Executive Profile: John Powell

John Powell
Alpha Theta Music Americas Inc.

Years with Company: 2.5 years
Address: 2050 W. 190th St., Suite 109, Torrance, CA 90504
Phone: 424-488-0480
Web: pioneerdj.com
Email: [email protected]
Clients: Millions of DJs and producers

Having worked on the manufacturing side of the industry at places like Harman, Boston Acoustics and JBL, joining Pioneer DJ was both a new and familiar experience for John Powell. While the move in May of 2017 meant he remained within the manufacturing sector, the generalized world of audio he’d inhabited narrowed specifically to the world of DJs.

Why Pioneer?
I was looking for a change and new challenges in my career. Pioneer DJ offered me an opportunity to do something different. It’s the market leader; it’s constantly innovating. And I’d never worked for a non-American company, so that was intriguing as well.

Focusing on Deejaying
At JBL, usually DJs were the ones who broke my speakers. I was intrigued because [deejaying is] an up-and-coming segment of the music business. The early days of deejaying were people taking a couple of records and mashing them up. Now there’s so much creativity. I love the music of Avicii. He was always really interesting to me. He was one of many to bring that sort of music into the mainstream.

The Learning Curve
I had a couple weeks between jobs when I left Harman. Before I started here, I spent a lot of time talking to people who knew more than I did. I asked a lot of questions. I’m still learning.

Why Pioneer DJ Rules
It’s the quality of the products. They last a long time. There’s a well-known event called Burning Man in Northern Nevada in an ancient dry lake. It’s super-fine dust; you can’t use a controller or laptop out there. It would be dead in seconds because the fine dust will get in there and try to kill it. Our gear has survived it every single year. Historically, we’ve been very good at listening to the customer and developing products they want. I’m never going to please everybody all the time, but we’ve been and continue to be very good at listening to the customer and trying as best we can to incorporate what they want into the product and allow them to be as creative and as efficient as they can. We want to be a tool, not an impediment, to their creativity.

One of our new products incorporates the ability to use Serato DJ, which is an independent company that does software. They’re one of the main software choices out there, so having cross-platform compatibility was a big thing. We worked closely with Serato so right out the gate you can use our new player with our product.

We just launched a new all-in-one called XDJ-XZ. That’s the third model in our all-in-one platform. That is the first product we’ve launched that works with both rekordbox dj, our software and Serato. It basically takes our famous Nexus 2 rig, which is two players and a mixer––two CDJ-2000s and a DJM-900 Nexus 2 (so you’ve got the mixer in the middle and a player on either side), and puts it in one platform. It’s portable and about a third the price of the classic setup.

The way we’ve designed our products, be it controllers, players or mixers, is that you’re kind of in our ecosystem, so it’s easy to move up and down through the range. With the better ones you have more control, but the layout and functioning are very similar.

Everybody wants to play guitar, so [for that instrument] you pretty much have an infinite audience. DJs are much more limited, so one of our interests is how we get more people interested in becoming a DJ. So we’ve launched our entry-level product, the DDJ-200. Basically, we offer it off a smartphone and you just have a fader face. All your music is coming from your phone and right on the unit you can start playing.

When (and When Not) to Stream
Once 5G is truly here, then streaming becomes viable. Far and away, the biggest number of our clients would be mobile DJs. That’s the guy who has his gear and goes wherever the event is, whether it’s a wedding, party or a bar mitzvah. Those guys have a lot more need for streaming out the gate, and they can do it now through their laptops. You’ve got your set, but maybe at the end of the night someone has a special request. There are billions of songs you don’t have, so you either download or stream it. You would never stream at a festival. You can’t take a chance on getting the circle of death when you’ve got 100,000 people out there.

Focusing on Innovation
For us, the challenge is––what product can we do that we don’t already have? A lot of products we have are evolutionary. It’s hard to do something totally new because a lot of it has already been done. How do you make a better turntable? You can’t really do that. So what do our customers want from us in a next generation product that they don’t currently have? That’s something we spend a lot of time on.

By and For DJs
We’re not this massive, behemoth company. We’re a lot of people who really share a passion and love of the music. I’m looking through my window at our mission statement––to innovate, inspire and entertain. By and large, everybody here, in our head office in Japan, in our office in Europe, lives and breathes that. I’m one of the oddballs in that I’m not a DJ. Almost everybody here who has anything to do with the customer or product development is a DJ. Some of them were famous in their time. We’re not gunning for massive profit. It really is about the passion and pride of the product. If there’s something we do wrong or there’s a product recall, it’s devastating to us, emotionally and psychically. There’s a lot of passion here.

Practice Makes Perfect
Being a DJ is equivalent to learning the guitar or piano––you’ve got to commit. You’ve got to dedicate time and it’s not going to happen overnight. There are tons of videos online; it’s so much easier now than it was 10 or 15 years ago. Make friends with someone who is a DJ who’ll give you tips. Learn the craft and then, if you want to actually make money at it, take some business classes and think about how you add value. Find out beforehand what kind of music people want to listen to and make sure you’re prepared.

Experience and Challenge
After 30 years of experience, I can call on different things I’ve learned over time to apply and be able to do things better. I live for the challenge of––how can we be better? How can we please our customers more? How can we be more efficient? For instance, we changed the way we service our customers. We use an agency, so when people call with a question or problem they’re attended to much faster.

Rise of the DJ
I think the days of explosive growth are probably behind us. The industry’s certainly matured. What bodes well for us is that for the younger generation, electronic music is mainstream now. It didn’t even exist when I was a kid. A lot of DJs are collaborating with hip-hop or rock artists. That’s exciting. The future bodes well.