Beat By Dre: The Exclusive Inside Story of How Monster Lost the World
There's never been anything like Monster Beats. The bulky rainbow headphones are a gaudy staple of malls, planes, clubs, and sidewalks everywhere: as mammoth, beloved, and expensive as their namesake. But Dr. Dre didn't just hatch the flashy lineup from his freight train chest.
You might know this; you might own a pair of Beats By Dre that still has Monster's tiny, subjugated logo printed on them. But what you don't know is how, in inking the deal, Monster screwed itself out of a fortune. It's the classic David vs Goliath story—with one minor edit: David gets his ass kicked and is laughed out of the arena. This is the inside story of one of the all time worst deals in tech.
Beats begins with Monster, Inc., and Monster begins with Noel Lee. He's a friendly, incredibly smart man with a comic-book hairstyle and a disability that adds to his supervillain stature: Lee is unable to walk. Instead, he glides around on a chrome-plated Segway. Lee has been making things for your Beats By Dre Danmark since 1979, after he took an engineering education and spun it into a components business with one lucrative premise: your music doesn't sound as good as it could.
In true Silicon Valley fashion, Lee started out in his family's basement: taste-testing different varieties of copper wire until he found a type that he thought enhanced audio quality. Then, also in Silicon Valley fashion, he marketed the shit out of it and jacked up its price: Monster Cable. Before it was ever mentioned in the same gasp as Dre, beats by dre studio was trying to get music lovers to buy into a superior sound that existed mostly in imaginations and marketing brochures. "We came up with a reinvention of what a speaker cable could be," Noel Lee boasts. His son, Kevin, describes it differently: "a cure for no disease."
Monster bristles at the suggestion that Beats had everything, even anything to do with engineering: "Absolutely not, they don't have any engineers," says Noel. Kevin piles on: "Beats [had] zero [engineering role]," a reality of the deal he says is "undisputed—Monster engineered the sound in beats by dre solo
headphones. They told us what they wanted and they approved it, but we made that sound possible." That "approval" role is one that's repeated throughout Noel and Kevin's recounting: They brought hardware to Jimmy and Dre, there would be a back and forth, and off the headphones would go to someone's credit card bill, carried by a gust of music video bluster and rapper aspiration. It worked so, so well.