If it seems like Dr. Dre has spent more time promoting his signature Beats By Dre headphones than finishing up his long-awaited Detox, he has a good reason for it: according to the legendary West Coast producer and his label boss, Interscope, Geffen and A&M chairman Jimmy Iovine, they’re hard at work on a noble crusade — saving the music industry from digital sound.
“There’s two things happening at once, it’s very important that we fix digital sound,” Iovine tells Rolling Stone of the state of the record biz. “Digital sound is damaging music, it’s damaging the artists. It’s so degrading. We’re the first industry to ever downgrade the quality of our product. It’s crazy. You go from a master [recording] to a CD quality, which is somewhat downgrading in the first place. Then you go to a computer where these gigantic companies spend 50 cents on the sound [for each unit]. Then you rip it onto an MP3. It’s like taking the Beatles remasters and playing them through a portable television.”
Sitting in a small make-shift greenroom inside a New York City retail space last week, Dre and Iovine chatted about the launch of Club Beats, an in-store technology hub created in partnership between Beats By Dre, Monster and Best Buy. Ever since the early 2000s, physical album sales have been on the decline. And digital sales haven’t exactly made the pie whole again for labels when it comes to the revenue that was once generated from selling CDs. So in the “360” era, where music moguls are looking to partner with artists on a variety of things, from publishing to touring to merchandise, you can see why Iovine is eager to push Dr. Dre-endorsed headphones and laptops.
If technology companies aren’t going to invest much into developing better speakers for the computers they sell, who better to get into that market then music-industry execs? Iovine cites Robert Stigwood’s RSO Records as an example of a record label that operated more like a “music company,” where investments and operations ranged beyond releasing music and included everything from management deals to backing Broadway plays.
“It’s called a record company, but what it really is [though] is a music company,” Iovine explains. “And it should do whatever the people at that music company feels is the direction that they should go in. Where they feel emotion, where they feel passion. A music company should do whatever the person feels, that’s why the more entrepreneurial people that get into music and start pushing the boundaries of it, is what a music company should feel like.
“The health [of the overall industry] will automatically come,” he adds, as a result.
So far Beats By Dre seems like a stunning success story. (Although company sales numbers are not available.) In addition to the signature headphones (cross marketed in a number of music videos by Interscope artists), a laptop partnership with HP has been birthed and the Beats By Dre banner also has released a line of earbuds endorsed by Lady Gaga.
Next up, Black Eyed Peas’ Will.i.am will develop a DJ-based item through Beats By Dre, according to Iovine. Diddy and David Guetta are expected to get on board, too, with projects that will undoubtedly be showcased prominently at Club Beats.
To understand how important these ventures are now in an era where Jay-Z, Madonna, and Shakira are signing multimillion-dollar deals with a touring company and forgoing the record company route, just listen to the joke Iovine cracked during the preceding press conference, to little laughter.
“For those who are fans of Dr. Dre, these headphones weren’t coming out until they sounded perfect,” he tells the crowd. “Or else we would have had Detox five years ago.”
Dre, a notorious perfectionist, at this point in his career now has something new to be transfixed on in the studio besides mixing records. “I just want people to hear the music the way it’s suppose to sound, the way we meant for them to hear it, ” he said of the audio equipment. “You sit in the studio all this time and make the music, tweak it, try to get it perfect. They should be able to hear it that way.”
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