My why, the personal motivation

TinoDJing.png

Building a product like Natus One and bringing it to market through crowdfunding seems like such a departure from everything I have done over the last many years, so why would I do this now?

 

For more than 15 years I have been in product development. I have built up a world class product development team in SteelSeries, and launched products that has pushed and in some cases defined what computer gaming accessories can do.


It is an incredibly rewarding job and I feel genuinely blessed to be able to do what I do every day. So why would I now spend all this time on something that falls so much outside of everything I have worked on in gaming?
 

Two reasons really;

  1. I am a DJ and musician at heart
  2. I never want to stop learning

Well... While I may have spent 15 years creating computer gaming products, I have spent around 30 years creating music. It has always been purely a hobby thing for me - a place where I can forget about the every day hustle and just focus on music. I have never dreamt about any type of professional career in music, and honestly I don’t think that I have the skills to do so either. 

I wasn’t actually raised in a very musical home - neither of my parents played any instruments (my dad had dabbled with a trumpet at some point, but that was long before I was around) and I grew up with my only music performance being a few months of lessons on the recorder (for some reason it felt almost like all Danish kids born in the early 70’s had to do that).

I did always enjoy music, and in the mid 80’s I got very attracted to the electronic music universe of Jean Michel Jarre and started hearing the first electro beats as part of the breakdance wave that swept through the world.

In the late 80’s I was full on into hip-hop, and of course being the suburb kids we were, we had to form our own bands. I messed around with the music side, bought an old turntable and a secondhand mixer. We did samples on a Commodore Amiga, and recorded onto an old reel to reel (with overdub features.. yeah.. advanced stuff) that we had borrowed from our local school. My idols were the really technically skilled DJs like Jazzy Jeff and Cash Money and even Denmark had a few pretty decent DJs too like SoulShock and Cutfather.

 Approx. 1989

Approx. 1989

Fast forward a few years and I was now producing and DJing in a pretty popular underground hip-hop/ragga band and ended up playing starter shows for amongst others A Tribe Called Quest in Copenhagen (they were of course more or less our biggest idols at that point in time).

 No Name Requested - 1990

No Name Requested - 1990

I got more and more interested in the music behind all the samples we used to produce music - my record collection got filled up with 60’s and 70’s funk and soul and I got my first keyboards; first a very plasticky Yamaha PSR-500 but quickly I got my first analog synth - my trusty old Juno 106. By the mid 90’s hip-hop was more or less over for me. I was all about electronic music then - the more melancholic and seemingly out of tune, the better (kinda still holds true today...).

Artists like Aphex Twin and later Autechre, Bola and Boards of Canada became favorites and the music I did reflected that. Over the years I’ve used drum machines like 808’s, external samplers like EPS 16+, and many analog synths like Pro-One etc. etc. - and like many electronic musicians I am obsessed with new gear in the market. The last big revelation for me has been the Push 2 which I thoroughly enjoy playing around with. My DJ gear has never left me - still have the same two 1200’s I bought back in ‘89 but also use controllers like the Numark NS7 for portability. 

So music became a big part of my life, and besides tech it’s the one thing I have kept doing since my teens. When we started developing audio equipment for gaming in SteelSeries, there is no doubt that my music background helped a lot. It was easy for me to recognize what could be done audio wise to enhance the game performance. I spent a lot of time with gamers trying to pin point the actual pain points audio wise for gamers, but when it came to solving them I felt very confident.

The introduction of audio products transformed SteelSeries and expanded our market and revenue by a significant magnitude, and this product category has been one of the most important focal points for my team ever since. When we started developing wireless headsets I of course quickly began testing them for DJ use and found that while some features on gaming headsets are not necessarily DJ or musician friendly, the wireless performance was actually very impressive. Over the years, that technology has matured and what is now in place for Natus One is the result of years of tweaking and perfecting performance. So when i presented the concept that became Natus One internally, I knew that the technology side was fully baked. 

 SteelSeries Arctis Pro Wireless - Latest generation of wireless headsets that my team and I have brought to market 

SteelSeries Arctis Pro Wireless - Latest generation of wireless headsets that my team and I have brought to market 

It was also my idea to set up Natus Labs as a spin off or skunk works type of department to work on exactly projects like Natus One - great ideas that doesn’t fall within the typical business areas of SteelSeries.

To me, the product is such a no-brainer - just cut the cord, and don’t force any particular headphone on to the user. The current solutions are either not good enough or too clumsy, expensive and difficult to use. I know how liberating it is as a DJ or working in my little home studio to be wireless - being able to move around, even go hang out in the living room or fix myself a cup of coffee while still being in the zone is simply magical. 

There are definitely challenges involved in running a project like this; it’s a shoestring budget, only very few resources are available and the go to market strategy using crowdsourcing is brand new to me.

I know that I will learn a lot from going through with this process, and that is honestly also a big driving force for me.

The approach we have chosen to take is very much a do-it-yourself type - this has been true throughout my career which means that I now have insight into everything from industrial design, over mechanical engineering to electronics engineering, firm- and software development and even graphical design.

I love pushing the limits of what can be done in a setup that operates within some very narrow limits, and I am always amazed of how much in the world is possible just by sheer dedication and focus. 

As you can tell, I am very excited to do this - being able to work with DJs and musicians is very different from working with computer gamers, and is of course very satisfying for someone like me.

I do really love the challenge, and can’t wait to share the experience and ultimately the product with the rest of the world - thanks for being part of that! 

 

A brief trip memory lane playlist

Tino Soelberg