Music making requires a workspace – but what if a workspace were built for music makers? And what if artists and tech startups could be symbiotic?
If you’ve ever been a part of the startup world, then you’ll have visited your fair share of coworking spaces. Some are nice, some not so much, but they’re all fairly businesslike, and rarely are they the kind of place that’s conducive to making music or making music technology. So where do you go if that’s what you need to do?
Enter The Rattle. Based in London, it’s a new idea in coworking that aims to be just the place for both emerging artists and also for new music tech startups. But that’s not the whole story, which is why I thought it would be really interesting to talk to them and get a better handle on what it is they’re trying to achieve.
The project represents a collaboration between the worlds of music and tech startups even in its founders, uniting MIT technology entrepreneur and former Techstars Entrepreneur in residence, Chris Howard, Ph.D, and music producer, writer, and major-label performer Bobby Bloomfield. I talked to them about the project and what it might represent for the larger business of being an independent musician.
CDM: Where did the idea of the Rattle come from, and when did it first seem to be an idea you were going to pursue?
Bobby: Our backgrounds are that — I’m a music guy who ran a studio and then went on to tour with a band; Chris is a music guy turned startup guy. After fifteen years working on our careers, we met again up to make a record together. Our individual journeys had been so different up to that point that it made us want to explore how we could bring the startup world and the music world together and try and fix some of the areas of the music world that are clearly broken…
… problems like not being able to pay your rent even though you’re in a successful band. I could hardly do that even when the band I was in was at the height of our fame. So we started throwing ideas around.
Chris: When Bobby explained to me how the music business worked, it was the complete antithesis of what I was used to in startup land, and I’ve always thought of artists as entrepreneurs. In fact, one of the reasons Bobby and I met again was because I was starting up my previous company in the UK and wanted really interesting mentors.
So was it around the disconnect between artistry and entrepreneurism and wanting to bring those closer together?
Bobby: Artists are always entrepreneurs, because they have to make their own money out of their passion. Piracy and then streaming broke the music industry, and now that it’s getting itself back together, it’s rebuilt in favour of the labels and the rights holders, rather than emerging artists. Even now, when everyone is celebrating that the music industry is thriving again, that’s not the case if you’re an emerging artist. Those that are breaking through are the ones with a big runway (i.e. the bank of Mum and Dad). We think that there are ways that we can bring in startup techniques and methodology and use the positive attitudes that come with incubators and accelerators. What we struggled with for a while was how to bring that learning to artists without killing off their creativity.
Chris: So, to get to the final answer, the idea came about around the start of this year. We said to ourselves, “Why aren’t makers of music treated like founders of their own startup?” First, we went to the accelerator model and asked, how do we implant that into music? We realized that it’s far too soon to do that, because accelerators accelerate business models, but there isn’t as yet a path that’s well established for a founder artist. So we needed a space to find out what that model might be. That’s when we started the idea of a coworking space together with a very light-touch accelerator — to accelerate the discovery of how artists can build startups around them.
CDM: So it the model you’re start with now just the beginning of this journey, and not an end point?
Bobby: It’s definitely not an end point. Our first thought was to bring the accelerator model straight into music, and that depends on taking an equity stake in each founder. But currently, there isn’t really a single, defined success model in music, and we can’t take a stake if 99% of the people are going to earn a modest wage. We decided after some exploration that we wouldn’t take a stake in anyone to start with, we’re just going to make a coworking model, but we’re still going to accelerate everyone as if we were taking a stake. We want everyone to come out as successful as possible. Whether it’s music tech, artists, managers, or new labels.
CDM: You’ve got two disparate groups, artists and music tech people, and these groups don’t traditionally meet unless one wants or needs to use the other. How will this interaction be different at The Rattle?
Chris: When art gets introduced to tech, or tech gets introduced to art, it’s traditionally when both are quite mature, at least on a personal level. On a cultural level, an artist might meet ROLI when quite established, and you don’t really meet the founders of ROLI, you meet the products of ROLI. The issue with this, that I’ve seen in the last 15 years of startup land is that culturally, if things are made independent of one another’s interests at the start, then by the time you’ve raised money, by the time you have a business model, or when you’re scaling, you have to serve the interests of your company first. Whereas at the founder stage you serve the interests of the people you build your company for.
Bobby: We love what streaming services do, but due to the company structure they will serve the labels over emerging artists. If there is to be another streaming service built, let’s have it built with artists and for artists.
The outcome that I want of all of this is more emerging music in the world. Much as I love Red Hot Chilli Peppers, I don’t think that they should be headlining Reading Festival again. It should be someone in their twenties, and as a 40-year-old man, I should be frightened of the new music. I shouldn’t be enjoying it with my real ale. Counter culture is what drives culture, but five years later. Strong counter-culture is driven from emerging music, alternative comedy, film making… I feel that it’s under-served right now.
CDM: I think I understand what you’re trying to achieve from an artists’ point of view, but I’m not seeing it from a music tech founder’s perspective?
Chris: There’s a number of things to say here. If you think of instrument makers, or hardware or software for music, then there’s decades of business experience that says that making your product surrounded by people who are going to use it makes a better product. There’s no two ways about it. The faster you can iterate, the better the product becomes. So if you’re a music tech software creator or hardware maker for artists, you’re not going to go to WeWork [coworking space chain], because you’re not going to see a lot of artists at WeWork. It’s hard to know where to go and form a business at the same time.
