Chris Moon is the owner of HigherFi, the US based company whose claim is to be “the world’s largest online dealer of luxury audio”, but, amongst other things, he’s also a songwriter and producer with 12 Million sales to his name. Chris is credited with the discovery of the artist Prince, writing of the first hit song (Soft & Wet), naming the artist, teaching him to record and produce in the studio and writing 3 of the 4 songs on the demo tape that got him signed with Warner Bros. Records. He’s lived with a tribe of “head-hunters” In New Guinea and a whole lot more.
How did you get into/what was your first job in the industry?
I was a the recording engineer, producer and writer who discovered Prince when he was 16 years old, taught him to engineer, produce and write his own songs and wrote his first hit song for him, Soft & Wet.
When I wanted to learn about music I got on a plane at age 17, flew to Hong Kong and purchased myself a multi-channel reel to reel and a camera as I also wanted to be a fashion photographer. I came back and built my first recording studio in the basement of the house I lived in in Minneapolis and did fashion photography on location – this way I was able to pursue my two passions. I guess I was a better engineer/producer than photographer as that was the one I made all my money with. Great sound was always linked to great music for me – what’s the point of one if you don’t have the other?
Proudest moment/product you’re most proud of?
One of my four goals in life which I set in my teens was to write a hit song and the first time I heard my song playing on the radio I was in a grocery store. It was that first hit song for Prince and I remember thinking, I wonder when everyone in this store is going to break into dance, I really thought they would. Then, when my parents heard my music on the radio and it was in the Billboard Top 100 they finally said to me, “we always thought you were wasting your time in the recording studio but I guess we were wrong, we’re so proud of you”. That’s all any child ever wants to hear from their parents – some recognition for doing something right.
What Did You Learn About Music In The Studio Producing Prince?
The funny thing is what I learned about music that made the biggest difference for both Prince and myself was that the music wasn’t the most important thing. You can have great talent, great music, great production and great songs, but without great marketing no one will ever hear it and its all a waste of time.
The most important thing about MUSIC (and great audio equipment) is being able to get it into the hands/ears of the audience … without that what have you really done other than satisfy yourself? If you are in business and serious about it, understanding how to actually deliver your song/product/equipment/message to the audience is Job #1, making it great comes after that but many people seem to get these two things reversed and make truly great products THEN try and figure out how to get it into the marketplace. There seems to be a story floating around out there that if you make it, they will come … WRONG!
The story should be: If you can reach enough people, some of them will buy even if the product isn’t great. Look around you for plenty of evidence of that statement.
What product do you wish you had never conceived/launched?
I launched a speaker that was truly unique and created sound in a way no other speaker ever had. I found some very special technology (I didn’t invent it) that allowed a person to hear music WITHOUT using their ears. It even worked on some deaf people. This device transmitted sound directly into the brain bypassing the ears, and you could hear music coming from INSIDE your head, not outside it. Plug your ears as tight as you can and you would hear music emanating from inside your scull. I made the mistake of trying to announce this in a press release and everyone who read it became convinced it was some kind of scam or something – it was just too hard to believe without experiencing it for yourself. I eventually withdrew all description of this product and shelved it, realizing it did my reputation more harm than good. Too much innovation isn’t always positive.
Tell Hifi Pig readers about your next project and what they can expect in the future from you and your company.
We just released a magnetic audio levitation stand that has been selling well worldwide and is a fun product that both enhances the sound of a device on it but also aesthetically enhances the appearance of it. I have several turntable designs I am looking for a partner to build right now which are very innovative and we are working on a VERY SMALL high-end speaker that shows a great deal of promise.
You and your system
What component do you miss the most?
Prince – the main component of a stereo system is the Artist – without that you have nothing to listen to
How often do you listen to music?
Every night from midnight to 3:00am, doesn’t everybody?
The state of the industry
The high-end audio industry is dead as we know it, its just almost none of the manufacturers still left have really figured it out yet. When was the last time you walked into a home of a non-audiophile and saw a real stereo with decent speakers sitting there… really if you think about it very few people have stereos in their living rooms any more.
As a group we have not even tried to enrol young listeners into the hobby and as a result they have all turned to headphones. Speakers are almost like turntables today – a niche product for the few. Today’s generation wants portable sound that goes with them, not a static system in one place with bulky components. They want to listen to music alone, for them it is a solitary act where they choose what they listen to, when and how loud.
For the last 5 years we have been surveying a very wide range of everyday people and many, many women to understand how they think about music and here is what they ALL say when asked.
Is music important to you?
ANSWER: Very important
How often do you listen to music?
ANSWER: Every day
How do you mainly listen to music?
ANSWER: On headphones
Is the quality of the music you listen to important to you?
What’s the very most you would ever spend on high quality headphones? ANSWER: $200 – $300
If you won the lottery tomorrow and had unlimited funds what kind of home stereo would you buy?
We (HigherFi) sell the worlds most expensive audio gear all over the world and for us there will always be a strong business as we are specialists in selling preowned, high-end audio for customers no matter where they live – all of the gear out there will need to be sold and we are uniquely positioned to be able to actually move it for customers who are looking to transition out.
The three factors that are now contributing to the demise of the current high end audio as it existed are:
All the “old-school” audiophiles who purchased most of the gear are now around 60 and over and retiring. This means they are moving into townhouses, condos and small places … net result – no room for the big audio system anymore.
These customers are all losing their hearing, and they are realizing it so they start to think, what’s the point of a high rez audio playback system if I can’t hear very well anymore.
They are now on more limited incomes as they go into retirement so having big money wrapped up in a big system that they cant really hear well enough to appreciate just makes no sense, so not only do they stop buying high-end audio but now the majority of the buyers of high end audio have transitioned into sellers of high-end audio.
We are working with and consulting for numerous high-end audio manufacturers around the world to manage this transition in a way that keeps them in the game. We have a number of proprietary marketing strategies we are helping them employ to stay relevant and prosperous in a very changing world. Anyone that continues selling the old way, the way it’s always been done will simply see their buying audience evaporate. As global leaders in online high end audio marketing we have been pioneering since our inception.
It’s all about the music, man…
Having safely ushered your loved ones out of the house as it is burning down to the ground, you ignore all standard safety advice and dash back inside to grab just one recording – what is it?
The recording I would grab would be Prince’s first demo tape that I made with him singing 3 of my own songs and the demo tape responsible for getting him signed to Warner Brothers, I still have it and its probably the only one left in the world.
Many thanks Chris for taking the time out to chat with Hifi Pig.