ElectroSpit Brings a New Model of Artistic Entrepreneurship to the Music Industry
ElectroSpit isn’t just a music tech startup—it’s also a music group
Bosko Kante has a confession to make. When he performed alongside Kanye West at the American Music Awards (AMAs) in 2004, he had to lip sync.
This wasn’t an Ashlee Simpson situation; Bosko’s effects setup just couldn’t hang. The traditional talkbox he was using was too cumbersome for a televised awards ceremony operating on a tight production schedule.
So, Bosko used the experience to inspire innovation—both in ways the talkbox could be mobilized for the 21st century, and also in ways that professional musicians could make more of their time, money, talent and energy in the music business.
That artistically innovative spirit is part of what attracted Exponential Creativity Ventures CEO Adam Huttler to Bosko and Maya Kante’s ElectroSpit Talkbox.
“I love working with artist entrepreneurs. When someone invents a product to solve his or her own problem in a creative way, there’s a huge head start in finding product-market fit. And it doesn’t hurt that artists are used to making amazing things happen with shoestring budgets; that mentality makes them naturals at bootstrapping young businesses. What’s sometimes challenging, though, is when an artist really wants to focus on their creative practice and just sees the business as a way of subsidizing that. That’s a big danger zone, since launching a startup is hard enough as it is without constantly having your focus pulled toward higher priorities. In the case of ElectroSpit, though, they’ve managed to harmonize the technology business with the music practice in a way that benefits both and makes neither subservient to the other. There’s the potential for a real flywheel effect,” Huttler said.
However, the fact remains that most musicians don’t find very much economic success under the current paradigm. Here’s a rough breakdown of how you spend your time when you’re a professional musician trying to make a name for yourself in an oversaturated and under-funded industry:
There’s a great degree of hyperbole there, but the truth is, music itself doesn’t really pay, and it’s branding and merchandising that drive the economics of the music industry these days. Fortunately, the ElectroSpit team has caught on to this fact in a big, big way.
ElectroSpit has replaced the old paradigm of the starving artist with a new vision of artistic entrepreneurship.
“In music, everything sells except the music,” according to ElectroSpit founders Maya and Bosko Kante.
Rather than let this unfortunate reality get them down, the Kantes decided to set their sights on something different, something that actually allows a reasonable return in an otherwise stingy industry: music technology.
Upon entering Oakland nonprofit artist accelerator Zoo Labs, ElectroSpit was a music group first and foremost. Technology was kind of just their side gig.
“Originally, the [ElectroSpit] Talkbox was going to support the music group,” Bosko said, “But we flipped it.”
“The band has become an advertising technique for the technology,” Maya explained.
Instead of using technology to promote their music (for which they would receive only a fraction of what it should be worth), the Kantes are using music to promote their technology (which should net them a much larger return). Think Elvis Costello and his signature Fender Jazzmaster or St. Vincent and her signature Ernie Ball Music Man rolled into one operation and creative collective.
ElectroSpit has become both Costello and also Fender, St. Vincent and also Ernie Ball: creator and producer, music group and entrepreneurial team.
Just like “the line between creators and consumers is becoming more blurry,” for the Kantes, the line between creators and technology producers is disappearing as well.
But is this new operating model—one where musicians aren’t just artists but technologists and entrepreneurs as well—something that others might reproduce?
“Definitely,” they said in unison.
Following the ElectroSpit model isn’t easy. It means being just as creative in the music tech space as one is in the music production space.
Bosko, who has developed a well-regarded signature sound using traditional talkboxes, was fortunate enough to have his storied music career inform his interest in music technology and vice versa.
“I’ve always been a techie; my interest in music has always been combined with my interest in technology. I recorded the first gold hip-hop album completely on Pro Tools with E-40,” Bosko said.
But it was his use of the talkbox that really thrust him into the spotlight and into the creative tech industry.
“I was at the AMAs performing live with Kanye West, and I couldn’t play the talkbox live; I had to lip sync…. It wasn’t practical, and at that point it really got me thinking, ‘How can I fix this problem and make the talkbox portable and mobile?’” he said.
So, he went about doing just that—and more.
“We wanted to place ourselves in the future—instead of making it portable to totally reinvent the talkbox,” Bosko said.
“We also realized that once you take away all of the barriers to playing the talkbox, it opens it up to an all new audience,” he added.
From hobbyists to casual creatives to kids learning the principles of physics, ElectroSpit has managed to make an otherwise cumbersome technology exceedingly accessible.
“Using the voice is something that people are intimidated about…. When you use the ElectroSpit, you instantly sound cool.”
— Bosko Kante
While most demos of the ElectroSpit Talkbox have largely been confined to the upper strata of the music industry—T-Pain, Chromeo, etc.—the Kantes are opening up their technology to a wider audience with the launch of their Kickstarter on Tuesday, June 5.
“ElectroSpit is a perfect fit for crowdfunding. It’s the kind of product that is difficult to explain to people who don’t have prior context, but when you see the Kickstarter video it’s immediately compelling. Also, the founders’ extraordinary network in the music industry should be able to jump start some viral marketing. If they had to rely on a traditional retail distribution strategy from day one it would be a much tougher hill to climb,” Huttler said.
Their immediate goals are to get as much attention as possible so they can build a loyal audience base, but that shouldn’t be too difficult for them.
“Bosko and Maya embody everything I look for in a founder. They’re confident but never arrogant. They’ve got tremendous hustle and grit. They’re just the kind of people who you know are going to make things happen. Still, ElectroSpit is serving such a niche market that it’s not very ‘investable’ by traditional venture capital standards. Some entrepreneurs would find that frustrating or unfair, but Bosko and Maya saw it as yet another challenge in search of a creative solution, and we were able to structure our investment in a way that makes sense for all parties. Working with them has really reinforced for me the idea that you only ever invest in people, not companies. When you find the right people, everything else is a solvable problem,” Huttler added.
What’s the next solvable problem?
Bringing the ElectroSpit Talkbox from the highest echelons of the music industry to the casual workspaces of everyday musicians.
“We’ve got a lot of great things going on,” Maya said (not least of which is this feature by music tech giants Native Instruments).
“We’re flying out this weekend to meet with Kanye [West],” Maya said, “And we have a video shoot and mixtape with Snoop [Dogg]. The plan is to get some investment; our team is working on getting [Kanye] back on the right track, but our main goal is to procure investment and pictures with people.”
“Then, we can say, ‘Okay, we’re a part of Kanye’s new direction.’ We’re gonna bring him back to Jesus,” she said half-jokingly.
Once they do that, they’ll be well on their way to establishing mass market appeal and branching out to different iterations of the talkbox, according to Maya.
With or without Kanye’s redemption, ElectroSpit is still quickly redefining artistry and offering up a new model for success in the music industry—all the while promising to put accessible, cutting-edge music technology in the hands and homes of musicians and non-musicians alike.