CDM: So this is about bringing two communities together for mutual benefit?
Bobby: There is no defined path for early stage artists. But if you have an excellent tech idea, there are really clearly defined paths you can go down. You can go to an incubator or accelerator, you can become part of a university, go to a WeWork, and build your own company. As an artist it isn’t as straightforward – do you go to art school, do you hope to get discovered? So we’re bringing a more clearly defined path for artists in The Rattle.
We have people like Imogen Heap, who is both an artist and a music tech maker and she has a very startup attitude. We want people like Imogen, people who make music tech to have that mindset rub off a little bit.
The artist journey is going to be slightly different because it’s longer. It takes a while to make a great body of work. It’s a bit quicker to make a product.
CDM: In terms of the music tech people and companies you want to bring in, is it a mix of new business models for the industry, software and hardware for artists? Is there anything specific you’re looking for?
Chris: Yes! I want to make it clear that it’s not just music tech. This is a concept of bringing the tech method of turning talent into a company and to bring that into the world of music making. So of course, music tech is a huge component of that instruments and the like, VR, ticketing. People who build tech tend to have the mindset of keeping ownership and building a company around the thing you create. That’s a very well-understood mindset, but on top of that there are other companies, like banking for freelancers, or a challenger bank. If they wanted to base themselves out of The Rattle, you might think “What?”. But we’re building a holistic ecosystem.
Bobby: It’s music business tech rather than specifically music making tech.
Chris: — although music making tech is a part of it. We basically want a looking glass into the future of the music making industry.
CDM: Ok, let’s say I was an artist and I join The Rattle and I’m progressing along okay, but then I get distracted by some cool music tech company who are based here, and I end up wanting to be a part of them and maybe I give up on being an artist. Is that okay? How do you think you’ll deal with people crossing over from one community to the other?
Chris: I think that’ll be really cool! It comes down to what people want.
Bobby: I am an entrepreneur because I’m an artist. I’ve never given up my art for anything else; if there wasn’t an opportunity to make money from music, I would rather starve. I think that artists would rather starve than not do music. So I don’t think we need to worry about artists going “I’m a tech person now.” I think that the prospects of getting artists and tech people in the same space is so exciting as I think they will become greater than the sum of their parts. If the next Bjork and the next Spotify are in the same place, they will start doing projects that are greater than both of them inside The Rattle. That’s the most exciting part about it. We’re bringing different cultures together with the aim of making the entire industry healthier and happier.
CDM: You’re currently raising money on Crowdcube. What was your reasoning for going down that route as opposed to raising money more traditionally from VCs and Angel investors?
Chris: There were a mixture of reasons for choosing Crowdcube. Very early in the year, some major labels approached us and invited us down an investment route. We shut that down pretty quickly. Not because we don’t want their money. We’re not sure, we haven’t made a decision on that as yet. But it’s more that we want to make sure that The Rattle is a grassroots thing. As we were going through de-risking our business, making sure that when we do go and seek investment the business is as invest-able as possible, at the stage that we’re at right now. We wanted to pursue a grassroots way of raising money, because it’s practicing what we preach. That’s a cultural reason, but practically speaking we think a lot of artists are going to use crowdfunding in the future, and we never want to talk about something we don’t understand.
CDM: What’s your view on all or nothing crowdfunding models? Do you think they work?
Bobby: There’s a week of panic involved. The path goes, panic, excitement, then thousand-yard stares.
Chris: If all you’re doing is raising from the crowd then you need to look and sound familiar. But I think that any kind of fundraising you can’t just rely on the crowd, you need to do old school hustle as well, and that’s actually what we’ve done in the background. Only about 20% of the capital that’s come in has been from the crowd because we’re not familiar, we’re the first coworking company on Crowdcube, we’re not a brewery, and we’re not IoT or an app for banks.
Bobby: People are wary of investing in music generally, or at least since Napster. Also it’s worth remembering that Crowdcube is merely a platform and you still do the work.
CDM: Can you see a time in the future where The Rattle offers crowdfunding to its artists?
Chris: First and foremost, we are a space where the cultures of making music and making tech collide so that they can learn from each other. That’s the first phase. The second phase is to move into more services so that The Rattle as a brand can make you (the artist) as successful as humanly possible. So we may offer a range of services like a toolkit for anyone inside The Rattle. Once we have the cultural change and our toolkit, then our next stage is to think about how we use those two things to accelerate people, and is equity the right model? That’s where we see the Rattle going, and whilst we’re doing that we’re going to be opening new Rattle around the world.
Bobby: There are all sorts of ways we can explore funding for artists. One way could be as a cooperative that runs inside The Rattle, where artists fund artists. But for now, our business model is simply coworking — with a view to an equity play once we’ve figured out tried and tested ways of making businesses in music and proving that artists can trust business and business can trust artists. They’re traditionally very wary of each other. Artists aren’t seen as leaders by business people and business people are seen as ‘the man’ by artists. It’s an old-fashioned view and it’s holding music back.
Crowdcube link: www.crowdcube.com/therattle
To apply: www.therattle.space
For our event on 13th Oct: www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/
CDM senior editor and Croydon native Ashley Elsdon has had an insight track on the evolution of music technology in London and the UK, as the founder of Palm Sounds and a technology consultant in various fields. No word yet on whether he’s setting up a desk at the Rattle, though. Follow him on Twitter.