Welcome to the latest edition of Women in Audio, a series in which we present some of the exceptional women from across the audio industry. Today, I would like to introduce Michelle Grabel-Komar, a passionate member of the audio community and Vice President of Sales at Full Compass Systems. Based in Madison, Wisconsin, Full Compass is a leading online and brick-and-mortar retailer of professional audio, video and lighting equipment as well as musical instruments.
Michelle was born and raised in Madison and has spent most of her life in the area. She was initially employed by Full Compass from 1996 to 2000 and then returned in 2013, after an extended stint at Shure. But she officially began her music-based career when she was 16 years old, working at a music store. By that time, Michelle was already well acquainted with music.
“Since I was three years old, from the time I began to talk, I have loved music,” she said. “As far back as I can remember, I wanted to be a singer. I took guitar and piano lessons, played the flute in school and performed in the orchestra, band and choir. In high school, I started thinking about what I wanted to do with my life. I knew I wanted to pursue music, but my dad was a businessman and wanted to make sure I could also support myself. I went to the University of Wisconsin-Madison to get a music degree, but also focused on receiving a well-rounded education outside of music by taking some pre-law, women’s studies, physics and foreign language classes, which was really important.”
“Before I started at Full Compass, I was actually making a living playing music,” said Michelle. “But over time, as a performer, I had to take a look at what that career path was looking like and decide when I would also want a house and a 401K. To me, it was sooner rather than later. So, at that point, you try to find a job that meets those needs. My interest in Full Compass was that it related to what I loved most: making music. Working at Full Compass gave me the flexibility to continue performing, but also stability and support. Before having children, I was still gigging four or five nights a week while doing my day job.”
At Full Compass, Michelle heads up the sales management team that handles the company’s various sales channels. She works closely with the e-commerce, marketing and merchandising teams, strategizing how to not only best support Full Compass customers, but also the sales team. “There is a lot that goes into keeping our sales associates informed and trained on the latest technology and products in the marketplace, so they can advise and guide their customers to the best solutions to fit their needs,” she said.
“It’s all about building that relationship and trust with customers, who depend on us when they have projects and deadlines. I also interact daily with our vendors and reps to coordinate those efforts,” said Michelle. “My work is so varied, and that’s what makes it both challenging and exciting. I am involved with many initiatives across the company, allowing me to work with different people and teams all the time, which keeps it interesting.”
With a lifetime in the music industry, I was interested to find out if Michelle thought being a woman had affected her career path in any way. “The first company I worked for, a small, family-owned piano store, was run by the founder’s son. At that time, I probably felt I was not treated quite the same as some of my male counterparts. But then I moved on to work at Full Compass and Shure, both women-owned companies that make a point of promoting a positive work environment regardless of gender,” she said.
“As an industry, my experience is that it has been very open to women,” said Michelle. “Certainly, historically, the professional AV industry has been male dominated, so what you have to prove is a little different than in a more conventional corporate environment. There’s so much gear involved with the work, and traditionally, women weren’t running the gear. Over time, though, it has been great to see how women have emerged. Whether they’re recording engineers, providing technical support or helping troubleshoot sound issues at an NFL stadium, the number of women I interact with in this industry has definitely increased. During my tenure, I have seen more and more women come into rep firms, in head engineering and design work positions, as well as become integrators and contractors, which I think is fantastic.”
“What I really love about this industry are the relationships I’ve made,” said Michelle. “This industry is quite small in the grand scheme of industries. People may leave a company, but inevitably show up somewhere else. It’s really like a giant family of talented people, working for very cool and innovative companies. Couple that with getting to personally meet and work with the users of the products that we design and sell—whether they are the head of a local school or house of worship, internationally famous musicians, sound designers at movie studios, the RF technician for the Super Bowl, GRAMMY®-winning recording engineers or the front of house engineer at a Las Vegas show—working in this industry is a pretty amazing gig. Where else do you get to work with such a variety of professions?”
“HARMAN, for example, is fantastic and has always been a very important partner for Full Compass,” she said. “Not only is the breadth of the product line HARMAN offers a really great fit for our customer base, there is also the quality of products they provide. Salespeople want their customers to be happy with their purchases and want to be able to recommend products they feel comfortable not only selling, but maybe even using themselves. That has been a real advantage with HARMAN. Then, on top of it, you add in enthusiastic people, who are excited to work with Full Compass in order for both companies to grow in new and exciting ways every day!”
Michelle’s husband also works in the audio industry, and they have two children who enjoy music nearly as much as their parents!
Many thanks to Michelle for the insights into her career in professional audio. Are you a woman who works in sound, music or media? Share your story in the comments.