President & CEO, Asterope
By Dan Ferrisi
When you talk about professionals who work in the music products industry, it’s basically a given that a very large proportion of them will have a broader, personal connection to music, either as a player or DJ or producer or songwriter or any combination thereof. Dariush Rad, President and CEO, Asterope, has walked a path over the course of his career that’s truly fascinating. In this interview, we learn all the facets of music with which Rad has been involved, while also taking a deep dive into Asterope: what it offers, how it’s different, where it’s going and why it should be on your radar screen. Let’s jump right in.
The Music & Sound Retailer: Share with me some of the highlights of your own story as it pertains to the music products industry, as well as music generally. Recount the path that you’ve traveled personally.
Dariush Rad: I was raised in West Texas and was introduced to music at probably six or seven. I took guitar lessons, joined the school band, playing trumpet. I played music in band and choir through high school. I ended up going to school at the University of North Texas, which has a really renowned jazz program. I ended up getting my degree in sociology, but was very involved in music, both on campus and off campus. By the time I graduated, I had recorded a couple of pop albums. In the late ’80s, I recorded my first solo album, which was picked up by a Virgin affiliate in Europe and was played on what at the time was an early adult album alternative format.
So, I was writing songs and producing music. In the early ’90s, I moved to Nashville and my first solo album was on medium rotation on the triple-A station there. So, it’s me, my dog, a microphone and a box of CDs. In very short order, I found myself writing, recording and producing albums with players who are currently bandleader for Eric Clapton or off touring with Phil Collins…guys whom we all grew up listening to their records.
So, really, my producer career took off out in front of my artist thing, which I really enjoyed because I was more about writing and making records and things sounding good and completing projects. And somebody said, “Oh, you’re a producer? Well, we have a half-million-dollar budget and we’re going to shoot a music video.” He grabbed me by the ear and, within about a six-month time frame, I found myself with one foot in audio production and another foot in video and film production. It was interesting, because this was the time that CMT was taking off; there were big budgets for promoting country music through videos. So, that was kind of exciting to me. It was new. And that led me into interactive multimedia. I started one of the first Web design companies in Nashville back in the mid-’90s. And, with a background in audio, video, film and, now, graphic design, all of a sudden, I found myself as a multimedia producer. And it was cool. It was creative and exciting. There was music involved, and there was now video and film involved. And there were commercial applications, which I found interesting. In 2000, I moved from Nashville to Austin and I had a pretty extensive portfolio of a lot of different types of content. And I opened a marketing and design firm and I did that for several years, and then along came the technology that ultimately became Asterope. I thought, with my music background and my design and marketing background, this was really a good fit. I was blown away by the technology, and knew it was unique and very special. It deserved a chance to see the light of day and to see the market. And, so, I steered all my energy and all my relationships and my skill set into commercializing this technology. I started Asterope, and the rest is…probably the next question. [Laughs.]
The Retailer: Share a bit more detail about how Asterope was founded and why the technology represented so persuasive a proposition to you.
Rad: I was contacted by a family member who had heard the patriarch of the technology speaking about it, and knew it was really unique. So, she called me and said, “Dariush, you need to get in touch with this guy.” So, I did. And everything he was working on was really fresh and progressive and completely out of the box, and was providing sonic characteristics that I’d never experienced in my life. And, so, that, for me, was the persuading factor. We worked together on some other product prototypes, but, in the end, this, to me, was the stuff that was going to be most practical and most applicable. So, I launched Asterope and we moved into what was our first production generation, and carried that to market.
We had a very intentional philosophy in how we wanted to try to take this to market. I knew that it was a disruptive technology and that marketing a disruptive technology was different from carrying traditional technologies into market. And I really think that this product marks what is considered revolutionary technology. You know, most of the time in science, things progress in what’s called evolutionary stages, where things just kind of build on each other. Every now and then, there’ll be sort of a quantum jump in a field, and that’s what I saw here. This is unique. I had enough heavyweight players I could take it to, who I knew had the best ears in the industry—whether they were players, producers or engineers—and it didn’t take long of putting it out in front of people and watching their jaws drop for me to realize this is cool. This is really different.
So, we decided, OK, we’re going to take this to market. The first thing we needed to do was get early adopters on board. And we needed to get the third-party validation that something new and fresh is going to require. And we had access to those people. We had the production skills to know how to document their responses in the form of these wonderful interviews that really were more about the artist than the product. The campaign initially was driven by these wonderful four- or five-minute interviews, with some of the top unsung heroes in the music industry telling their stories and then commenting on the product. And then we turned and used all that Web experience to try to promote those videos, so they weren’t just sitting on a handful of CDs on someone’s desk but, rather, were available to the world.
