Podcast Vol 1: Michael Goodman, CEntrance Founder and CEO
Introduction: [00:00:06] Helping people enjoy amazing sounds and build satisfying lives in the field of audio, this is the CEntrance podcast. Hi I’m Michael Goodman, founder and CEO of CEntrance, the leading manufacturer of audio products for enthusiasts and industry professionals. This podcast features stories and life lessons from people who dedicated themselves to a career in audio. This podcast was recorded using our own MixerFace R4 mobile recording interface.
Fredd: [00:00:33] With me I have Michael Goodman the founder and CEO of CEntrance. How’s it going?
Michael: [00:00:39] Great Fred, good to be here!
Fredd: [00:00:41] A little twist to the plot here — Michael is actually going to be the podcast host, but before we go into the series here we’re going to be talking a little bit about CEntrance and how it’s gone from a design firm, a licensing company for other really big names in the audio industry to kind of growing into their own and developing their own products. So the company’s been around for quite a bit.
Michael: [00:01:09] Yes we’ve been around for 18 years.
Fredd: [00:01:12] Would you like to talk a little bit about CEntrance and how it started and how it’s changed over the past decade.
Michael: [00:01:20] We started CEntrance in the year 2000 as a company that would be focused on personal audio. The name CEntrance, you know, stands for something that’s up at the heart. The products that we do are essentially products that that live around the individual. So it’s something that’s in your pocket, something that’s in your hand, both in playback and in recording. And we found an appreciative audience, a supportive audience among the broadcasters and songwriters, and voice-over people. People who do audio on a day-to-day basis, sometimes by themselves, sometimes by interviewing another person. But essentially we don’t focus on, like, large format consoles and all these 128 channel things used to record large bands. We know they say – in business it’s important to focus and know what you stand for. Know what’s your best character trait. I think for us it’s really, you know, the stuff that’s focused on the person.
Fredd: [00:02:29] You briefly mentioned a bit about the broadcast’s world. How did you get into the the music industry and trying to get a hold of singers, songwriters, guitar players, bass players. How did it go from broadcast into music and were they always part of your audience in the first place?
Michael: [00:02:50] It’s an interesting question. Sometimes your product finds its own customer. A famous example that I remember from working at Shure is the SM-58 microphone, which is a very well-recognized rock n roll stage mic. It was not originally envisioned as a rock n roll mic. It was envisioned as a radio station mic and it was supposed to have been used during broadcasts, but it was a very rugged, reliable you know, tough kind of well-made microphone. And somehow it just followed a different audience and for I don’t know how many years, a lot of years at this point, for several decades that microphone is a staple and pretty much every recording engineer’s gig bag. It is great for stage use.
So a similar thing happened with our MicPort Pro. That was the first audio interface that we released back in 2007. We wanted to focus on songwriters and musicians with that product. But what quickly happened is within about a year we realized that a lot of customers were buying that interface (and in case you don’t know MicPort Pro is a cigar-shaped recording interface that plugs into any microphone and turns it into a USB mic — allows you basically to plug a traditional microphone into a computer for recording) and since a lot of people sort of choose a microphone to represent their voice and then use only that microphone from that point on, it would be important for them to be able to use that mic with a computer, so that’s what MicPort Pro did.
What we’ve quickly realized is that MicPort Pro found a lot of support in the broadcast community, as well as voice-over community and those people travel a lot to do interviews, or you know, to narrate a promo, or a book, or an advertisement from the road. And the fact is — it was very small and allowed somebody to pack their favorite microphone and a MicPort Pro and a laptop or just a phone. And that was their entire rig that made it extremely popular in that Universe. So that’s how we started reaching the voice-over people. And then we made a variation of the MicPort Pro called AxePort Pro, which was specifically designed for guitar players and guess what — we found bigger support in a bass player community than the guitar players community because we’ve realized that bass players for some strange reason are much more technology aware. Bass players would experiment with new gadgets much more readily than guitar players — it’s kind of funny that way. Guitar players are a little conservative, you know, they find a rig. Again, same idea — they find an amp that represents their sound and they set it the certain way and they set it that same way every time and they find a guitar that represents their sound. And that combo pretty much never changes so they’re not fond of a whole bunch of gadgets, other than pedals, of course. Bass players on the other hand are very much into digital and internet etc. They’re sort of on the front lines. So sometimes you can hit your target audience correctly, straight out of the shoot and sometimes you get surprised by a curve ball because a product ends up in a completely different place. And hey, we don’t mind.
