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Keeping It In The Family — An Interview with Universal Audio Founder, Bill Putnam Jr.
The idea of interviewing Bill Putnam Jr. emerged from a motorcycle ride (nice road!) to the Scotts Valley, CA office of Universal Audio on an unrelated KVR business visit. As a happy owner of a UAD-2 card I have always been impressed with the quality of the UA plug-ins. Their well-merchandised online store is also impressive as is the painless way one updates their software.
Universal Audio was first founded in 1958 by M.T. "Bill" Putnam Sr. who, in addition to being a sought after recording engineer, was the inventor of the modern recording console, and the multi-band audio equalizer. A natural entrepreneur, Putnam Sr. started three audio product companies during his long career: Universal Audio, Studio Electronics, and UREI. All three companies built equipment that remains widely used decades after their introduction, including the legendary LA-2A and 1176 compressors, and the 610 tube recording console.
Bill Putnam Sr passed away in 1989. Upon finding some of the original notes from his analog products designs 10 years later, his sons, James Putnam and Bill Putnam Jr., decided to re-found the company to "faithfully reproduce classic analog recording equipment in the tradition of their father." They started by releasing carefully re-created versions of their father's LA-2A and 1176 products.
Bill Sr's. spirit seems to be in every move they make from replicating his original products in exact detail to modeling them as software plug-ins, to the recently released Apollo. Under the leadership of the Putnam family UA has become an industry leader known for innovative products and, according to the people laboring there, a place that treats its hard-working employees very well.
Bill Jr, was kind enough to spend some time with me a few weeks ago. I found him straightforward, refreshingly positive, and of course passionate about music and audio products. He described how a morning listening to a Ray Charles recording could energize his mood for the whole day. He clearly loves keeping the spirit of his father's work alive.
Did you always have an idea that you would follow in your father's footsteps?
I think as any kid you think you're going to be the fireman and then decide you're going to be the superhero. I think it was sixth grade, I came across one of those "What are you going to be when you grow up?" and I said I'm going to go to Stanford, I'm going to be an electrical engineer, and that turned out to be what I did. I never thought I was going to be around the recording business, but I absolutely always knew I was going to be around technology. My dad had manufacturing facilities in North Hollywood, and recording studios in Hollywood, United and Western. I saw him at recording sessions behind the board at the studio, but he was equally interested in solving problems by inventing gadgets at home. I saw and interacted with him more on that side...