Nashville-made Artiphon fine-tunes its musical invention and eyes a launch 

Instrument of Action: Innovations 2014

Instrument of Action: Innovations 2014

The last time we wrote about Artiphon ("Tech of the Town," Feb. 21, 2013), organizers at the National Association of Music Merchants trade show had just told founder Mike Butera his Artiphon Instrument 1 was "ahead of the curve" in a category that didn't exist yet but would soon seem obvious. A year-and-a-half later, Artiphon is still ahead of the curve, but not quite over the hump.

The Instrument 1, which looks a little different now than it did during its NAMM debut — the iPhone dock, for instance, has been replaced by Bluetooth connectivity — is a digital instrument that can be played like a guitar, violin or keyboard, and sound like almost anything from an 808 to a flute, depending on the app it's connected to. As Butera puts it, "We have a relatively simple but really novel concept: We're building a musical instrument that can be played easily with many techniques."

In recent weeks, Butera has been touting the company's unique blend of technology — they recently obtained their first patent — and intuitive musicality, most visibly in two onstage pitch sessions. Neither was an official win, but each was good for the company. The first, at the Southland conference, didn't nab the $100,000 grand prize, but did earn a smaller payout, along with a new adviser: Marc Ruxin, COO of Rdio. The second, a jam-packed session at the Nashville Entrepreneur Center for AOL co-founder Steve Case's Rise of the Rest tour, also failed to yield a win — the big $100,000 prize went to fellow locals Checkd.in. But Case decided to make a personal investment in Artiphon afterward. "Regular-sized checks are fine with me," Butera says.

A question that often arises with a nifty newfangled thing that people could buy: Why not just do a Kickstarter? The short answer is that sometimes people with cool things they built a few of by hand get way more orders than they could possibly fulfill, and have no manufacturing set up, which is bad. The Instrument 1 is rather complicated and involves a variety of unique components.

"We didn't want to rush our development and release an instrument that wasn't revolutionary, so we raised enough angel investment in Nashville and Silicon Valley to get through development and protect our intellectual property," Butera explains. "We couldn't have gotten where we are today if we had to rush an earlier product to market."

Butera also feels Artiphon couldn't have reached this point if it was based somewhere else. Despite pressure to go west, Butera says he's stayed in Nashville "because this is where the music happens, and increasingly where technologies are being developed and even manufactured." Even though research and development have taken a bit longer than they might have in, say, San Francisco, Butera remains committed. "An innovation has to be developed right alongside the people who are going to be using it," he says. "Otherwise, it's just an invention."

Butera is tight-lipped about upcoming moves, but he says, "We're almost there, which means we'll have some good news in the coming months."

Email editor@nashvillescene.com.

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