Tuesday, 04 September 2012 16:12
When a hugely famous music artist like Curtis “50 Cent” sets foot at IFA, the buzz is exceptional… But what’s sure is that there’s no buzz whatsoever in his SMS brand headphones! In this exclusive interview, we began by asking how the idea came to him.
The concept reflects my passion for music. Along with Dr Dre we would be in the studio for long periods of time at the M&M recording studios in Detroit, mixing music, to make sure they sound right. After the process of actually writing the song or producing it, the mastering phases are longer than the others. It is the longest portion of the creative process, and as an artist, we need to hear it the right way. So we go and play music out of different sources… we’ll use a small Mercedes Benz to play music, we’ll use different stock systems in vehicles so we can hear what it will sound like coming out of their systems. And we do that to hear what the public would be hearing when they actually listen to it. Sometimes we would turn off all the big speakers and listen to just the small Yamahas to make sure it sounded right. But from there, having the ability today to have the general public hear the music the way we intended it, it’s amazing.
How much is this passion, and how much is it business?
I have no ability to function within “traditional” business without passion. My passion for music is what drew everything together, including the finances, to enable this to take place. This is why I use the word passion instead of saying it was a good business idea. Of course, the category has grown 20% this year and there is a market for it, but my personal interest in music and having people hear it the right way is what it’s about… or I would be in a lower tier, with not such high quality.
You say you have been really involved in the development of these headphones. How involved were you really, and what does “being involved” mean?
I met with and worked with Kleer, because the Kleer Technologies used in the headsets are also used inside the Mercedes Benz Maybach, and we had conversations about trying to create an “over ear” headset. Kleer has been used in smaller in-ear “gadget” type headphones. So technology geeks would be aware that Kleer is around, but a lot of people didn’t know about it. So I had the design process done, and I acquired KonoAudio so I could leverage KonoAudio’s established channels to expand its brand worldwide. Brian Nohe, the founder of KonoAudio, is amazing, and he’s a big part of its success. I interviewed a lot of people before finding Brian.
So you were setting yourself up as a businessman…
And was that weird for you?
Well, I’ve been doing it in process. My entire music career, I have been more involved than usual from an artist’s perspective, because a lot of times I have watched my peers pass responsibilities on to someone who would be the “knowledgeable component” away from the artist: the manager, or someone else who has been the part of that business. They had extreme knowledge in music, but not in the other categories. But for me, I was learning as they were learning and it didn’t make sense for me not to absorb the information so I could have my viewpoint on each one of the decisions that were made. So I kept myself involved in all of those projects, and because of that I am able to make decisions on my own.
How would you describe your working relationship with Brian Nohe?
Brian was for a long period of time an executive at Gillette, and when a company has a brand that is already established, you can be “top heavy” with the launch spending millions of dollars on the campaign before the product hits retail and it builds anticipation by the retailers themselves and they accept the product immediately as long as it’s a quality product. But when you are starting something that is new, I am more comfortable with how many doors I am in before we start spending major money in the actual marketing campaigns, and it’s not really difficult to get into the doors when I am connected to it.
There is an evolution towards better sound in general … what are your thoughts about that?
What I am seeing is that there is starting to be a smaller separation between the audiophiles and the general public. People want to hear the highest quality possible, and when I say the category is growing, it’s the high-end that is growing. People equate quality with expense, and they are willing to pay for a good experience. But they don’t plan to buy them over and over, and this is why durability was such an important factor for me.
How involved were you in the “look” of the headphones?
Totally and absolutely. You’ve got to have style! You’ve got to have flair. You’ve got to have the top of the line. It’s a statement. A lot of the colour is linked to people’s personal preference as to what they would wear consistently. I don’t know if they do it like I would, but my outer coat creates the decision for me as to which way I am going with the colour of the headset.
Blue is traditionally a colour linked to calmness and quiet… it’s kind of the opposite of what you are a lot of times with your music. Why blue? Isn’t that weird?
That’s not weird. My favourite colour is blue! My car is blue.
You’re here at IFA to promote the brand. What are your real goals here?
I think I’m going to do huge business. And I think the ability to make the right relationships while we are here is going to be really important, and to come out and actually physically be here makes it easy to make proper appointments.
Have you been to Berlin before?
I’ve been here performing, on tour, so I didn’t actually get a chance to experience Berlin for real with time to go out and do anything.
What do you think about IFA?
IFA is like walking around the future. The technology is amazing – the things people come up with… the possibilities are limitless.
No doubt, everyone is asking you the same questions. But if there was one question that no one has asked you, and that you would be dying to be asked about this product, what would it be?
What the actual growth or pace of the company is. It’s right on chart… and no one has asked that! The appointed original plan that Brian set… everything has been achieved. And it’s rare in a new business that someone can actually execute that. So it’s an amazing process.
What was the hardest thing about getting this together? What was the biggest challenge to actually making it work?
The biggest challenge was everything that happened prior to “this” relationship (points to Brian Nohe), to be honest with you, because there was a lot of confusion until then. The ideas were there, the finances to make it happen were there, but the right people weren’t there.
What are you most proud of?
That it’s actually growing. You know how often I see people now using my headphones, that’s exciting to me. The process of making music… I had so much fun doing it that it was like an addiction. I would just sit there and write new music and write and write. I hadn’t had anything that had been successful and then when Get Rich Without Trying came out in 2003, it was the largest debuting hip-hop album, and it went on to sell 13-million copies worldwide and 8-million in the US. So when this happens, going to physically be in front of fans becomes the new thing that is more exciting than the process of making the music itself. And this is amazing, because it feels like I’m getting a chance to feel those feelings again. Because the concept and idea coming together is one thing, but when you see it actually happening… it’s out!