Sunday, August 1, 2010

Little mic firm finds a big voice

WESTLAKE VILLAGE, Calif. — The market for microphones is down in the U.S., a victim of the recession.
But Blue Microphones, a small business based here, is thriving by focusing on a different type of microphone customer: the consumer.

The digital age has brought the ability to record music at home, create audio podcasts for the Web and produce homemade online videos with narration. To capitalize on this new market, Blue and other companies are offering less expensive, easier-to-use microphones for non-professionals. These USB models plug directly into Apple or Windows computers and don't need drivers or separate sound mixers to operate.

Business is so brisk that Blue estimates it will reach $18 million in revenue this year (up from $10 million in 2009) and sell 170,000 consumer microphones, up from slightly more than 100,000 last year. That may be a piddling amount for audio powerhouses Shure, Audio-Technica and Sennheiser, but it's substantial for Blue. Its work force has expanded to 40 employees from 10 in 2009.

Blue's Yeti microphone — which sits on a platform and looks like it belongs on a talk show — is No. 1 on Amazon's chart of best-selling microphones. The success of the mic, launched earlier this year, took the company by surprise. "We didn't see it coming," Blue CEO John Maier says. "We're having a hard time keeping up with production."

The company developed a following by engineering colorful, playful products, such as the retro round Snowball microphone and the miniature Mikey, which clips into iPhones and iPods and can be used when adding audio notes or recording live music.

Blue's eye-catching designs got its products into consumer stores such as Apple and Best Buy, and "really opened our eyes to what an interesting consumer market is out there," Maier says.

Professional sales down

Sales of microphones — most of which target the professional market — fell in 2009, to $388 million, from $465 million the prior year, according to industry publication Music Trades .

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