New Distribution Company Announced – Headline Audio

New Distribution Company Announced – Headline Audio

Today, Music Instrument News announces the creation of a new distribution company, Headline Audio and its first major client, international keyboard manufacturers….Clavia Nord.

In two world exclusive interviews, MIN’s Andy Hughes talked to industry veterans Robert Wilson MBE and Greg Niven, the highly experienced and respected individuals behind the new venture.

The two conversations explain the background to the new company and its bold and innovative plans for the future – starting with company founder Bob Wilson.

An exciting time for you Bob, how did this new company formation come about?

I was happily retired as Chairman/Founder of Sound Technology after 40 years and still keep in touch with friends and former colleagues in the M.I and Pro Audio industries, however I am still working and currently chairman of company that is in an unconnected industry and has its 35th anniversary this year and looking forward to a successful future.

Some months ago, the people at Nord, who I had known and worked with for over twenty years, phoned me and advised that they had parted from their existing UK distributor. They gave the reasons, which obviously are not for publication. A few weeks later, Nord called me again and asked for some help, although I advised them I was heading towards retirement and no longer working in the music industry…..they are very persuasive and I soon realised I was turning down the single most successful manufacturer of quality keyboards in the world.  I doubt many people have done that!

But clearly you were thinking about it, and you were interested.

Obviously, it’s a wonderful opportunity. Nord knew from our conversations, that I already have the distribution systems in place through my current company. I have warehouse and office premises in Milton Keynes and the accounting systems for the financial side of the business. We have around fifty staff, so the practical part would not be an issue.

I was clear that I couldn’t do this on my own and they told me Greg Niven might be available. I spoke with Greg, who confirmed he was in the process of considering his options and would think about it. Greg called back a few days later and said he was on board, I was thrilled because we have worked together for over twenty years and he knows the brand and is well connected throughout the industry.

Ok, so I am not retiring, however with Greg’s enthusiasm and knowledge, it is one of the easiest decisions, I have ever made.

How has the industry reacted to the change in Nord’s business distribution?

There have been rumours circulating that I instigated Nord’s change in UK distribution.   I’m not sure who started these unsubstantiated stories which are without any basis of truth. I did not approach Nord.   Nord approached me, it was a complete surprise and I did turn them down more than once. I can also confirm that at the time Nord approached me initially, I was unaware of Greg’s availability or his employment situation.

I am very happy to be back again, I never expected to be offered an opportunity like this and am delighted to be working with Greg again.  We are both looking forward to making Headline Audio a success.

Greg, a new chapter in your career and an opportunity to work with Bob Wilson, you must be looking forward to the new challenge.

I am indeed. It’s been about five years since I last worked with Bob. It all feels a bit ‘rabbit in the headlights’ at the moment, but it’s all coming together nicely.

Let’s talk about your departure from Sound Technology, what was the lead-up to your decision to leave the company?

I was there for a long time, I started in 1999, when Bob was still the owner and he sold it five years ago. I was the Sales Director and then Commercial Director.

I had to take some time out to sort out family issues up in Scotland and on reflection wanted to go back to something more focused to work on.  I handed in my notice to Sound Technology. There were a number of opportunities available for me to consider.  I stepped back to see what would happen next.

Then Bob called me. Nord had called him and confirmed that they had separated from Sound Technology and were unsure where to go next. Bob still loves music, he plays in a band and he still knows everyone. He was initially sceptical, but thought that if it was kept on a smaller scale, he would be interested.

Bob and I had dinner and I said no to the proposal. I have always worked for larger companies. Bob was a little unsure about a startup. Nord pushed harder, they pushed it back over the table, they really wanted us to do it. We talked it over, to see how we could make it work.

Bob does things properly. Anyone who knows Bob knows he’s not going to work out of a space in his garage, it’s never going to be done on a shoestring. Bob will want warranty repairs and customer value in the product, a professional and ethical approach, so our values aligned.

Bob advised that the appropriate facilities such as warehousing and offices were available.  I agreed to consider his future plans.  After much thought and investigating my options, I decided this was how I wanted to proceed.

Did any other considerations influence your decision to take this opportunity?

We had a long discussion over dinner. Bob and I argued about bands, as we always do and my wife had joined us and was listening and pointed out that our entire conversation had not been about business, it had been about music. She asked why people buy five-thousand-pound keyboards from Nord? She mentioned that I have expensive keyboards at home and said ‘that’s because you love to make music’ and so does Bob. This is something you both want for the love of music and Nord are not going to discuss handing over a multi-million-pound distribution network, unless they have the belief and confidence that you are the people to make it work for them.

