We had the good fortune of connecting with Ethan Castro and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Ethan, where are your from? We’d love to hear about how your background has played a role in who you are today?
Ok sit down and strap on a few snacks, we’re going on a ride.
Everyone has something unique about them, good or bad, and it can have the power to define who you are to yourself, or to others, and those who lean into creativity can re-define their situation and leverage it to success.
With me so far? No? Break it down like this:
Say you were born into a low socio-economic status (read: broke-a$$ poor) and didn’t have as many opportunities while you were developing, as the rich kid a couple doors over. While rich kid is out doing rocket camp and athletics, you’re home watching TV because no one can take you to cheer camp or robotics. Rich kid is bonded to other high-achievers, who use the extracurriculars and other stimuli growing up to leverage some nice test scores, and thus a pretty nice admission to a prestigious college.
You, on the other hand, hang out with your counselor because you’re bored out of your mind at school, who mentions that you could get a scholarship or other need-based aid if you got your grades up a little bit. So, you get your non-organic, pesticide infused little brain on a regiment of non-stop homework and leading group study sessions to pass the bare minimum of getting the help you need to get into college, where the tide turns, and suddenly hard work and working with others is key, and you pass the rich kid on your way to graduate school, or upper management, where you manage the heck out of their brilliant but unorganized little booty.
The latter vignette is actually the story of my wife, and is part of the reason we married each other!
With some creativity, you can turn the tide of even the most unforgiving situations.
I was born premature, nearly stillborn, a series of ear surgeries and drownings left me permanently hard of hearing, but alive, long enough to discover a hereditary neurological disorder at the age of 5 called Tourette’s syndrome, which causes uncontrollable motor and vocal spasms called ‘tics’.
Not a great start right?
Of course, with hearing devices, and involuntary spasms, bullies had a field day with me. Having mom come talk to my teachers and parade me as an example of equality for those with disabilities certainly didn’t help. My only recluse was the seclusion of standardized testing. Hours of no one bothering me, reading a booklet asking me simple questions of problems to solve was like a vacation in the middle of a day of students stealing my hearing devices, making fun of my involuntary vocal gasps and chirps, and constant blinking and shrugging.
So we leaned into it.
Apparently those with Tourette’s syndrome develop neural pathways very quickly. Normally, when you practice a skill, your brain builds the connection to make it easier next time. The extra signals in my brain multiply that occurrence several times over, which is why those with Tourette’s can either be very intelligent, or more often, fall victim to addiction, and debilitating depression. Most kids with tics are labeled as ‘problem students’ because they act out in class to appear in control of their body. I also pretended I was ‘hyperactive’ just born with a lot of energy, and leaned into the moniker whenever a fake name was needed for games.
I also began to notice that I was picking things up faster than my peers – the increased neural stimulation from my disorder was helping me master new concepts at school, allowing me to jump forward in units, and even grades. Of course, habits set in as well – I still spin to orient myself while going up/down stairs, and can’t eat from a spoon until I’ve dunked it in my food several times over (multiples of 5 to be exact).
It’s weird, I know, but it’s how I’m wired, so I can either try to suppress it (which always ends badly), or lean into the good aspects, and manage the bad aspects.
With my doctoral program in music, as a hard-of-hearing musician and sound engineer, my sound and production on dozens of released records, I’ve leveraged my disability into my superpower, to accelerate my research into tactile audio in order to find a way to circumvent my hearing impairment, and ‘hear’ better than ever possible, even with the best speakers.
This accelerated research has led into a patent, and subsequently the launch of my startup company called EDGE Sound Research, where a fantastic team has come together to share my super-immersive method of interacting with music and sound to everyone.
If not for my disabilities, I would not be enjoying the fruits of startup world, or even in a doctoral program, and I certainly would not be with my wife, who’s story of overcoming hardship has made arguably the largest impact on me by far.
What should our readers know about your business?
Please read about Ethan’s story here: http://voyagela.com/interview/meet-ethan-castro-edge-sound-research/
Remember – I am a musician first and foremost, so engineering is completely new, hardware development is completely new, and delivering a reliable product and structuring deals with stable supply lines is completely new–to me at least.
