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Michael Austin, Music, and Stories from AV

One of the best things about this industry is the cool people you meet. And while it’s true that everyone has a story, well, let’s just say that some people have stories that are a bit more interesting than others. I was lucky enough to spend some time with Native Media’s Michael Austin while in Texas recently and to hear first-hand some of his effervescent stories. A lot of them were off the record, but a few made it here into the Symetrix Scene for our enjoyment.

Austin’s history is interesting, and though he claims he was stolen by gypsies and sold into the audio business, the true tale is slightly less exotic. If you’ve ever traveled with him, you quickly learn that he seems to know everyone, which is saying something in a state that’s as big as Texas. (It’s a whole other country). He is constantly running into people he knows – friends, neighbors, relatives. He’s from a little town in deep East Texas called Lufkin, where his professional story begins on a Sunday evening in a church choir. “I was in the youth choir and I couldn’t, and can’t, carry a note. I saw that the guys who were actually in charge were the sound guys. I was 13 or 14 when that happened. I got my first paying job in the audio industry when I was 15 or 16 and have been doing it ever since,” Austin recalls. Interestingly enough, when it came time to choose a formal education, Austin got his bachelor’s degree in Finance, although he’s never worked a day in that industry. He muses, “I just couldn’t see myself sitting in a bank every day handing out loans. I had a beard and they told me I had to shave it and I said ‘Gahhhhh!’ My friend called me and said, ‘You should come over here and work with me. Cold calling financial institutions for jumbo blocks of mortgages.’ I said ‘Nahhh. I’m not a salesman. I want to solve problems and fix things.’ A week after graduating college I was on the road as house engineer for Michael Martin Murphey. The owners of that company parted ways. The two remaining owners put me in charge of the company. We sold off the touring stuff and kept the rental equipment and turned it around in six months. They were great business people.”

At that point in his career, Austin started developing relationships with some strong reps, which would turn out to be his own professional path, eventually founding his own firm Native Media. He explains, “The reps that called on me were my lifeline. They fixed problems and helped I wanted to be one of those guys. I started interviewing for rep positions. Finally, I was going to Jamaica with a bunch of friends and got offered a job. I thought about it and when I got back I said, ‘OK, I’ll do it.’ That was August of ’85. I’ve been repping in this territory ever since.” A long-time fan of Symetrix, Austin started repping the brand in the 90’s, before digital products, before DSP. The product line at that time was mostly production and broadcast equipment. Austin recalls, “I had met Dane (Symetrix’s founder) earlier, in the late 80’s, at a contractor show in New Orleans. One of my factory guys and I were sitting by the river having a grand old time. We introduced ourselves and he ended up joining us. I’ve known him ever since then. It’s a great product line and it always has been.”

Austin continues, “The company has always punched above its weight. Symetrix always made great products. No matter what part of the market, they’re always fighting it out with the big guys. I love being the premium brand. I like companies that have good stories. I don’t consider myself a salesman. It’s more about the story. I weave that into everything. The Symetrix product is great. I want to be ‘The Guy’ for my dealers. You can’t be that without good product. You can’t fix the problem with bad product. You want to say, ‘try this,’ and then they come back and say, ‘wow that was awesome!’ ” “The (Symetrix) stuff always sounds great. That’s a pet peeve of mine now with a lot of the equipment around. It does all this stuff. But how does it sound? If people use Symetrix once, they generally come back. Symetrix has always delivered that for me.” Cool and laid-back, Austin looks like he could be a musician. Longish hair, day-old beard and eyes that have seen a few things. Like many people in the industry, he has a deep connection to music. “I love music. I couldn’t sing, but I could tell you what sounded good and I could make you sound good. My mom played piano. She made me take piano lessons and after three lessons, the piano teacher called her and said, ‘Save your money!’ But I love music.” Austin definitely has some classic musical favorites. His favorite album is Sinatra’s Greatest Hits and he is smitten with La Vie En Rose, the Louie Armstrong version. Favorite band? The Eagles. And his favorite song of all time is Sister Golden Hair by America. “Some of the live versions, they speed it up and break out a 12 string. Inspired by George Harrison’s, one of the chords in ‘My Sweet Lord,’” he explains.

When it comes to his favorite projects, Austin hesitates. “I don’t always get to see things through to completion. My favorite is the one that works well. There have been so many of them. Probably my favorite is one I can’t discuss to this day due to signing an NDA. But the State of Texas project was kind of a favorite, because I’m a Texas kid. My Great, Great Grandfather is buried in the Texas State Cemetery.”

Austin enthuses, “The guys at Fulcrum use Symetrix to create all their filters and everything. A high-end brand saying, ‘When I plug in a value, it’s there.’ One of my other favorites is Mi Cocina, the one in Highland Park in Dallas. Danny (Salinas of AlleyCat AV) was going to use a Jupiter. Then realized that it wasn’t going to do all he wanted to do. Moved him to Prisms. Won an award.” (MONDO-DR Award for Best Bar & Restaurant, 2020, the Americas. Click here to read this case study.). “I turned Danny onto the product line. He’s a big Symetrix fan. Symetrix was my mom’s favorite line. She said, ‘They took a chance on you, you’ve got to do good for them.’ ” After spending time with Austin and meeting some of his friends, you wonder what is the key to his success and why do so many people love the guy? Austin laughs, “I honestly hate talking about myself. I’m a very lucky and fortunate person. I’ve got great factories that I get to represent. I’ve got a buddy who’s a guitarist in a country band who has sold 25 million albums. We were going to lunch one day and I was talking about another buddy who’s an artist and he said, ‘you collect cool friends.’ Maybe so. But, I’m a dog person which is all you really need to know about me.”