COMPANIES TO WATCH
|ILIO founders Mark and Shelly Hiskey.
From a sample library to a distribution portfolio, ILIO specializes in software tools for musicians.
THE LEGENDARY SYNCLAVIER, the early synthesizer and sampling system first released in 1977, held a lasting place in musicians’ imaginations—and their bank accounts. Groundbreaking but famously expensive, the Synclavier was being displaced by a wave of more affordable samplers when, in 1993, Mark Hiskey had an idea: Maybe most musicians couldn’t afford a Synclavier, but plenty wanted the sample library that came with it. Along with his wife Shelly, Mark contacted Synclavier management and arranged to license its signature sounds, using them to build Synclavier sample libraries for Akai, Roland, and Kurzweil samplers. That became the inaugural product for ILIO, a specialist in virtual instruments, plug-ins, and other software-based tools for musicians. Still headed up by Mark and Shelly Hiskey, ILIO now functions chiefly as a marketing and distribution company, representing products by Spectrasonics, Vienna Symphonic Library, Synthogy, Gig Performer, and many others. It was that first original product, however, that launched ILIO into the emerging world of sample libraries and all it would bring over the next 25 years. “That put us on the map,” says Mark.
Both students of music business, composition, and recording, Mark and Shelly met while attending the University of Colorado in Denver during the ’80s. After college, Mark would take a job at a local production company, doing sound design and creating music beds that found their way into TV and radio all over the world. He and Shelly moved to Los Angeles in 1990, working assorted industry jobs before founding ILIO three years later.
Today, their company is known for its curated selection representing the best of the last quarter-century in music software and plug-ins. Its portfolio includes multiple products by Spectrasonics, the leading maker of virtual instrument software plug-ins used by top recording artists and producers. ILIO itself develops patch libraries for use inside Spectrasonics’ Omnisphere 2, the company’s flagship synthesizer. Several other key products come from the Vienna Symphonic Library, created by the famed composer Herb Tucmandl and now the most widely used orchestral sample library in the industry. Among the other developers represented by ILIO are Applied Acoustic Systems, Overloud, Sonoma Wire Works, Hornberg Research, Groove 3, Gig Performer, and Synthogy. “Each developer ILIO distributes is groundbreaking in its own right, having written the rules and defined the industry,” says Mark. “Most of the companies we work with were formed when the virtual instrument category of plugins was first developed, and each of them has a long history of innovation.”
As a marketer and distributor, ILIO has brought partner software brands into multiple sales channels, including direct download from its own website and music retailers including Sweetwater, Guitar Center, Sam Ash, and Long & McQuade, to name a few. What it lacked at first, however, was a user-friendly, secure way to bring direct downloads into retail stores. The company went on to develop its own solution, designing an exclusive digital distribution portal, called Skuport.com, that retailers can use to deliver downloadable software to their customers immediately upon purchase. Efficient and easy to operate, Skuport can be accessed by manual login or simply integrated into the backend of any POP or e-commerce system.
“One of our continuing challenges has been to anticipate and meet the demands of music makers and the sales channels they utilize,” Mark explains. “There are many software publishers selling direct these days, but most of them also acknowledge the advantages of leveraging the reach of retail stores and online shops. By the same token, savvy resellers are aware that music software presents opportunities to attract and retain customers—and that’s why we developed Skuport. It’s a simple process to receive, process, and fulfill customer orders.”
As part of an overall retail strategy, Skuport has been a difference-maker but only a start. Increasingly, members of the ILIO team have been hitting the road for trade events and expos to showcase partner software, from Spectrasonics especially, at the retail and end-user levels. “As popular as these products are, and as much penetration as we’ve achieved with social media and advertising, there are still many people who have not heard of these products or never considered using them,” says Mark. “There’s nothing like getting hands-on with an instrument, so attending these shows gives us a chance to show and tell, and interact with future customers.” In addition, the company is now offering an exclusive online training program known as Club ILIO, which offers incentives for retail salespeople who train to become product experts and brand ambassadors for software packages distributed by ILIO. Members are tested on their product knowledge and earn rewards including “not for resale” copies for their personal use. “They get access to great products and we get knowledgeable, productive sales talent in the field!” say Mark.
“With the constant rise of technology comes substantial improvements in audio processing, creativity, expression, and importantly, access for all musicians,” he adds. “It’s very humbling to work with so many creative and dedicated developers committed to utilizing the latest technology in their virtual instrument or signal processing products.”