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In line with their far-reaching marketing skills, Beats by Dre knows how to throw a press event. In an event at the company’s glossy pop-up-turned-permanent store in Manhattan’s SoHo district, principals Jimmy Iovine, Dr. Dre and president Luke Wood, along with VP of Marketing Omar Johnson and chief designer Robert Brunner rolled out three new products, but also expounded at length about the company, its history, its perfectionism and philosophy.
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The main takeaways, beyond the release of the BeatsPill, the Executive headphones and upgraded in-ear headphones called urBeats ( head here for more info on those):
1) Trent Reznor has signed on with the company in a consulting role, upping its already high perfectionism; in a Facebook post he said: ” Some of you may have read that I have begun working with Beats By Dre. For the past year I have indeed been involved with Dre, Jimmy Iovine, Luke Wood, and the rest of the team on a number of very interesting projects that will start to emerge next year. I have been wanting to experiment and focus my energy and creativity in some different directions, and Beats has afforded me that very opportunity. The process has been challenging and fascinating and as much as I’d like to tell you about the things we’ve dreamed up… I just can’t. Not yet… (I can tell you it’s probably not what you’re expecting!)“
2) The company has “very big plans,” Wood said, for Mog, the streaming service it purchased earlier this year, hinting that it relates to how people consume and discover music. Wood said the process is still in “deep iteration” phase, but Iovine picked up the thread, saying that most streaming services require consumers to program their music experience themselves — and he said consumers can’t be expected to do that, which would seem to suggest a greater emphasis on music discovery and recommendations, possibly including a radio function.
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3) These guys could talk all day about sound.
The presentation began with videos of many, many famous facing sporting Beats headphones — Lil Wayne, Lebron James and dozens of others, including, interestingly, many Olympic athletes (Beats pulled off a marketing photobomb coup by providing the athletes with headphones, a no-no since the company wasn’t an official Olympic sponsor)
With Sony Music chief Doug Morris, Iovine’s former mentor at both Universal and Warner Music, looking on (there to provide “support,” we were told), Beats marketing VP Omar Johnson, chief designer Robert Brunner and president Luke Wood then spoke of the moves the company has made over the past year since its last major conference: It has parted ways with Monster, its founders bought back 25% of the company and now control 75%, they’ve streamlined their manufacturing processes (and projected photos of people in China assembling the headphones), their staff has grown from 25 to around 150, and the products being unveiled today are “the first we’ve 100 percent brought to market.”
Pivoting off of his comment that Beats have inspired people to use headphones as “part of their personality and personal expression of a team, a neighborhood or an outfit,” they then launched into the company’s “Express Yourself” promotion which, among other things, features a photo booth in Times Square where people can have their photo taken and appear on a giant electronic billboard, and whereby 10 contest winners will be flown in to appear in a TV ad with Lil Wayne, Lebron James and others.
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Then, Dr. Dre, who barely said a word at last year’s press conference, spoke for several minutes, mostly about his history as a producer and the development of the company and his relationship with Iovine.
After he’d recorded The Chronic, he recalled, “I played it for almost every record company that existed at the time. A lot of them were saying, ‘It sounds just plain, it doesn’t sound like hip-hop. Go back and try more things.’ They actually had me second-guessing my work.
“Then around a week or two after, I got a call from Jimmy Iovine. He said to me, ‘I don’t know a thing about hip-hop, but I know this sounds good,’ so that’s all I needed to hear.
“Something happened between then and now,” he continued. “A lot of people either don’t care or just don’t know about quality sound. That’s why we’re here right now. We’re trying to do our part to try to change that. I’ve been tuning speakers for my house, my studio, my car for over 25 years now. To be given the chance and the opportunity to make audio equipment… it couldn’t be more perfect for me. So I hope you all enjoy listening to it as much as we enjoyed creating it.”
Iovine then took the stage, and said a lot of things we’ve heard him say in the past, but one segment in particular stood out.
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Speaking about how digital destroyed sound quality: “Dr. Dre said, ‘It’s one thing to steal the music, it’s another thing to destroy it.’ These tech companies — consciously or unconsciously — were ignoring sound. The entire ecosystem of this young generation was a bad-sounding computer and a bad-sounding earbud — a $400 ipod and a 30-cent earbud! We had to make a very big cultural change. We had to get young people into the sound.
“How are we going to [do that]? I said, ‘I know what we’ll do. We’ll treat the headphones like it’s U2 or Eminem. We’ll market it like it’s a rock group. We’ll give it life. We’ll make it have feel. We’ll give it a personality.
“So what am I proud of right now? I’m proud that Beats was able to turn an entire generation onto sound. I don’t care what they buy, but dammit, they cannot go back now. So whether you like our headphones, whether you don’t like our headphones, we are the beginning of fixing sound for an entire generation that was lost to it.”
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