (specifically, front of house engineers and sound companies) responded to the product?

This is a huge launch for JBL. This is the first time that we've dipped our toe into this segment of the market. In the past JBL has never had a product that competed in this kind of mid format, where it's a true line array. It's self-powered, it's got lots of built in features and the market has really grabbed it. 

This is probably the first system that gets you into that entry level, true line array application with the advanced feature sets that we see on our more complicated and higher priced systems. It's been a great product for us. We see lots of positive feedback on social media as well as customers telling us how they use it, like, ‘I used it for the first time in this corporate thing and I was blown away. I couldn't believe how great it performed!’ We hear that quite frequently.

This is probably the first system that gets you into that entry level, true line array application with advanced feature sets.

Technology and design principles have drastically changed over the last few years. How has the audio industry changed with regard to designing large scale projects?

That's always an upward slope – keeping up with technology. One thing we see the most is that people are trying to do more with less, meaning they want the sound system to be smaller and/or lighter, and still maintain the same level of output as something that maybe they had installed 10 years past, or they're looking for more advanced features – things that we couldn't do 10 years ago – or you couldn't afford to do 10 years ago. They want more in a smaller, lighter, more feature-rich package.

What are the challenges facing the overall industry when it comes to designing for different types of stadiums and applications?

There's the challenges that have always been there from the day somebody decided to build a building, like budget constraints and schedules. In more recent years what we've seen is a departure from a more conventional design path, meaning that a lot of projects are trying to do more on the road without pulling in the correct design assistance – they're trying to do more things without a professional designer or professional engineer, whether that's through an integration company or through an independent designer.

Those things always bite them later in the project. I would highly recommend to anybody starting some kind of integration project, large or small, to tap the brakes just enough to make sure you have the correct design professionals assisting you. It's worth that extra time. 

The end result will be better if you just take that one extra step. I know it adds a little bit of cost to the project and it slows things down – and that's probably the downside that you can't move as fast – but the end result does turn out better when you loop those professionals in at the appropriate time of the project.

make sure you have the correct design professionals assisting you. It's worth that extra time.

Do you have any advice for the industry?

I would say don't overlook the training or expertise of other people, even in a situation where you may feel like you have the experience. If it's a product you're not familiar with or a deployment you're not familiar with, it's worth the little bit of extra effort to get properly trained. I've seen too many projects go south just because somebody wasn't familiar with the products. Maybe they're incredibly smart individuals, but they just weren't familiar with that particular item. 

The overarching thing is to keep up with technology. I know it's hard to keep up with everything that's coming out, but it's important to stay relevant in our industry by having people around you that really know what they're doing and that are trained properly.