The VocoPro team lives and breathes the company’s products.

The VocoPro team lives and breathes the company’s products.

This month, The Retailer presents a conversation with Jason Hou, CEO of VocoPro, whose history in the industry stretches back well over two decades. In this intimate yet expansive conversation, Hou delves into his own background relative to the music and audio industries, as well as the creation and ascendance of VocoPro, which was founded in 1991. He also elaborates on the tasks that fill up his day, the secrets to VocoPro’s undeniable success, and the company’s commitment to its diverse product portfolio and its dealer partners. The conversation wraps up with Hou’s perspective on the strength of the broad music products market, as well as his closing thoughts on some people’s misguided attempts to pigeonhole VocoPro as a “karaoke only” company.
Enjoy the conversation.

The Music & Sound Retailer: Let’s start with your personal background. Trace your own history with music, professional audio and technology, touching on what initially captured your interest. How did you translate that personal interest into a successful career? Discuss a bit about your career trajectory, starting with your first job and mentioning some of the biggest milestones.
Jason Hou: As a teenager, I found myself intrigued by high-end sound systems. I even began to build my own speaker systems using various parts from different manufacturers. I enjoyed putting together different systems for my friends and for myself. However, my first job wasn’t audio-related, as I was a Customer Service Representative for a garment company. In that job, I was responsible for communicating with our sales and buyer teams for big department store groups. I believe this taught me a lot about how to be really customer-service-focused. I still use a lot of those early lessons I learned back then with our customers today. But working for someone else was never really for me.
When I was 20 years old, I used that ambition to open my own small video rental shop near downtown Los Angeles. The video rental business was good for a few years, but I wasn’t sure it would be right for me long term. Around that time, I started bringing in VHS tapes with Asian karaoke content and selling them to other video shops. These were big sellers for many years, but then laserdisc karaoke became very popular due to Pioneer’s heavy promotion of the format. I found myself doing well with the laserdisc format and thought, “OK…now I need to step into hardware!” We were the first to promote a 150-laserdisc changer that really shocked the whole industry at CES. From there, we knew we could be great at hardware, software, and music and sound products. And the rest is history.

Jason-photo2The Retailer: Now, let’s turn to the history of VocoPro, which was founded in 1991 and which has been going strong for over two decades. What were the circumstances of the company’s founding? What was the original founding vision? How has the company grown, developed and matured over the past 23 years? How has VocoPro changed?
Hou: My family has always had great relationships with factories in Taiwan, where they have been making karaoke since the Japanese invented it. A lot of people don’t know it, but karaoke loosely translated means “empty orchestra,” and it really helped expand music making because a lot of people who never previously considered themselves musical got the opportunity to try it out. And, of course, it became a pretty huge movement around the world. With help from the factories, we began developing both consumer and professional karaoke hardware for the American market.
We were the first company to develop an all-in-one professional karaoke system, as well as karaoke systems for the DJ and mobile DJ who wanted to add karaoke to their shows. Our vision was simple: we wanted to put quality karaoke systems into clubs and homes across the country. We would slightly redesign what Asia was offering, making it much simpler to use so that the user/performer didn’t have to be an audio tech to understand how to operate it. Today, I hope we’re considered an innovator thanks to the things we’ve contributed to the market over the past 20 years, including an all-in-one entertainment PA system and a dual-tray, multi-format hard drive player. And, our multi-channel wireless microphone systems continue to be the top sellers for many major music retailers.

The Retailer: Describe your principal responsibilities as CEO of VocoPro. What are the most important tasks you tackle day to day? What’s the best, most exciting part of your job?
Hou: As CEO of VocoPro, I have many responsibilities, but the most important is making sure we are at the top of our game and keeping up with new and innovative products as technology evolves, while also promoting our products and making sure they are the very best they can be. I also make sure our resellers get the service they need to help them with any possible issues before and after the sale of any VocoPro product. I think the most exciting part of my job is hearing from our consumers about how they are using our products and loving what they can do with them. If we provide great products that people can use to sing and entertain both themselves and others, then, to me, it means we’re moving in the right direction. All businesses experience challenges, but I try to stay focused on the good we bring to the world. That makes it all worthwhile.

The Retailer: When you look at VocoPro as it currently exists, what would you say you’re the proudest of? What makes the company stand apart not only from direct competitors, but also from all companies in the professional audio, music and technology spaces? What’s the “secret sauce” at VocoPro?
Hou: Continuing to stay in the marketplace as a first option when people choose to purchase professional karaoke equipment and our wireless microphones. We stand apart from competitors and other companies by continuing to stay relevant while introducing new and innovative products. We don’t really have any “secret sauce”; we just truly care about our customers and do everything we can to provide exceptional customer care, treating people as though they are family. Customers can tell who has their back and who doesn’t, and they reward companies with repeat purchases and recommendations to their family and friends, as well as fierce loyalty to the brand.

