Q&A; with Ann Chao — Co-Founder & CEO of Sonation

Founded in 2013 by Ann Chao, Sonation is making music more enjoyable and interactive for people who play instruments or sing.

The company’s first app, Cadenza, makes it more fulfilling to play music, by enabling musicians to lead a personal, interactive orchestra in everyday practice. Using proprietary responsive technology, the orchestra accompanies the musician in real time, adjusting to every nuance in their playing style.

I caught up with Chao to hear her entrepreneurial journey and get a look at what we can expect from Sonation.

VF: Ann, before we dig into your company can you share with the VentureFizz readers a bit about yourself?

AC: I grew up in the New York/New Jersey area, but since college have been going back and forth between Boston and Beijing. I went to Harvard for undergrad, worked as a strategy consultant at Roland Berger in China, and then went back to Harvard for b-school. While at HBS, I decided to explore career opportunities more in line with my passion for arts and entertainment — specifically music and storytelling — working at Guillermo del Toro’s studio in Hollywood and Lincoln Center in NYC. Shortly after graduating, I founded Sonation in 2013.

VF: What made you take the leap into Entrepreneurship?

AC: In business school there were limited opportunities to pursue both the creative and business side of the arts. In the entertainment industry you were either going to be in finance and corporate strategy, or you were going to start from scratch in the mailroom, where a paperweight is more useful than an MBA. So, I decided to create my own path, once I came across an idea that I was really excited about — changing the way people practice and enjoy music.

VF: Ok, tell us about Sonation and your app, Cadenza!

AC: At Sonation we’re making music more enjoyable and interactive for people who play instruments or sing. Music feels the most fun when you’re playing with live people, but it’s difficult and quite expensive to do that, as often as you need or prefer. Our responsive technology simulates that live experience with an instant ensemble sound, that listens to you and adapts to your playing style, on the spot. Our first app, Cadenza, gives the millions of classical instrumentalists around the world a full orchestra to practice and play with, customized to their unique pace. And we’re working on our next app as well, to expand into other genres of music, and singing.

VF: Who should be using Cadenza? And Why?

AC: Cadenza currently works with nine classical instruments — violin, viola, cello, flute, clarinet, bassoon, oboe, French horn and trumpet — so if you play any of those instruments, download it on the iPad and experience it, firsthand! Musicians can now practice with an ensemble whenever they want, and learn the context of some of the most well-known classical repertoire, while having a lot of fun. It’s like learning to play basketball: it’s one thing to practice by yourself on the court, and it’s another to play with a team.

VF: Where did your interest in the music industry come from?

AC: Music has always been a huge part of my life. I’ve been playing the piano and flute for about twenty years; and like many musicians, it’s what I use as a creative outlet. It’s been fascinating to watch the music industry undergo a significant amount of change, with music becoming more affordable and accessible than ever. But while more people are able to listen to their favorite music, it hasn’t become all that much easier to play your favorite music as a musician. That’s the opportunity I’m focusing on as an entrepreneur — to change the part of the industry that’s actually about making music. According to Gallup, one in five Americans plays an instrument. That’s a huge opportunity!

VF: You were a 2014 MassChallenge finalist. What was that experience like, especially as a first-time founder?

AC: It was awesome to be part of MassChallenge! We worked alongside teams from around the world, in many different industries, and the raw energy that everyone had really helped motivate our team! We also had amazing mentors — basically any kind of background you could think of, you would be able to find in the database. One of our mentors was the former Chief Marketing Officer at a major musical instrument company.

VF: What drives you and what is your favorite part of being a founder?

AC: Personally, my mission is to empower more people to experience the arts and music, as creators. That’s what drives me. Hands down, my favorite thing about being a founder is to see a musician’s face light up when they try out our app for the first time and see new possibilities unfolding for themselves.

VF: What can Boston expect from Cadenza moving forward?

AC: We’re launching Cadenza for iPhone in the spring, and we’re working our next product for singers! Our company, Sonation, just raised a seed round with some really great investors, including David Chang (formerly with PayPal). Now, we’re looking to expand our engineering team with an iOS developer. So if you know of any developers who play musical instruments and are passionate about revolutionizing this space, send them our way!

Josh Boyle is Director of Community & Marketing, VentureFizz. You can follow him on Twitter @jb_sid and keep up with his latest posts by signing up for the VentureFizz Weekly Email!

Originally published at venturefizz.com.

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