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Lending an ear - IEMITO founder Mike Dias on why trade associations can provide vital help right now

Lending an ear - IEMITO founder Mike Dias on why trade associations can provide vital help right now
IEMITO founder, Mike Dias

Lending an ear - IEMITO founder Mike Dias on why trade associations can provide vital help right now

Mike Dias explains why he founded the In-Ear Monitor International Trade Organization (IEMITO) and how it’s helping its industry members in the current climate

Timing is everything. When it came to setting up IEMITO, my timing was either impeccable or the worst in history.

I started working with in-ear monitors over 20 years ago with Mindy and Jerry Harvey of Ultimate Ears when the company was in its infancy, and I’ve watched this industry grow from the back of a tour bus into the global phenomenon that it is now. I’ve seen it progress from being a novelty to a market sector that generates well over US$100 million annually. The industry has mushroomed from an initial handful of manufacturers to over 200 IEM makers throughout the world. So, when I recently left my job as director of sales and marketing at Ultimate Ears, many of the IEM manufacturers asked me to set up and run a trade organisation for in-ear monitors. I agreed, but only if it were truly global in scope. IEMITO duly launched at AES New York in October 2019.

I wanted to make sure that we represented all countries and regions. I knew that if we could create a global network, then we would be successful. I also knew that it would not be easy. Many of the founding members had different agendas and competing personal interests, and of course there is the human factor of working with your competitors. But ultimately, I knew that all the manufacturers share the same goals and visions, and that everyone wanted to increase the total overall awareness for IEMs.

That’s how IEMITO began. It was established to promote the uses and benefits of IEMs — to bring together in-ear manufacturers, dealers, suppliers, engineers and end-users from all over the world to shape the future of the global headphone market. It was an instant hit, with manufacturers joining immediately. While Shure and Sennheiser were founding members, so were in-ear companies from around the globe, such as QDC in China, FitEar in Japan, Stealth Sonics from Singapore and Vision Ears from Germany. Console manufacturers including PreSonus and Yamaha even started joining.

And then… live sound reinforcement ground to a complete standstill and the global economy continues to contract with no end in sight. Just like that, the market for in-ears has disappeared. In line with this, the need for a dedicated trade organisation has become either entirely superfluous or infinitely critical. I’d like to believe that it’s the latter, for in this time of great isolation, the thing that turns out to matter most is community. We are truly all in this together, and what IEMITO has done since the pandemic began, while specific to the in-ear community, has fundamentals that apply to the entire pro audio industry.

The first thing that we did was assess the situation realistically with the information that we had available. We then thought about the needs of all our community members and stakeholders, asking ourselves what we could do to effect positive change and how we could be a pillar for everyone around us.

Secondly, we’ve been working with all our partners to help those in critical need. We made a substantial donation to touring professionals via Crew Nation, an initiative set up by Live Nation to help touring and venue crews currently out of work, and we’ve worked with each manufacturer to help promote their direct charitable efforts. Each and every one of the IEMITO founding members has given back in ways that they are able to. Some companies have made significant cash contributions to various music charities while others have donated equipment or shared expertise. Dr Santucci from Sensaphonics has been giving free hearing health consultations everyday while JH Audio and Sennheiser have hosted numerous continuing education seminars and sessions. It has been truly heartwarming to watch how each company has stepped up to help their specific communities, not to mention everything they’ve done behind the scenes — and that includes how they have taken care of their employees during these times.

The third thing that we did was to address the feelings of usefulness. People who work in the pro audio industry have a tremendous work ethic. Sound engineers and backline professionals — the true heroes of concert productions— went from working insane hours on tour and being part of something much larger than themselves to finding themselves alone with nothing to do. So we’ve been finding small projects where people can contribute and feel relevant. Our website is an online repository of unbiased information about in-ear best practices, so we invite any and all touring professionals to contribute guest posts. We give them a platform to share their expertise and their point of view and we give them a place to be needed. We do the same for all our members — we recently started a new programme, the Founder’s Philosophy, giving IEM designers a chance to talk about their design aesthetics and choices. Of course, we then work with our media partners to secure placement for all these features, so everyone wins. We get to help increase brand awareness for our members, we get to further industry best practices and we get to share great stories.

Finally, and I believe that this is the most critical point, we make a point of staying in touch with all our members — of simply reaching out to check in, and just being available whenever anyone needs anything. It is so easy right now to become overwhelmed by the significant business challenges. But it’s much harder to stay present and positive. It turns out that this is the furthest thing from our mission statement, and it’s certainly not why we started the trade organisation, but it seems to be what’s needed most. Only time will tell.

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