More on that plan later.
First to late 1993, about the time the Nirvana frontman was strumming the 1959 Martin D-18E in an iconic set for MTV Unplugged in New York (about five months before his death) and Freedman was penniless on the opposite coast.
The lifelong soundman walked through Los Angeles with the first Rode microphone in a backpack, knocking unsuccessfully on music shop doors.
He would fly back and forth from the US to Sydney on his credit card, amassing such debts that he and his then wife had to sell their home and the car he had bought her as a birthday present.
He couldn’t afford the booths at the LA trade shows, so he wore a long black coat – “like a man selling shitty watches” – lined with illicit prototypes.
One day he met with the late Mark Spriwak of West LA Music and the pair hit it off. But as he pulled the microphone from his backpack, Freedman noticed it had broken on the walk.
“The blood runs out of my face,” he says. “What do you say? [Spriwak] said ‘Nah I can tell it’s good, man. You’re passionate, don’t worry about it’ and I got an order for 100 mics.”
He didn’t yet have 100 microphones and he couldn’t bank the cheque for months, “but if you can sell something here, you’ve got something”, he says.
Freedman was born into the sound game. His father Henry mixed for live shows, including Tom Jones’ 1968 Australian tour, and opened a small Sydney shop “the size of an outside toilet” called Freedman Electronics in 1967.
From about the age of 10, Freedman would ask his father to let him help with fixing amplifiers and teach him about mixing sound. The child had a gift for isolating sounds in his mind and he would spend the next 50 years getting better at it.
With Henry’s health failing, a 16-year-old Peter took the helm and admits he nearly wiped his father’s dream off the map.
“Sixteen with no brain at all and I’m the boss of a sound company. Are you kidding me? That’s just bad,” he says.
The mistakes were his own, he says, and they taught him resilience. He learned how to become expert in “doing things with no dough” and how to spot a shark with nice words and bad intentions.
“The entertainment industry, as you know, is full of scumbags,” he says. “There are a lot of good people, too, but musos and entertainers get ripped off all the time by unscrupulous people, and I can’t begin to count how many times I’ve been ripped off.”
In 1990 he established Rode as the trading name of Freedman Electronics and hit the US with the new microphones he’d developed in Sydney.
The first sale to West LA was a break, but nowhere near enough to clear his debt. Freedman can’t pinpoint when his fortunes began to change: it was a slow build, he says, “little by little”, small wins amid eight or nine more years of “horror” mistakes.
“But you line up everything and sometimes something smiles on you, or not,” he says.
In the early 2000s, frustrated by poor audio quality while trying to record his son’s rugby matches, Freedman began developing a new microphone. As camera phones evolved to become capable of cinema-quality video, Rode’s microphone became a bestseller.
Today, it is the international number one external microphone for smartphones.
“I can’t begin to tell you how many hundreds of millions of them we’ve sold over the years. It’s crazy s—,” he says. “That was not me predicting it … I can lie to you to and say ‘Oh yes, I saw all that coming’. But when it came, I thought ‘I’ll jump into that, thank you very much’.”
Rode now sells a range of products into 118 countries through 8000 dealers and has offices in Sydney, New York, London, Hong Kong, Shenzhen and Seoul.
Freedman’s dream was to sell 500 microphones a year. That would have been enough to clear the debt and live something resembling a middle-class life, he says. This year Rode will sell 2.5 million of its products around the world.
“It’s like it’s not real,” he says. “But I love this stuff and I make gear that I want to buy. That makes things very simple … you can’t do this if you’re a money man or come from another industry.”
As he walked the streets of Los Angeles in near-destitution in the early to mid-’90s, the soundtrack was Nirvana.
Buying Cobain’s guitar, a kind of reclamation of those dark and broke times, was “bittersweet”.
“It’s like every bit of music, it takes you back to a certain era,” he says. “You don’t want to ever lose it, even if you feel sad listening to something … it’s such an important part of our lives. That’s why when I saw [the guitar] was available, I thought ‘there’s never going be a chance like this, ever’.”
But the record-breaking purchase was not for him.
When he returns to Australia, once the coronavirus pandemic eases (“please, please, please get me home”), Freedman will take it on a world tour where kids and old grungeheads from the ’90s can touch and play it, he says.
“In the Australian music industry, we’re not wankers,” he says. “And the millions for the guitar, don’t get carried away with that, it’s got nothing to f—ing do with it. If it was just some rich dick buying it to whack on his wall it’s not that interesting to me, you or anybody else. That’s not what this is about.
“What matters is I’ve got people looking at it.”
Freedman will use the publicity from the world’s most expensive guitar to generate money and momentum for causes close to his heart: the music industry, which has been struggling more than most amid world restrictions on mass gatherings.
He hopes the power of the guitar will pry open doors to politician and other decision-makers for him to put forward ideas on behalf of the people who have made him an international success.
“I’m a marketing guy,” he says. “Current musicians might not know how to organise themselves or how to negotiate, I do,” he says.
At the end of the tour, which will visit the Australian capitals and as many country areas as possible, he will sell the guitar and put the money into his Freedman Foundation, which will help musicians in need of mental or financial support.
“But I’m a hard arse,” he says. “Don’t come rocking up saying you want a pack of ciggies. If it’s the real thing, you’ll get support.
“The music industry and the arts industry supported my family for 50 years. What kind of knob would I be, now that I’ve got dough, to say ‘Thanks, bye’ and get on a yacht? Nah.”
Zach is a reporter at The Age. Got a story? Email me at email@example.com