„In the past, there used to be more grey areas and all-rounders. Today, specialists are increasingly in demand.“

Playing a crucial role in the process as early as possible: having a coffee and a talk with Tom Mikus

Passionate bass player, structure builder and an internationally experienced industry expert in PA technology, Tom Mikus is married and lives in Bochum, Germany. At least most of the time. He regularly spends several days in a 'romantic' business park in Bremen Mahndorf, home to MONACOR INTERNATIONAL. He boosts our team as Director of Business Development with fresh perspectives. Wait, as what? In this interview you can find out which tasks Tom Mikus is taking on at MONACOR and how he sees the future of the trade.

Mr Mikus, we will plunge right in, how did you get into the PA technology trade?


Music is my life. When I was 12 years old, I built the first DIY speaker system together with my father. I got hooked then. At 14, I started learning to play instruments. To this day, my main focus lies on bass guitar and double bass. This culminated in me being a professional musician for years after my A-levels. Accordingly, I toured much, did many recordings and stage shows. However, I also realised that it is a very unsteady business. That is why I then did an apprenticeship as an assistant in wholesale and foreign trade. 

Why do you enjoy working for MONACOR so much now?


Let me tell you about a funny coincidence: the DIY speaker I mentioned, the one I was working on with my father back then, was from MONACOR. The brand represented hobby nostalgia for me, just like for many others. To me, it is very exciting and motivating to have such a wide range of tasks here at MONACOR. The company has a very broad portfolio and worldwide subsidiaries and relationships. Here I can make a difference and contribute to the right course as well as supervise projects in detail.

You are Director of Business Development: for that, being a professional musician and doing an apprenticeship is not enough, is it? Where did you gain your experience?


I also trained as a business economist in the 1990s and then I sold music supplies and musical instruments in retail for 9 years. But that became increasingly difficult because internet trade was gaining more and more ground in this sector. I then crossed over to wholesale. I helped plan the PA applications for big festivals, did a lot of project business, was in field service for many years, later sales manager, then part of the management. That was with an independent distributor. It was a rather difficult time and I did not want to do that for the rest of my work life.


Tom Mikus: If the distributor does not meet the manufacturer's sales targets, the manufacturer withdraws the products from the distributor. If the distributor makes a lot of sales, the manufacturer takes over.

And where did you move on to?

I then worked in executive and consulting positions in various companies in the trade, always dealing with PA technology, speakers, DSPs, power amplifiers. As Sales and Marketing Director and de facto general manager of a large company in the industry, I managed the German branch and was also responsible for sales in Austria. But I also worked for one of the leading manufacturers of voice alarm systems.

What did you do there?

My job was to establish B2B and B2C sales structures, which was a lot of fun. In the end, I found it a pity that, as sales director, I could hardly design anymore. It felt like working at an administrative post. I did a lot of analyses and forecasts, but no longer worked directly on the project. I did not want that in the long run.

And what specifically is your new task at MONACOR?

It is my job to further sharpen the focus of MONACOR INTERNATIONAL and to prepare the company even better for individual markets. I meet up with the product managers, find new products and corresponding markets on which we can concentrate more strongly. We have 4,500 products that cover very different markets. We serve retailers and specialist electronic stores, planning offices, architects, camp site operators, installers and A/V integrators, hire companies and much more. However, we intend to define our field as a solution provider more clearly. My job is to hone the product range even further, to identify and implement new potentials. That means, to deepen the portfolio and being able to provide answers to any audio-related questions. MONACOR is the company for audio solutions.

A programmable device should only be available to a specialist retailer who has the corresponding know-how in house. We also want to convey this know-how in our academy

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Where do you see potential for MONACOR?


We have to turn some of our efforts around. Often we get service specifications and tenders and then recommend our products. Or we join in on big projects. That works well. But there is more to be had: our product range is so strong that ours can and should be the products put out to tender. We want to work even more closely directly with planning offices and architectural practices and integrators. We can tackle this very confidently. We are best practice in our price range and could play an even more active role in shaping the market.

We want to play a decisive role earlier in the process. MONACOR provides best buy quality: our products are the best you can get in this price range. That is our playing field.

What does a typical working day look like in the life of an influencer at MONACOR?

There is no such thing, fortunately, for I need this versatility. I have many in-house meetings and external appointments. I still live in my hometown of Bochum (in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany) and hold a lot of meetings online. I also spend about ⅓ of my time here in Bochum, ⅓ in Bremen at the company headquarters and ⅓ somewhere else in the world. I like that. In my last position, I was stuck at my desk for months. But it is important for me to work with and for the customer, and that is not possible at a desk. For that, I have to go out, accompany projects, get to know the projects and problems hands-on, not just abstractly. That's what I am burning for

Since you mention technology, do you see any changes in the industry of commercial audio and audio engineering taking place over the years?

There are definite developments in the industry, short-term and long-term. Because of the pandemic, the whole rental sector has completely collapsed. That is a short-term development, the hire companies are slowly coming back, though some did not make it. The long-term development is digitalisation.

How does digitalisation affect the trade?

If you look at installers and integrators, constant advanced training and skill enhancement are necessary today. Because the development caused by IT networks becomes increasingly dynamic. At live performances, there are now almost exclusively digital mixers, with which you can do a lot, if you do know how.

And in fixed installations?

All fields of fixed installations are growing together more and more via Audio over IP technology. The fields are merging. Overall, things are becoming increasingly professional, there are more and more standards and regulations. This is particularly noticeable concerning voice alarm systems. In the past, there were more grey areas that were not regulated as unambiguously as they are now. By now, standards are starting to apply, and at the end of the day, customers are forced to install such systems. And they have to do it exactly according to the standard or the company's specifications. It is not about sound and emotion, but about safety. But for that, you need specialists.