Even as we’ve built the company, knowing that was going to be the approach, I knew that having a strong communications arm at the outset was going to be critical. The technology was there. Having a manufacturing system in place was there. But getting the stuff promoted and communicated out to the market in a very intelligent and intentional way was going to be critical. And a huge part of our culture here at Asterope certainly transcends sort of the cold, scientific aspect of what we’re doing. We don’t discuss our technology and we don’t lead with our technology, because it’s really about the human aspect of music and the human aspect of sound and the human aspect of connecting with your music both as a player and as a listener. And that is what this product provides. These sonic characteristics are unique to our product. That’s something we’re very proud of and feel blessed to be part of sharing with the world.
The Retailer: Give us a sense of what you do, day-to-day, within Asterope to further the company’s success. What are your key duties and contributions? What is the best part of your job?
Rad: As the Owner and President of the company, I, as you can imagine, work on everything from managing production to setting up sales and distribution channels to marketing and the design work. That’s something I gravitate toward more, since I’m not an engineer. I spend my time growing the team, growing the brand and bettering the product. We’re constantly in product-development mode, and I found that’s something that needs to be a part of the process daily. We want to keep making our products better and better.
The company has gone through a couple of pretty poignant developmental stages, and I really feel like we’re sort of on the cusp of one of those right now, having successfully rolled out our second-generation product line and having caught the attention of people literally around the world. I guess, at this point, primarily, for me, it’s just going to be business development. The product’s propped up…the brand’s propped up…I need to develop business now, and make sure we have the infrastructure to fill the orders that, hopefully, we’re going to be adding more and more of.
The Retailer: When you look at Asterope as it currently exists, what would you say you’re the proudest of? Is there something that you would say makes your company stand apart from others in the industry?
Rad: I think what I’m most proud of is just who we are. Who we are as a team. Who we are as individuals. And, certainly, the technology itself is something I’m extremely proud of. I’m proud of the team; I’m proud of our heart. I’m proud of the culture that we hope to bring to the industry. We want to keep things as music-centric and human-centric—truly human—as possible. I mean, music is about our humanity, after all. I feel like I have a team of people who are sensitive to that at that level. We want our culture to reflect that. It’s never going to be about dollars and cents or the hard, cold metals that make up the products that we’re selling. But, again, the impact they’re having on people and, truly, the emotional, spiritual and human aspects of music.
And, honestly, that’s something I would comment on. I remember, in moving into this, telling somebody one time, “Geez…10 or 15 years ago, all I wanted was to be the next Peter Gabriel or Sting or John Lennon,” and I felt like I let part of that go to go into this venture, which is still so stimulating and I feel so blessed to be a part of it. But they told me, “Dariush, look, you’re changing the way that people listen to themselves and listen to their music. You’re raising the standard for the whole industry, sonically. How dynamic is that, versus, you know, expressing yourself in song?” The beautiful thing is, we’re surrounded by these brilliant artists. I’m going to keep making records. Everybody on my team is involved in music in some capacity outside of this organization. And that, to me, is cool.
I’m proud that we’re an Austin TX-based company. There are so many neat things going on here in Austin, as well. So many fresh, forward-thinking things that are happening. So, I think, hopefully, the city and the environment are going to help support this sort of caring, compassionate, music-centric culture that we hope to make evident in the products, the brand and any of the other initiatives to which we attach ourselves.
The Retailer: You anticipated my next question, which was whether your team is a very musically inclined one.
Rad: Absolutely. All of our guys are involved, and all of our guys use our products wherever they are. It’s exciting, because we’re proud of it, you know? It’s exciting when you sit in your quiet space where you are all the time—and you probably go through the same experience—and you send messages out into the world. And when you get evidence that people are hearing you, and that comes back to you in a favorable way, there’s nothing that feels better. It’s like, gosh, we know our efforts aren’t in vain. People have heard of us, and their eyes light up if they see us with a T-shirt on or they see us pull a cable out of a guitar case. They go, “Whoa! That’s an Asterope!” So, that’s cool. I’ve had people come up who, I guess, are just players who have seen the ads, or have met someone who’s playing through it…they come back and get kind of starry-eyed: “Wow, y’all are Asterope!” That feels good.
I never anticipated that reaction. So, it’s kind of like being an artist and having somebody come up and say, “Hey, I heard you on the radio last night!” These guys are finding us online or seeing us in print or hearing our cable.
The Internet and the technology that’s available to us now is just such an amazing part of the process. I think we’re doing a really good job of using technology…using social media…using a lot of very cool digital content to communicate not only the quality of the products, but also the intention behind the products and the culture we hope to associate with them.
The Retailer: Espouse your philosophy with respect to the dealer channel. Is working with the dealer channel a fundamental part of Asterope’s approach to business?