Fredd: [00:06:18] Speaking of of having an ear, we were actually talking a little bit earlier and it wasn’t necessarily music or broadcasts that you kind of had an introduction to training your ears. It was actually cars, right? Their engines and the way they sound — do you want to talk a little bit about that?
Michael: [00:06:38] Oh yeah. My mom was always amazed when I was growing up. Maybe since I was 5 or 6 I could tell every car that entered the parking lot. We lived on the seventh floor of a high rise in Moscow, I grew up in Russia, and my mom could not believe that I knew which of our neighbors just pulled into the parking lot simply by the sound of the engine of their car. I could tell the model of the car and I could then pretty much figure who it was that just came back from work and she tested me. She didn’t believe me so she tested me and pretty much every time I was right. So to me it was obvious. Clearly all cars sound different but to her, it was not [obvious]. These days I wouldn’t be able to perform that sort of a magic trick any more because there’s so many cars and I’m not spending as much time just sitting in front of the window with my toys. But back then, it was pretty easy.
Fredd: [00:07:40] Well I guess in a way you’re still playing with toys right? I mean you got a bunch of cables and interfaces and microphones and computers in your office and – except they’re much different toys and we’re not exactly listening to the sound of cars we’re listening to the sound of microphones and preamps and a whole mixture of different other things that affect sound.
Michael: [00:08:05] At CEntrance we focus on products that live around the person. And ever since the first experience releasing a recording interface, the MicPort Pro I was interested in creating something that would allow you to record not just one channel but two, but still was a portable enough thing that you could hold in your hand and take with you as you travel. And a whole bunch of our customers find themselves traveling pretty much all the time, we live in a in a very connected world these days. So I wanted to have a product for myself and then for a lot of people that I knew in the industry, which was lightweight, easy to use and had a built in rechargeable battery, such that it would work with pretty much anything out there — from a cell phone to a tablet, to a laptop, and allow people to record on the road. Maybe on a tour bus, maybe in a hotel room — anywhere inspiration strikes us. So that’s how MixerFace R4 came about. We wanted to give people a chance to record without necessarily being tied to a studio.
Fredd: [00:09:15] Is there any record or broadcast personality that you kind of look up to.
Michael: [00:09:24] Those are two different areas but obviously both are near and dear to my heart because I do love radio. It is a very strange medium that appeals to me because of its honesty. It’s a well-known fact that radio is a very personal format. We had not a lot of western music growing up back in Russia but we had you know good announcers, well-trained announcers. Later on, as I got into my teenage years we started listening to Voice of America and the BBC and you know, all of that was AM radio, where quality was not so good, but the forbidden nature, forbidden fruit of these radio stations made them much more interesting. I got to see how announcers performed in different countries, but essentially growing up I would listen to a lot of radio music and voice — I was just just geeking out on the whole concept of radio.
I’d built my first transistor radio and hid it in my in my coat pocket when I was going to school and I had a mono in-ear monitor back then – this is crazy – this is going back to to the 80s, early 80s. So was walking to school, it was a long walk and sometimes during these winter nights when it was a lot of snow everywhere it was kind of gloomy and very depressing altogether. And sometimes I’d be walking to school and it was still dark out. Not a fun place to be, but because of this little transistor radio that I had kind of stashed away in my coat pocket and this mono earpiece that I had, I could listen to classical music broadcasts or just the news. And I didn’t really care what they talked about — the fact that I was somehow connected to another person, who was sitting in a warm studio and whose confident voice broadcast confident statements made me feel so much better, because I knew that I am connected to a place where things are alright. And that made me feel better. And as far as music I think that Pink Floyd pretty much influenced my early years. That was the most complex music I’ve ever heard and it was easy to just completely disappear in the complexity of these tunes — such albums as Animals and of The Wall and many others where this tapestry of sounds — I mean on The Wall they had 128 channels going on at once including a children’s choir! That’s a lot of information for the brain to process and obviously it was very interesting, it was like a musical story. And I prefer that to perhaps even you know stories that I would be reading in a book. That’s what an auditory person typically prefers.
