Calgary musician Justin Kudding knows the importance of a quality in-ear monitor (IEM)
You know, they’re those things musicians wear in their ears while playing live that pipes in direct audio but protects the ears from the thunder of the band – and the crowd. It also helps prevent the natural desire of singers to compete against other sounds.
“It’s a pretty crucial part of the infrastructure that makes a live show tick, for sure,” said Kudding.
Kudding began touring as a musician straight out of high school. He now plays in and is the music director for Brett Kissel’s band (since 2015). He said the IEM is an industry standard now.
He’s a partner, along with fellow long-time Calgary musician Simon Fisk and James Bundy, in Calgary-based Plunge Audio. Plunge was originally founded by Fisk back in 2013. At that time, the focus was on customized IEMs. Now, they’re looking beyond that into a scalable business.
Kudding told the story of Fisk marrying his love of music with a newfound understanding of audiology that he’d gained repairing hearing aids at his brother’s audiology lab.
When some folks at Long & McQuade asked if he could create a custom IEM, he tried it. Once he did, other musicians lined up to get them.
“It got to the point where they had to let him go because the lobby was always filled with musicians coming in, not to get a hearing test at the audiologist, but to chat with Simon in the back lab and talk to him about IEMs,” Kudding recalled.
They’ve produced custom audio equipment for nearly 10 years.
A budding business
Kudding, who bought in as a partner in 2019, said they realized creating custom IEMs wasn’t viable long term. They were tough to care for, service and time intensive to build.
“We decided to look into creating a product that was going to capture the best of those professional-grade, custom-made, custom-fitting items, but put it into a package that’s actually universal fitting for everybody,” he said.
“To get rid of that hassle in the buying process, make them way more affordable, easier to access, easier to service, and then also have a product where we can actually scale the company around.”
Kudding said many of the universal IEMs on the market are created through machining the shells or through injection moulding. That creates a lot of right angles and limits a quality fit.
What’s made the difference for them is a proprietary 3D-printing technique they discovered at a company in Field, BC. Kudding said that’s given them a unique design.
“When you put them in, they fit – it’s actually uncanny – as well as any custom I’ve ever had in my ear,” he said.
“I’ve actually been a live touring musician for almost 20 years now… and I’ve had several different brands and all sorts of different models of IEMs over the years. And these are actually the most comfortable thing ever.”
That’s where the company’s focus is today.
Eye-opening, challenging, rewarding: Alberta Catalyzer – Velocity program
“I just didn’t know what I didn’t know,” Kudding said.
“And it turns out that’s a lot.”
He’s been participating in the Alberta Catalyzer – Velocity program cohort at Platform Calgary.
When he joined Plunge Audio, he was helping build the business, providing structure, but doing it with the aid of YouTube videos.
“That was only getting me so far,” he said.
It was a failed Alberta Innovates application and an adviser there that turned him on to the Platform Calgary program.
“I mean, to say it’s been eye-opening would be a colossal understatement,” he said.
He said realizing there are defined strategies they can use to add value to the business was a game changer. And, he’s only halfway through the program.
From here, it’s fine-tuning their product. Kudding said they’re constantly doing research and development for their universal IEM. In the long term, they’d like to team up with a brick-and-mortar shop.
That may seem counterintuitive, but Kudding said it’s not necessarily about bulk online sales – though that would be nice.
It’s about being able to service musicians in a place they know; sound and music stores like Yorkville, or Long & McQuade. They want musicians to know that if they lose their IEM, or something goes wrong on stage, they can find what they need right away.
“The next three years really looks like figuring out how to make this product available for people to support the community of musicians as best we can,” Kudding said.