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  • Writer's pictureEric Doades

New Form Factors and Culture with Adam McHeffey, CMO of Artiphon

Step into the vibrant world of music making innovation with Adam McHeffey, CMO at Artiphon.

Dmitri and Adam discuss the breakdown of the barriers to music-making, as unconventional instruments unleash a surge of first-time musicians and new creators. We'll unravel how inclusivity is striking a chord in the mainstream, and why the growing number of female guitarists are just the beginning of a larger cultural shift. Adam and Dmitri unpack the changes in consumer behavior, indicating a readiness for unique approaches to music creation, and what this means for the future of the musical landscape.


We talk about the power of user-generated content and community-centric experiences. Platforms like YouTube are fostering music scenes that operate more like folk traditions than music industry institutions, providing a stage for artists to cultivate devoted followers with distinctive sounds. We dissect Artiphon's direct-to-consumer marketing strategies, which transcend traditional demographics in favor of tapping into customer passions and preferences.



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Episode Transcript

Machine transcribed


0:00:10 - Dmitri

Welcome back to Music Tectonics, where we go beneath the surface of music and tech. I'm your host, Dmitri Vietze, also the founder and CEO of Rock Paper Scissors, the PR firm that specializes in music innovation and music tech, and this week I'm at NAM, the humongous musical instrument trade show in Southern California, and, as we did last year, eleanor Shaly and I will be collecting some cool sounds from inventors of some of the latest and greatest musical instruments and other items that go bleep, bleep, bleurgh, boomchik, boomchik and things like that, and so listen for that next week. But I thought it would be good to kick off NAM with a conversation about the evolving nature of the musical instrument world. There's an emergence of a new generation of soundbenders who are playing instruments that their listeners and viewers have never seen or heard before. There are creators who are producing compelling videos and not focused on music streaming services. They're making videos. It's visual, and parallel to this generation of musical artists are people inventing instruments with new form factors, hardware from cell phones and the launch of MIDI 2.0 and software improvements from AI and artists and inventors who grew up on 8-bit video games. All of these things are feeding into the shift into the musical instrument world. 


So before I dive into the trade hall here at NAM, I have Adam McHeffey here with me. Adam has spent his career at the intersection of music, art and business. He spent a decade touring as a multi-instrumentalist with several bands, while illustrating children's books for Amazon. Through the process, he learned that storytelling is at the heart of all great marketing. Currently, Adam is the chief marketing officer at Artiphon, where he directed several record-breaking Kickstarter campaigns and led product launches for instrument one, the Orba family and Corda. As a brand and marketing strategist with expertise in music technology, Adam often speaks on the future of digital marketing and creating impactful customer experiences. Welcome to the Music Tech Tonics podcast, adam. 


0:02:08 - Adam

Thank you, dimitri, and hello to everybody listening. It is such a pleasure to be speaking with you again. 


0:02:16 - Dmitri

So, Adam, am I right? Is there a new movement of unique form factor musical instruments afoot? 


0:02:21 - Adam

Absolutely. It's been going for some time, but we are on the precipice of things changing dramatically. When we first released instrument one, which was eight years ago- now we were weirdos. 


We were completely insane and, of course, the product did well on Kickstarter. But that's where weird people tend to congregate. So fast forward a few years. Look who's at NAMM in 2024. Look at the Seek track that Yamaha just released. In the comparisons to teenage engineering, this is Yamaha. They made my 1975 acoustic guitar and now they're playing with new form factors as well. This is no longer niche, it's not outskirts anymore. So I think that what was once incredibly daring and very outside of the box is actually pretty typical. When people go to make their first EP, they're going to have to say what tools am I going to choose here? And they might pick something that looks a lot different than a guitar or a piano. Look at Sweetwater, today known for pro audio and guitars. Now they have all sorts of educational products. They have blip blocks, they're carrying Artiphon and our crazy products. That was not the case five years ago. So the industry, the market, has absolutely changed. I think that's because people have really opened their minds to different ways of controlling sound. 