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Do these specialists not yet exist?


There are many capable installers, but that will not be enough for each future project. When I entered the trade myself, almost 30 years ago, there were many career changers. In fact, communications engineering studies or an apprenticeship as radio and television technician were the only options for professional training. Today, there are already some very specialised professions, the master craftsman in event technology, the media technician, the media engineer. And there will be more of them.

I used to be a musician myself and picked up a soldering iron and assembled cables. That is becoming less and less because the technology is becoming more and more complex.

With the increase in IT, will things become more complicated for those who install or use the systems in the end? Our society is far from consisting exclusively of digital natives who can handle IT naturally.


The trade as a whole is becoming more professional and moves more and more towards specialisation, not only concerning companies but also regarding technicians. The all-rounder, who is able to install everything, ceases to exist, because the demands on individual product groups are much higher than they used to be.

Can you give an example?

There used to be people who did the electrical installations in buildings. They took care of the intercom system, the lighting and also the audio technology, more or less as an aside. Today, we have requirements concerning PA technology that did not exist in the past. For one thing network technology, for another design. At best, technology should be completely invisible. Only the user has an interface from which they can control the system centrally

Because the need for further training will increase in the future, we have developed the MONACOR ACADEMY exclusively for our customers

Let's be honest: will the acclaimed 100 V technology disappear as things become more and more digital?

Yes, gradually, but not completely, I am sure of that.

Can you estimate when?

That will take some time. The industry moves but slowly.

Will there be any tinkerers and hobbyists at all in audio technology in a future of professionalisation?

Probably not in the field of PA technology, but in the hi-fi sector it is possible. Those are people with a hobby and with very high personal standards for that hobby. However, the small commercial speaker builder, who sells and repairs speakers himself, will disappear in a digitalised world. Because comprehensive solutions will replace individual speakers.

Let's take a glimpse at the future: in what way may the trade change and how is the structure of the company changing correspondingly in the next three, five or ten years?

Also in installations, light and sound, technology will grow together more and more. Speakers mounted on lighting rails are a consequence of this. For functional PA applications, for example in huddle rooms, you already speak with an IT expert today, no longer with an installer. This idea of a system then transfers to the end user's expectations.

In the end, the user wants a ready-to-use system that combines aspects as voice alarms, PA application, lighting, whiteboard, conference technology, video equipment as one solution. That even includes the furniture.

Earlier, you also mentioned design.

I think that audio technology will become increasingly hidden in the future. Thus, a project is good when you talk to a planner and an architect and by the end of the day, the functionality of the system is perfect, but as little of it as possible is visible. Or, if there is no other way, the visible components fit in perfectly visually. That is the fine art of design. It is not easy to hide speakers. For one, there are physical limits to how small the components can be, for another, speakers must be able to radiate unobstructed. 

Do you approve of this development towards hidden technology?

Yes and no. As technology geek I like devices with many buttons and slide controls. Technology has to be visible. On the other hand, we have to assume the users are not professionals. Especially in the field of installations, there is e.g. the janitor who does not have training in this field but still has to operate the system. For those people, the technology has to be as easy to use as possible or as much automated as possible. This is also a topic for the coming years.

So, is automation an issue in the trade?

Yes, and is has been for quite a while now. There are several devices by now, mixers for instance, that are able to adjust the volume automatically. They calculate the ambient noise level via a reference microphone and pull the level up or down. There are devices that filter feedbacks and other noises automatically even before they happen. I think, things will develop further towards automation, but professionals will still be able to step in. In the field of installation, the goal is to automate as much as possible, so that the customer can focus on content instead of technology..

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Are there also developments that you find actually negative?


 By now, there are extensive requirements concerning sound emissions. That makes sense in part, but it also takes away emotions. You are not allowed to go above a certain volume level at concerts, otherwise you are held liable for tinnitus and other things.

 By now, there are extensive requirements concerning sound emissions. That makes sense in part, but it also takes away emotions. You are not allowed to go above a certain volume level at concerts, otherwise you are held liable for tinnitus and other things.

When it gets too loud, everyone has the option to protect their hearing individually with sound-optimised ear protectors for music. That should be the responsibility of each individual. At the end of the day, I think the legislator regulates too much.

Is the volume of a sound system an important factor for you, is it a stylistic device?


Music as a live performance, but also in hi-fi, means emotions. That requires certain frequencies and that in turn requires certain levels. Really hard rock music at a moderate volume simply does not work. In Europe, and especially in Germany, there is a trend towards more and more restrictions. Not only in terms of volume, by the way. Concert agencies and artists already feel patronised. Because meeting and documenting these requirements is a huge effort that no one wants to pay for.

Is the volume of a sound system an important factor for you, is it a stylistic device?


Everything that has to do with Dante®. I have been working with Dante® since 2006. Back then, I already had appointments in the field, where I presented the very first network PA solution to a large hire company. At that time, those were power amplifiers with network technology. People just gave me a blank stare. The customer thought those were telephone plugs and did not understand what it was all about. We were very much ahead of the times. I still love these solutions today.

Why these solutions of all things?


Because it is so practical. Imagine: I have 100 power amplifiers on top of each other at a festival and I have built a ring topology via a primary and a secondary path, which is then also redundant. Then I can program and control every single unit via one cable. That's just great. Today, MONACOR, as one of the largest Audinate dealers in Europe, even has microphones and ceiling speakers with Dante® solutions. The possibilities are awesome while still being convenient to use.

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