Throughout 2017, Freedman Electronics, the parent company of Rode Microphones, is celebrating its 50th anniversary. Over the course of five decades, the company has seen its ups and downs as it transitioned from a small pro audio shop and PA installer founded by Henry and Astrid Freedman, who emigrated from Sweden, into one of Australia’s most successful manufacturers and exporters.
“[I’m] obviously incredibly proud. Half a century, having a business last that long, is pretty special as most businesses fail. But there have been so many things, the ups and downs, and there is so much luck of being in the right place at the right time,” says Peter Freedman, who took over the company from his father in 1987. “But when people say, ‘If you had one piece of advice, what would you say?’ it’s, ‘Never give up.’”
Under Henry’s leadership, Freedman Electronics grew from a small storefront electronics repair shop to a trusted and successful PA installer, audio distributor, and retailer based in the Sydney suburb of Ashfield. When Henry fell ill, Peter took over and through a combination of reckless ambition and a historic economic downturn, the company fell on hard times. The global stock market crash of 1987 hit Australia particularly hard. This came after Peter had taken out bank loans, started a second company called Image Design Works, and also expanded Freedman Electronics’ import and distribution business. On the verge of bankruptcy, Peter, together with his friend and salesman Colin Hill, happened upon a successful product. Peter found an old Chinese-made microphone in the shop that he figured he could import cheaply, fixed it up to make it useable, and Colin took it around the local market to gauge interest. To their surprise, there was ample appetite for an inexpensive condenser microphone in the local music and studio market. Dubbing it the Rode NT1, it was a pivotal product and moment for the company. The original NT1, Peter concedes, wasn’t very good, but with the help of a new Chinese business partner, John Qiu, the NT2 was a marked improvement.
“I thought, ‘If we can sell 500 of these in a year, I think we can get out of debt eventually and be alright,’ and now we do 1.1 million in 12 months. Who dreamt that? Nobody,” says Peter.
Eventually, Peter set his sights on the North American market and bought a plane ticket he could hardly afford to California to go to the NAMM Show in 1992, and began hustling to save his company. “I’m eating pizza on the side of the bed, drinking Jack Daniels, and walking around with a backpack on and a mic in the back of it. I went through NAMM with an overcoat on, like, ‘Want to buy a mic?’ It was like a guy with the watches up his arm,” Freedman laughs – and he did sell a few. The big breakthrough, though, was an order for 100 mics from West L.A. Music. “God bless them. I walked out crying practically because I knew I had something.”
In the 25 years since that trip, Rode has moved all manufacturing in-house at its state-of-the-art facilities in Australia and become a market leader in studio and location recording and live sound. “With all this stuff, I make products that I want to buy,” says Peter. “I love this stuff. I’m an audio person so it’s very easy for me to go, ‘Oh, that would be cool. Why don’t we do that because I need to have one myself?’”
For more information, go to www.rode.com.