Last week I got the chance to stop by Alesis' Los Angeles engineering center and visit Jim Norman, the Alesis Product Manager. At their LA office the company has about a dozen engineers along with testers and other product specialists. (Other engineers work at company headquarters in Rhode Island.) They get to create some of the great drumming and recording products Alesis sells and spend their entire day immersed in music.
The staff just returned from a trade show with a big pile of gear.
One of the reasons I was interested in this visit is that Alesis has set out an ambitious product roadmap, one that meets the specific needs of today's up-and-coming musicians who are ready to exploit a variety of internet-connected tools to add to their music-making experience. In the past year they've introduced the DM-5 drum kit with Surge cymbals and the DM6 with 108 sounds; the e-Pad practice pad with 65-built in drum sounds, a metronome and musical games; the SR-18 drum machine, and various USB miking and mixing solutions for direct-to-computer recording. In addition, they rolled out iPod-based products for recording musicians such as the JamDock, which enables musicians to mix ipod tunes tunes for practice or with live tracks.
According to Jim, what sets Alesis apart is their focus on youth and entry-level tools that provide a great experience. "Today's kids want quick experiences and because of how they've grown up with video and multimedia I think it's literally harder for them sometimes to learn by taking lessons and practicing for months on a pad," Jim says. "We want to give them a great experience with tools that make learning and playing happen fast."
"I didn't just go to one college, get my degree and start work," Jim says, laughing. "I was a drummer. So it was gig, tour, go to school, gig, tour, go to a different school…" He eventually graduated at UCLA.
Alesis does this by focusing on products with great, simple interfaces, sometimes trading off expensive features for flexibility.
"The DM-5 is an important kit for us because though it didn't have all the high-end features of the more expensive kits it provides a quality electronic drumming experience at a good price point that introduces students and experienced drummers to the products."
Now, Alesis is set to introduce a higher-end kit that has garnered much attention since it was demoed at the Summer NAMM show in Nashville. the DM-10. The DM-10 features a closer-to-real feel with its stretched mylar heads, triple zone capability to get three sounds from a single electronic drumhead, 100 drum kits, and a method for importing new sound libraries from software developers like BFD. It has more dynamic range and tonal capability than any previous Alesis offering. Even acoustic purists may be more open to the qualities of this new kit. "Sit down and play it with your eyes closed" Jim says, "and you'll know you are playing real drums."
While you, dear reader, are working all day, Jim Norman is banging on his drums—connected to mixers and computers—tweaking hardware and software until everything is just right.
Getting to design cutting-edge products for a living is a great job and Jim loves it. During the year he travels to factories in Asia and trade shows worldwide in the course of his job. And, he's got a lot more up his sleeve. He believes that the future is wide open in terms of new tools and software for teaching and playing drums, and that Alesis is perfectly positioned to play a big role in it.