Take a deep breath and read this following paragraph very carefully:
In barely over a single year, during a pandemic, a ragtag team of engineering music and business students came together to create a truly revolutionary new audio product, without meeting or seeing each other in person, and without ever showing any partner/supplier/investor their product in person. Without ever being on a team that has built hardware before, these complete n00bs raised almost $35k, and structured some insane deals with some very well-known audio companies and component manufacturers, and are scheduled to deliver their first batch of 100-1,000 commercial products 18 months after inventing it.
Imagine if that was us, right? lol
Jk it is, but put altogether, it almost gives me an out-of-body experience. I never thought in a million years I would go from doing songwriting camps to inventing a technology, and creating a startup company that would be talking to the same companies that made me fall in love with sound and vibrations when I was growing up.
A question that comes up often: “Why hasn’t anyone done this before”
IT’S F**KEN HARD.
Also there aren’t many kids, when their doctor says “hey, as long as you don’t go into music…” then immediately go into music. Sometimes having bad hearing helps ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Also not many have the guttural drive towards masochism that my Co-Founder, Valtteri Salomaki, and I share. Constantly beating yourself down for the pursuit of perfection drives sane people mad, but it certainly makes a great product.
However, it is important that I emphasize, that all of this sacrifice has taken a huge sacrifice in physical and mental well-being. I’ve endured seizures at board meetings, depression, and a complete depletion of muscle mass, as my days consist of back to back meetings and constant research and project management via computer. This is entirely not sustainable, and without an expanded team, this rate would consume my being, and eventually cost my marriage.
Thankfully, communicating with my wife (who is also in a PhD program) has helped both of us take breaks, and help feed each other during the day–making sure we have the nutrients to continue the back to back meetings, and making sure that we take walks and do small workouts here and there to begin building up muscle mass to re-enter the world post-pandemic.
Know yourself, know your limitations, and know your position, and find the best way to extrapolate that into something that is sustainably useful in the world. That’s what EDGE Sound Research has done, and we hope to keep up our accelerated pace because we watch out for each other first, and do badass fun work second.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
I-ummmm go outside? Hmmm let’s play pretend here for a bit.
I live in the north LA area (Chatsworth) right on the border of the Santa Ana mountains, so there are beautiful trails and mountaintops to have a picnic and oversee all of north LA.
Fav places to eat:
– Amazing Siam Thai (https://www.amazingsiam.net)
– Hikari Sushi (https://www.besthikarisushi.com)
– Vegan My Thai (https://www.mythai818.com)
EDGE Studios, EDGE Sound Research, and my record label EOI Records all operate out of Riverside Studios (https://riversidefilmstudios.org)
Already a lot to do out there, but if you’re with me, you’re WORKING. Ain’t nobody got time to sit and relax. But I always take people with me to disc golf, and food.
– Martha McLean Anza Narrows (https://udisc.com/courses/martha-mc-lean-anza-narrows-HFz7)
– Sushi R91 (https://www.sushir91.com)
– Plant Powered (https://www.plantpowerfastfood.com)
– Los Jilbertos (https://losjilbertosriverside.com) Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
I certainly would not be as focused or driven towards making the world sound better without my wife: Ixel Castro
…taking the overwhelming job of containing my crazy from the EDGE family: Emmett, Desiree, and Gabrielle (+Ethan makes EDGE)
…sharing the crazy with my co-founder Valtteri Salomaki, and the EDGE Sound Research team: Winson Bi, Julian Bell, and Vincent Zhang (https://edgesoundresearch.com)
…which is paving the way for my life-goal of revamping the music industry via EOI Records with my co-founder Jack Adams, and my EDGE Studio family: Jessica Bradley, Aaron Chapple, and Kaylon Rushing (https://www.edgeoriginal.com)
…which came out of my UCR home base of the Experimental Acoustic Research Studio (EARS) and the EARS Student Group (https://ears.ucr.edu)
…which was the brain child of my largest supporter, and sharpest critic Dr. Paulo Chagas (https://paulocchagas.com).
I love you all. Thanks for whooping me into shape when I get too distracted.
James Ramirez, Ethan Castro, Ixel Castro, Desiree Castro, Keith Hussein, Andrew Europa