I’m a music fan, I live and breathe gigs, I go to a gig at least every two weeks, Bob still plays in a band. I knew that if we bring that love and passion about music into this new business, it will work.  I had two or three other job opportunities, but this was the one for me.

How safe do you feel it is to launch a new company now?

I can say that for us, it feels very safe, because of the brand we are working with. Nord is a dream brand. Their instruments are still hand-made in Stockholm, the owners still design their products. They have such a massive reputation in their field that we are confident that we can work with them to enhance and expand that reputation. That’s why it is so exciting for Bob and I to be involved with them moving forwards.

How difficult do you think it will be to get a new start-up company launched in the current economic climate?

It could be a nightmare!

Everyone I have talked to has said we could not have picked a worse time to start a new company like this. I have had the conversation with Bob, and we have agreed that we are not approaching this looking through rose-tinted glasses.

The world is very different now, much more focused on social media, which is a relatively new area of working for Bob and I. You have to update constantly, create video content and ensure that interaction is appropriately responded to. That’s on top of the actual business, ensuring that supplies are correctly ordered, retailers are properly supplied and supported and the phones get answered quickly!

It feels a bit overwhelming, but the main thing is, I love the brand and I love working with Bob, so everything else is going to work from there.

Have you considered attracting new brands to the company, or is that something for the future?

To be honest, things have happened so quickly there has not really been time to look into that. If we run the company in the way we plan to, then we will attract new customers and new brands who want to work with us.

Can you foresee difficulties in the months ahead?

Absolutely. Covid was a prime example of just how quickly circumstances can overtake our industry and put it into crisis. Brexit has already been a nightmare for musicians. Around forty per cent of UK bands and artists have been unable to tour in Europe this year. Nord make instruments mainly for touring musicians. They have an increasing presence in studio technology, but their strength has always been in providing keyboards for gigging musicians and it’s rare to find a top-level band that does not have Nord products somewhere in its setup. The issue arises when you have a band who have spent over four thousand pounds on a state-of-the-art top-line keyboard and now finds a huge hole in their tour base.

Add to that the constant blockages and constraints that the government places on musicians. They have released twenty-five million pounds to give schools greater and easier access to musical instruments, but they make it so difficult to actually access the money that a lot of schools are not finding the financial benefit at the end of the process justifies the problems they encounter to actually access it. That’s something we plan to address going forward.

There is always the spectre of a possible economic recession, venues are closing, but what we always have to keep in sight, is that in times of adversity, history shows that the UK comes together and makes even more brilliant and lasting music than usual. 

Let’s focus then, on the positive aspects of your company launch.

Everything is ready. We believe it’s actually the optimum time to launch a company like this. As the end of the year approaches, everything gets really busy, so we should see good business. We have our first stock arriving in about a month. The brand is very strong and lots of people want to buy it because it is iconic. We have a major figure in the industry joining us to head up sales. He will be getting out there and looking after our dealers face-to-face. I am not able to divulge his name at this stage, but it’s someone Bob and I know well and we are excited to have him on board.

Our website is under construction and we have our content creation in place with systems to update it regularly. We are looking for solid content showing who we are, what we do and our vision moving forward through 2024. Next year is our proving ground.

What are your medium and long-term plans for the business?

Bob and I have already discussed this and our medium plan is to maintain an effective operation and give proper attention to our customers. Being a new company we are able to be flexible and able to consider the various routes to market

Is five years too far ahead for you to be looking as a business?

Well, some things are certain – Bob will still be playing golf! We will still be looking after Nord.  We want to get the genuine ‘community’ feel back into this sector of the music business. It used to exist twenty years ago, but it has got rather too corporate and impersonal and we want to change back to how things used to be….a more friendly and cooperative environment.

And finally, Greg, are you nervous?

No ….I’m terrified!

We were on holiday with some friends, and I had had a couple of Martinis and found myself saying out loud, what on earth have I done! All those years in a safe and secure position and now I’m doing this. But when I rationalise it, I can only see success. It just feels right. I feel excited when I get up to go to the office and that’s a great feeling after all this time in this business. My wife says I have been laughing more in the last few months than I have in the last two years.

It’s all theory until we do it. Now is the time, so let’s do it.

Statement from Morten Ness CEO Clavia Nord

We’re absolutely delighted to be partnering with Headline Audio in the UK.

The combined experience of the team and the relationship we have with each of them ensures a successful future for Nord within the unique British and Irish recording & live music scene. Their hands on approach, enthusiasm & belief in the brand, their customers and the UK MI market mirrors our own.

We’re very happy to have them onboard and look forward to having a long successful future in the UK working alongside them.


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