Co-Founders of Artiphon Answer Four Questions for Founders
Newlab member company, Artiphon, designs smart musical instruments for the world’s next billion music-makers.
1. Tell us about the journey since Artiphon’s launch.
Artiphon was founded when Dr. Mike Butera set out to design smart musical instruments that adapt to the people who play them. He drew on an education in studio engineering, a Ph.D. in Sound Studies, and his days as a touring musician. Artiphon’s first product was the INSTRUMENT 1, a string-like digital instrument that captures traditional musical gestures like strumming, bowing, and plucking—all on a single device. The company’s new invention is Orba, a handheld synthesizer that feels like a cross between a game controller and a grapefruit, which lets you create multi-part songs anywhere you go.
Music is an immutable element of human culture, but only a fraction of us are empowered to make it. Artiphon’s mission is to design an ecosystem of inspiring objects and interactive content that lets anybody discover the joy of musical creativity in their everyday lives.
2. How are you applying transformative technology to create a positive impact?
Orba builds on Artiphon’s framework of the multi-instrument: a single instrument that can be played as many. Orba brings together technologies never before combined in a music product, including capacitive-sensing pads (found in trackpads and smartphones), haptic feedback, LEDs, an integrated amplifier and speaker, and a gyroscope/accelerometer that track motion gestures and other features. Orba melds the expressiveness of advanced music tech with the user-friendliness of modern consumer devices.
One of the more encouraging trends of 2020 is the rise in home music-making, as people pick up new hobbies and students learn from home. This has also made clear the need for better virtual learning solutions, including music education. We hope Orba’s $99 price, usability, and universal compatibility make it a breakthrough for millions of teachers, learners, and creative wellness practitioners around the world.
3. What has been your biggest challenge as co-founders, and how have you learned from it?
We’ve been through our share of challenges. After the INSTRUMENT 1’s runaway success on Kickstarter in 2015, just as we were ready to start manufacturing, our founder Mike was suddenly diagnosed with leukemia. The team stepped up and kept everything on track during his speedy recovery, and everyone grew incredibly close through the experience.
Then in 2020, soon after we wrapped up the Kickstarter for our second product and were heading into manufacturing once again… COVID hit. This time we had over 12,000 backers around the world (a record for a musical product) waiting for their Orbas! It’s been a real challenge handling the added complexity, cost, and lead-times of global logistics in this climate, but we’re seeing it through. We’re particularly proud that we’ve been able to keep our team together and hire new people in a year such as this.
4. What role has Newlab played in helping you advance Artiphon?
It’s been so heartening to be in a circle of people as crazy as we are, who are tackling similarly huge challenges. We’ve made some great like-minded friends in the community. Also, Newlab throws a heck of a party and we love giving people a chance to relax and play music together.
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