0:04:05 - Dmitri

Yeah, let's talk about that. What have you noticed about consumer behavior as it relates to these new form factor instruments? As you've launched these products with Artiphon, you're directly talking to interacting with people who buy the product, post it on socials, or influencers who are interested in doing stuff with it as well. What are you noticing about consumer behavior? That speaks to what this shift has been. 


0:04:29 - Adam

Only good things, I feel no-transcript. So one of my favorite stats at Artiphon is that two-thirds of our customers have never played an instrument before. Wow, and I think mixed in there is also a lot of people who maybe played a clarinet and band growing up and then that fell off right and they always wanted to play guitar. But it sits in the closet and I think that's actually pretty awesome and that represents a really, really cool opportunity, not just for Artiphon but other companies who are looking at the available instrument lineup and saying, well, hold on, there's got to be a better way to make music. I think that customers look at our products and they say that actually looks like something I can do. I can wrap my head around that. I see how easy it is to tap, how I don't need to have the crazy finger dexterity to play the Chapman stick or something like that. 


I'll share just another stat that I think is really interesting, which is the Fender came out with a study 50% of all new guitarists are female. This was not the case two decades ago a decade ago and obviously that's good to get more different people making music and playing instruments. I think that we've leveled the playing field a little bit. Gear used to be just for the pros. Everything used to be all black. There were select people who were allowed to play music and hopefully those walls are finally starting to come down, but it's been a long road to get here. 


0:06:02 - Dmitri

I mean, I can imagine for myself growing up taking music lessons. The lessons were both the no offense anybody out there in music education. The lessons were simultaneously the gateway to playing music but also felt like a barrier to me. Like you literally met with somebody once a week. It was a little bit stressful, did you practice? I remember growing up playing an instrument being like the day of the lesson going to practice and be like, oh shoot, my teacher loves me, they're super supportive and I haven't done my homework. I'm like a bad student and then I'd like stress out, I'd be stressed practicing, then I'd stress going to the lesson and it wasn't the fun part of music for me. 


0:06:40 - Adam

No, yes, I think so many people have that story. I don't know how I made it through guitar lessons, actually with my temperament. It wasn't like I was a great student. I think I just loved it and I loved the music I was playing. I'm just thinking about this, though I was probably taking guitar lessons in the 90s. I was learning Green Day in Nirvana, which is what was popular on the radio. 


Do young music students even have that anymore? They're going to bring Drake or Taylor Swift into a music lesson. They're going to ask to learn it and they're not going to have the right tools for it, and so we actually need to. As music changes the music that we listen to, what's on the radio changes. The actual tools that children pick up are going to need to change as well if they're going to make the kind of music that they love, because we can't just keep learning good riddance GCD on acoustic guitar. I don't know that. I don't know that my 15 year old niece even knows that song, so she's going to need a different set of tools to play the music that she loves. 


0:07:46 - Dmitri

Yeah, also, it makes me wonder, when talking about how people's behavior has changed with things like these new form factor instruments, things like the Orbez, is what are they trying to learn? What are they trying to do? Are they trying to even learn a song, or are they trying to just express themselves without even thinking about, oh, I'm going to be creative now, but more like, oh, this looks cool, let me pick this up, oh, check out what this can do, and then, next thing you know it, they're writing songs as opposed to copying things they've heard. 


0:08:17 - Adam

Yeah, I think that's a great point. What if publishing a song, making an EP, never happens? And is that okay? 


And I feel like definitely, obviously, absolutely. I've been rattling this idea around my brain that folk music is back, and I don't mean anything relating to the genre, or banjos and mandolins. What I mean is we're here to play music for ourselves. It used to be 1920s. You'd go into a Sears department store, you'd buy a piece of sheet music, you'd give it to your daughter because she was the one who knew how to play piano or guitar, and that's how you heard the music you wanted to hear. You had to play it. How fantastic is that. 


And I think that's happening again in small ways. Right, if we want to hear music, the music that we want to make that's easier to do than ever before, and we've really tried to change the expectation of what it means to be a musician or what it means to play. Art of Fun products, in particular, to keep Orba, which, for those just listening, imagine a grapefruit that you slice in half and you make little drum beats on that. That's this product we're talking about. People leave it on their desk and they play it in between or during Zoom calls instead of checking Instagram. A little bit of music, just five minutes here, five minutes there. The benefits, the cognitive benefits, de-stressing it's just unbelievable what that can do to shape up your day. So we believe that music is part of a healthy lifestyle and small doses is a great way to get there, and everybody has to release their self-titled EP on Spotify this year to be successful in their musical journey. 


