A reflection on our 30 year anniversary and building an industry.
By Andrew Begnoche Director of Operations at Holdcom
February 7th, 2017 CDM Studios, New York, NY
“Let’s stop there for a second,” interjects the engineer as he pushes the talk back mic in the main studio at New York City's CDM Studios, waiting for feedback from the writers and producer. As long time creative collaborators and business owners, Harvey Edelman and Neil Fishman banter back and forth about the performances during the recording of a ground-breaking audio book musical project they're pioneering.
As I watch Neil and Harvey work through their creative process on an adaption of their musical version of Rumpelstiltskin, a story about a man who spins straw into gold, I can’t help reflect on our journey and how we’ve been trying to spin our own straw into gold at Holdcom. In order to best tell that story we need to go back to the beginning.I met Neil and Harvey in September 1990. They were mid-way through their partnership, after years working in theater and advertising production, and shortly after they started Holdcom (formerly On Hold Productions). I was brought in as employee number one. It was a startup atmosphere as we worked in a converted dentist’s office which had been turned into a studio. I was brought in to help with writing copy, producing, and managing accounts. My desk was in the sound booth because that was the only available space (except for the bathroom). I quickly became aware that this was unlike any other job or company I had ever experienced. These guys were creative and that’s what drove their decisions.
It was an exciting time. “We were looking for ways to utilize the studio we had built for our creative theater and corporate commercial projects. We were surrounded by talented actors, singers, and musicians who were working regularly on Broadway. We didn’t realize we were pioneering the Message On Hold industry,” recounts Harvey Edelman, CEO of Holdcom. “We knew what we were doing was effective and served a need. We just didn’t realize it would become so successful.”
While building the business, other creative projects were always in the mix. Frustrated by the unreliable analog technology at the time, we worked with engineers to create our own digital announcer which could use floppy disc to change out content, an idea 5 years ahead of its time. Another creative project we developed and tested with the Westfield Group was essentially Siri for the mall. It was a product called Mr. Tipps, a phone-based talking butler that provided directions and current promotions to stores in the mall. An idea ripe for an app, but too soon in an analog world.
Meanwhile, our base of clients was growing and so was our organization. We moved from office to office to accommodate more staff and the growing technology changes. As the internet emerged, we saw the benefits for business and our clients and launched our first website in 1996 which included a cutting edge e-commerce store for ordering Voice Prompts. To put it into perspective, Amazon was a 2 year old book store and had just sold their first book in 1995.
“Technology has been kind to us,” Recalls Neil Fishman, President of Holdcom. “We used to mail scripts to clients, so when the fax and email became available we were early adopters.” That pioneering spirit continued throughout our history.
As the internet bubble grew, we launched a sister company called Website Audio, which allowed our professional greetings to play on company web pages. This was 1999, in the era of dial-up modems, so playing audio on line was not like it is today. We had to use special compression software like IBM’s Hot Media or Real Player to make it work. It was really catching on and clients liked having the same voice on their phone system and website; but as we learned time and again, there's no straight line to success.
“The dot com crash was felt across many industries, but the Y2K scare at the time had many businesses upgrading and reinvesting in their phone systems and other technologies. We benefited from companies exploring new phone system features and building out IVR’s and auto attendants. Y2K helped our business expand,” Fishman added. When the internet bubble burst, we folded the lessons of Website Audio into new partnerships with talking avatars (such as SitePal), with companies like Oddcast and other online digital content providers. We also revamped our e-commerce store to focus on the growing VoIP industry and partnering with providers of hosted solutions.
The past 10 years have been about continuing to help companies deliver their message and tell their story. The more technology grows and companies expand into new ways to communicate with their clients, the more we continue to provide new and exciting ways to engage their audiences.
During a recent renovation, we took the opportunity to clear out old files and storage. As we waded through the materials which have grown over 30 years, a few things stood out, including the remarkable number of clients we have worked with over all these years and continue to serve today. Our voices are heard around the globe in many languages in a variety of media, every minute of every day; from overhead announcements and point of purchase displays, to amusement parks, transportation systems, games and apps. Maintaining such a diverse clientele with divergent requirements, along with the volume of recordings we produce each month, couldn’t be done without the dedication of our staff. Many have been with us for 10, 15, even 20 years or more.
“Coming from musical theater, we are natural story tellers. And like every good story, there are interesting characters, twists and turns. There are successes and failures. It’s been a wild ride so far, but I’m looking forward to the next chapter,” Edelman says with a smile. Fishman quickly adds, “As an avid scotch drinker, 30 years isn’t quite top shelf. We have a few more tricks up our sleeve. The best is yet to come.”
In many ways, I can relate to the story of Rumpelstiltskin and the Miller’s Daughter. As we’ve toiled away making more and more recordings to please more and more clients, we have been approached by a few imps who have tried to distract us from our mission. It’s with pride and pleasure that we thank all our clients, staff and voice talents for their loyalty and continued efforts.