La. entrepreneurs develop Drytunes

A nagging complaint that cinematographer Michael Applebaum had during his 30 years of shooting movies in locations around the world was that he lacked a convenient way to take his music along and enjoy it with co-workers, whether they were working in a jungle, a desert or a boat bobbing on the ocean. Finally, he has an answer.

The solution that he and two other entrepreneurs came up with is Drytunes, a built-to-last, portable case equipped with a speaker that plays music wirelessly from handheld devices or laptop computers. It also provides protected storage space for cellphones, keys and other small items.

The clincher: The case plays music clearly, even underwater.

“We wanted something we could take on extreme locations,” said Applebaum, a New Orleans native and Emmy-winning cameraman who has shot scores of feature films and television shows, including 10 seasons of the popular CBS series “Survivor.”

While the dust-proof, watertight Drytunes plastic case meets the needs of a traveling TV crew, Applebaum and his business partners believe the market for their device goes far beyond adventurers to encompass hunters, fishermen and just about anyone who enjoys outdoor recreation.

Applebaum, for instance, takes it along on family trips to island beaches in order to have a safe place to stash cellphones, condo keys and cash while listening to music on a floating raft.

“We put both of our phones and cameras in it and snorkeled one afternoon listening to Bob Marley,” he said, pointing out that the Drytunes case floats on the water.

Listening underwater is just a matter of turning the case speaker-side down. “It’s absolutely waterproof,” he said.

The design brain behind Drytunes is Aeron McKeough, also a cameraman, who became friends with Applebaum as they both worked on the New Orleans-shot movie “The Final Destination” in 2008.

The two went on to work together on other projects and began discussing the need for a device that would cater to their music needs during their many weeks on the road.

McKeough started mocking up potential designs for such a device and worked on the project on his own for about a year. Finally, during a 2012 “Survivor” shoot in the Philippines, he showed his prototype to Applebaum.

“We sat down for lunch on the beach, and Aeron pulled out this case and started playing music,” Applebaum said.

Like many people who first see and hear Drytunes in action, Applebaum picked up the case and turned it over, trying to see where the music was coming from. Then McKeough opened the case and showed him a speaker attached to the lid, while also removing an SLR camera he had stored inside.

“I was blown away,” Applebaum recalled.

The next few years brought a flurry of development activity, including patent filings and extensive research into potential manufacturers for the case and its components.

The result is a 14-by-11-by-6-inch molded plastic case with two thick customizable foam layers that cushion and secure stored items of varying size. A small circuit board provides wireless connectivity for Apple iOS, Android and Windows-based devices, PC or Mac computers and most other Bluetooth-enabled devices.

Two speaker drivers installed in the Drytunes lid draw power from a rechargeable, fully encased battery that Applebaum said provides up to 20 hours of playback time. And a continuous rubber ring that lines the inside edge of the case provides a watertight seal once the case is latched shut.

Should a user choose to store a playback device inside the case while it is transmitting music, an included magnetic stylus allows adjustments to volume and playback from controls embedded in the exterior of the case.

“When it’s in the water and your phone’s in it, playing music while you’re splashing around, you can turn up the sound using the stylus,” Applebaum said.

Applebaum and McKeough teamed up with a third partner, lawyer Cameron Mary, to bring Drytunes to market. They sought funding through a private equity group, and early this year had presold enough Drytunes cases to qualify for the full amount of funding they initially sought.

The money enabled the partners to secure 2,600 square feet of warehouse and office space at a site northeast of Mandeville, where the Drytunes components, which come from suppliers around the world, are stored and assembled.

Applebaum figures small teams of workers conceivably could assemble as many 900 Drytunes cases a week at the site. So far, however, the partners and a couple of helpers have themselves assembled every case they’ve sold.

Through a $50,000 crowdfunding campaign completed through Kickstarter early this year, they presold about 200 Drytunes cases.

Buyers can also order the speaker through at the introductory price of $349. “Once we start shipping, the price will go to $399,” Applebaum said.

Drytunes also will be sold through several area retailers, including Massey’s Professional Outfitters in New Orleans, Metairie, Baton Rouge and Covington; and Puglia’s Sporting Goods in Metairie.

“It’s a pretty ingenious idea, and I think it’s going to go over well for us,” said Anthony Puglia Jr., manager of the sporting goods company.

Puglia said the store’s hunting and fishing customers are showing increased interest in gadgets that deepen the outdoor experience.

He cited as an example the store’s recent sales of the popular GoPro cameras, which can operate from a helmet mount or body harness and make it easy for sports enthusiasts to capture as-they-happen action shots.

“I can see the (outdoor sports) industry taking a turn to more innovative technology to help people enjoy it more,” Puglia said.

As Drytunes widens its reach, Applebaum said the company soon will add a smaller version of the product, containing the same interior components but with less storage space. “Kayakers will love it,” he promised.

If Drytunes catches on as the partners hope, they will look for manufacturing and distribution partners, probably in a central U.S. location. But Applebaum said they would continue filling regional orders from the Mandeville warehouse even as they look to extend the reach of Drytunes to outdoor enthusiasts around the world.