Fredd: [00:12:30] And that’s kind of what put you into wanting to pursue a career as a producer or recording engineer, right?
Michael: [00:12:37] I totally wanted to produce records and mix records, and make records and you know, obviously record Pink Floyd but little did I know that that job was already taken! When I came to America when I was 20, I went and I enrolled into Columbia College here in Chicago which is a liberal arts school with a strong focus on the sound program. You know, people who work in audio they mix records and they work in studios and I did that for a number of years. I worked with several studios in Chicago. One was called Paragon Recording run by the late Marty Feldman, who had mixed albums by The Stix and The Ohio Players, and Rod Stewart. So there was a lot of stories there. There was a lot of tradition both on the walls in the form of gold records that were displayed everywhere around the studio and also in the behavior of people there. I mean, they represented the music industry so it was great to learn from them. And of course Malcolm Chisholm, who taught at Columbia back then is forever regarded as the audio professional to catch because Malcolm Chisholm has an incredible distinction. His Chuck Berry recording from the 1960s is actually on the Voyager spaceship right now as part of the capsule, a time capsule called ‘The Best of Earth.’ That record is now traveling in space at the edge of the solar system. So everybody at Columbia was joking that no matter what you do in audio you can’t catch Malcolm. No matter what recording techniques you use, no matter what equipment you use. He’s always going to be ahead of us all. And so he is. So it was great growing up and learning about the craft from such amazing people and that kind of solidified my belief that if I could, I will devote my entire life to audio because it is just a passion. And I really tried forever to not deviate from that passion.
Fredd: [00:14:48] I like we are touching in basically every subject, like why we’re doing the things that we’re doing in this industry and what influences us and what drives us, and how bad we want to learn from our own heroes in those industries. Like how about we want to hear their stories and their experiences. So yeah that’s kind of what we’re talking about.
Michael: [00:15:09] I think it’s also important to listen to other professionals in audio to understand how that can help you shape your own path in this strange profession.
Fredd: [00:15:20] We’re sitting here with Michael Goodman the founder and CEO of CEntrance. You are the host of the CEntrance podcast. So after this episode we’re actually going to be talking to other artists from all around the world and see what their experience is like in the industry. So Michael what kind of questions do you think you’d be asking these kinds of artists.
Michael: [00:15:42] We found that our products talk to a lot of audiences. We speak to, (when I say “speak” I mean that figuratively), we cater to songwriters and field recordists, and broadcasters, and videographers – a lot of different slices of the audio industry, and that presents an opportunity for us to talk to people from all these different walks of life and ask about their experiences, stories and also you know, how do they use our products. It’s always very interesting to us. I was talking about my influences at Columbia College.
After I finished school and after I had a chance to work for a number of years I had gone back to the school and I had taught there a couple of classes, one of which was called “Careers and Audio.” So for several semesters every week we would bring in an audio professional from a different segment of the industry. We would bring in musicians and recording engineers, and live sound engineers, Producers. We would bring in entertainment lawyers to talk about you know copyrighting your music. Radio personalities, etc., etc. — just to give students a feel for the different things you can do with audio. Obviously, everybody enters the school with the desire to be a mixing engineer, but as they progress through their career they understand that there are so many different ways you can make money and stay happy doing what you’re passionate about, that you don’t necessarily have to work in the studio. As a matter of fact, the number of studio jobs is limited, but the number of things you can do in audio is pretty much unlimited. Especially now with the Internet and podcasting, etc.
So with this series of podcasts we would like to a certain extent to create exposure for some of the young people who are probably just getting into the audio field, and give them a chance to listen to people who have spent their life doing music, doing audio, doing radio, and then learn what is it that you can do. And who influenced you. What were your early interests, etc.? Similar to what we’re doing now. Similar to the questions you’re asking me right now. Asking musicians, sound engineers, producers, about their craft. I think that would be very important for people who are trying to find their path in life to hear, such that it can probably solidify their belief that sometimes it’s possible to follow your passion.
Fredd: [00:18:21] Thanks again Michael for talking to us a little bit.
Michael: [00:18:24] Thank you, Fredd!
Credits: [00:18:28] Podcast music by Paul J. DeBenedictis. Production Assistance by Fredd Villa. In this episode, Michael Goodman (me) was interviewed by Fredd Villa. Until next time!