Pioneering the home karaoke market led to positive press for VocoPro.

Pioneering the home karaoke market led to positive press for VocoPro.

The Retailer: To what extent would you say the team at Voco-Pro is highly plugged into the worlds of professional audio and music? Do members of the VocoPro team, including you, find yourselves frequently using VocoPro products when you’re outside the office? Are VocoPro products a big part of your lives?
Hou: Oh, we live this stuff 24/7/365. Most of the VP staff have their own VocoPro systems that they use doing their own gigs or in their homes. Our team constantly uses our products so they can truly understand the user experience and be that much better at relating to our customers’ concerns and issues. We regularly attend conferences and events to keep tabs on competitors, to see new technologies and to make sure our products remain on the cutting edge. And we always enjoy seeing our products out in the world in different clubs and restaurants. It’s like hearing a song you wrote on the radio and saying, “Hey, we made that!”

The Retailer: Shine a light on some of VocoPro’s most recent product launches and initiatives. What new product offerings are you currently pushing most aggressively? What exciting new stuff is in the product pipeline?
Hou: We have an aggressive product launch schedule because we serve a lot of different market needs. Our new VoiceCaster launched this year, and it’s a cool personal PA with a wireless handheld and headset mic for teachers, family reunions or gatherings, churches…really anywhere that you need some amplification but don’t have electricity or the time to really set anything up. We also launched the SDR-4000, which is like a digital version of a dual tape deck and which is very useful when you need to copy digital audio files quickly onto various media. We are currently seeing our multi-channel wireless microphone systems going into churches, schools and also being a top-selling item for many large retailers.

The Retailer: Discuss VocoPro’s commitment to the brick-and-mortar MI store channel. Is working collaboratively with brick-and-mortar music dealers a key part of VocoPro’s fundamental philosophy and approach to business?
Hou: Yes, very much so. As a former retail store owner myself, I am well acquainted with the challenges and opportunities on that side of things. Every customer is different, but we believe that, especially with technology products, it’s important for customers to go into a store and try them out, touch them and see the quality for themselves. Putting our product into stores where people can go to evaluate the quality of our line helps to ensure our continued success once they have seen just how well our products are designed and how well they work.

The Retailer: Is there anything the dealer channel could do that would be helpful to VocoPro as a company? Do you have any suggestions for the dealer channel that would help retailers, in addition to helping the company itself?
Hou: Yes. We are focused on the needs of vocalists who sometimes don’t get equal opportunity in music stores. For example, many music stores have rooms for trying out guitars and drums, but few, if any, have a dedicated space for vocalists to try out their gear. Obviously, vocals are a pretty important part of any live music performance, and there are plenty of products for vocalists out there. Giving vocalists equal time/space will help promote sales for the music store, as well as for VocoPro. Also, we would like to see more dealers take product training more seriously. We dedicate a lot of our time to staying current with the latest products and technologies. We share that responsibility with our dealers, who field a lot of questions on the front lines every day.

The Retailer: What is your sense of the relative strength—or weakness—of the broad music products and professional audio markets? Are you feeling optimistic about our industry, or do you see challenges ahead that we, as an industry, will have to overcome?
Hou: Overall, we’re having a good year at VocoPro and, from what I hear, I think that’s the case around the industry. Of course, we have the same struggles as everyone else in the industry. Consumers are more price-conscious than ever. We have manufacturers in Asia raising prices due to costs and the exchange rate, and we have to figure out how to keep it balanced. I am optimistic about the future of our industry and our company because music and singing are important to the core of our humanity. It’s hard to imagine a world that isn’t filled with music, and I don’t think any of us would want to live there for long.

The Retailer: What does the future hold for VocoPro? What can company-watchers expect over the next six months? One year? Five years?
Hou: The future belongs to innovators. We are constantly evolving…trying out new products, new segments and new ideas to provide singers and musicians with the best products we can make. We will continue to listen to our customers, and we will always put their needs first. We believe karaoke continues to be a great way to bring family and friends together. We also believe the passion for singing will be even greater because the equipment is simple to use and it provides professional results even as costs are lower due to the evolution of technology.

The Retailer: Is there anything I’ve forgotten to ask that you’d like to discuss?
Hou: Yes. It’s sometimes easy to pigeonhole VocoPro as a “karaoke only” company, but I encourage all dealers to check out our extremely broad line of products, including systems, players, recorders/mixers, amplifiers, speakers, wireless audio, vocal and instrument systems, cases, microphones, cables, stands and bags. Stay connected with us at trade shows and through our Web site, social media and industry magazines. We can work together to help you capture more business from singers in your area, and that will help all of us have a successful future.

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