Rad: This has been relatively new for us, in that, when we launched the company, I knew that the Web component would be a really huge part of it. And, knowing that we would be selling through initially to the early adopters, I knew that we could get access to them, and communicate effectively with them, online. I think, at the outset, I was a bit naïve as to how rapidly we would have to move from that direct-sales model into a more traditional dealer/distributor model. We had introduced ourselves at Summer NAMM. We’d gone through one full cycle of it. But, when I went to Messe for the first time, I was there for about 48 hours and thought, “We’re not going to be able to enter the market with a direct-sales model alone.” We came back about a year ago, and that’s when we just started retooling everything. What we wanted to do was come out and be as progressive and creative as we could be in finding dealer/distributor programs that were going to be better for the customer, better for the dealers and distributors, and better for us. And finding innovative ways to incent buyers at any level is certainly one way to do that.
And, even as we speak now, we have a lot of people showing interest and a lot of different opportunities coming to us that we’re sifting through, trying to figure out how to manage the next two or three years of growth for ourselves, and afford ourselves the mobility to move into other primary verticals that we plan on participating in. You know, we launched in MI, and are just now easing into pro audio. Fortunately, those two verticals sit close enough to one another that I think this program is going to be supportive. And then, we look to the future and anticipate in what other areas people are going to be excited about our stuff. Home audio and consumer electronics are somewhere on the horizon for us. And, so, we want to be as aggressive and intentional as we can be in our approach. But, at the same time, being as young as we are, I hope that we’ll maintain humility and the capacity to learn from these guys. Every time I talk to a dealer or distributor, there’s some wonderful, critical new perspective that’s shared with us to help us better understand what their expectations and aspirations are in the transaction. So, we’re constantly trying to evolve and meet that, so we can be the best partner for those guys that we can be.
The Retailer: Is there anything, from your perspective, that the dealer channel could do that would be helpful to you, as a manufacturer?
Rad: They can continue to provide us with visibility to the real world: what they hear when people walk into the store, how we can offer better products, and what we can be doing to meet our customers’ needs. When I look at the role of the rep, you know, in this traditional dealer model, I guess they have to be out there. Dealers have so many products that have to be represented on the floor. But that would be it, really, I think. For us, you know, we do some neat things. Like, if we pick up a new dealer, we’ll start running YouTube ads in that market to try to drive foot traffic into their store. We know exactly who their audience is before we enter a market. How many people with what likes and dislikes are in that market. If this were just a one-off conversation, my thoughts would be this: One, give yourselves the opportunity to develop a relationship with all the products you want to sell. However that has to happen. Because if their reps are artists and players—I’m guessing that’s why they work in that environment—if they hear this product, they’re going to get it. They’re going to know it. And so many dealers that are carrying our product and that embrace it in that way, they tell me: “Dariush, we don’t sell a custom guitar that we don’t show off through an Asterope. It makes all of our products sound better.” And I think, for Asterope—I can’t speak in general for other OEMs—give your guys the opportunity to hear this product. Because, if they have that opportunity, there’s going to be a level of personal enthusiasm that will translate into more activity for them and for us, and a better sound for their customers.
It’s been really exciting for me to find out how we can support with PoP materials…how we approach that. We have this really cool affiliate program that I would like to see grow more, which prevents the dealer from having to make a huge cash outlay at the onset. We provide a sample kit they keep at the store, and then they just sell through, or we drop ship for them. I’d like to find a way to get all of our video interviews in the form of a small kiosk DVD player. Something that’s kind of a cool little thing where people can come in and hear interviews with different players and experience the product a little bit right there on the floor.
The Retailer: What does the future hold for Asterope? Whether one year, two years or five years from now, what do you expect we’ll see?
Rad: I think you’ll see dynamic growth, a dynamic expansion of our product line, better products that are going to be better built. Assuredly, we will continue to build our products stateside. That’s something that we are very proud of, and are committed to maintaining. And you’ll see us moving into some other verticals and, hopefully, the application of this technology into some other unexpected areas. But, right now, we’re excited and proud to be enhancing the MI industry and the pro audio industry.
The Retailer: Is there anything else that might be important to add?
Rad: I’d like to add that we recently launched our expanded, second-generation product line. It is a stronger build and better-sounding product. We offer our customers the ability to design their cable however they want it. And we build it to those specifications. We design for environment, for sound and for application. It’s critical that we help the entire industry realize that cables do matter. The connectors that you’re using matter. The materials you’re using matter.
Beyond that, we want people to know that what we’re offering isn’t a disposable accessory. It’s a disruptive technology that is changing the way people perform and hear their music. As we like to say, “It’s not a cable; it’s an Asterope.”