0:10:08 - Dmitri

You know, Adam, as you're talking, I'm realizing. When you mentioned the folk music thing, I was just yesterday. Yesterday my 14-year-old started playing a YouTube in the living room video of two really young musicians that apparently they make their melodies and their beats with a keyboard and a drum controller in fast food restaurants. They're literally like at the counter of a McDonald's and then a Taco Bell and when you talk about folk music they're not around a fire the way you. You know guitars around a fire, necessarily. But it actually looked and felt much like what you just described. And then, all of a sudden, one of the on one of the videos, one of the workers at the fast food restaurant says hey. 


I got a bigger keyboard in my car and literally goes out and brings out a bigger, and so now you have this kind of community building where, where people start sharing and interacting and so forth. 


0:11:02 - Adam

The idea that you go and write. A professional songwriter writes a song, finds the right vocalist for it, the record label puts it on a recording and we distribute it via vinyl or comp. That's that existed for a handful of decades. That is such a miniscule moment in the vast history of humans making sound. So what we're seeing now more people feeling empowered to make music. It's much more like how it used to be and I see that as a huge, huge positive. 


0:11:33 - Dmitri

All right, we have to take a quick break, but when we come back at him, I want to ask you whether you think this will change the music that we listen to on streaming services. We'll be right back. 


0:11:42 - Eleanor

You've heard Dimitri and Tristra on the podcast, now coming out with them. I'm talking about seismic activity. Music tectonics free online event series. About once a month, we convene the music tech community for networking, discussions and demos by innovators and inventors. Join us and tune into the tremors that are about to become major shakeups in the industry. See upcoming topics on our schedule and register for our next event at musictectonics.com. These aren't your usual sleepy webinars. Seismic activity is fun, fast paced and interactive. Everyone who works for music and tech meet is welcome. See you soon. 


0:12:26 - Dmitri

OK, we're back and, Adam, this has been so much fun talking to you. I mean like I didn't know what direction this was going to take. We're talking about YouTube as folk music and just how people are changing their perceptions of what it means to play music and what the goals are there. So, in the long term, I'm curious do you think that the music that we listen to on, say, streaming service or the radio, or in films and TV, when they're synchronizing, will that type of music change significantly from the use of the types of instruments and interactions that we're talking about? 


0:12:59 - Adam

Absolutely. I think it's going to get more specific. I think it's going to get more niche based. I enjoy the photo memories stream on my phone far more than Instagram these days. This might sound like I'm coming out of nowhere with this, but stick with me. I think that people are feeling like more specific, curated experiences that really have something to do with their lives, and the people that they're closest with are much more meaningful than just the vast openness of the entire Internet. Look at how people have taken to discord right, because it's with like-minded people and they're all passionate about the same thing. I see all of this as a good thing and, if it hasn't happened already, I see the same thing happening with music. 


There might be one artist out there who makes the weirdest music you could possibly imagine. Who knows what it is? They might only have a thousand fans, which sounds like a small number, but it's actually enough to release music for the rest of your life and have a really fulfilling, if not side project full on career. And so I think that more and more microcosms of communities are going to pop up, and music is going to just continue to spread and branch off in so many different directions. If the Beatles represented like this monoculture like you, just couldn't avoid it. It was everybody's favorite band. We're moving further and further away from that at breakneck speeds. 


Just another anecdote to try and prove my point here BandLab just announced that they're launching a sync licensing program for its users. So BandLab is an online digital audio workstation. They've got 60 million registered users. This is absolutely massive. It's a lot of people making music and now they have sync licensing for it, meaning that those users are now able to make their music available and make money off of it. This you could have called these people hobbyist producers. Now there's a real opportunity for them to create all of these different cottage industries and little markets. And then you add merch on top of that. I think it's just going to keep getting more focused and smaller and, frankly, I think it's going to be more sincere and hopefully more artful as we head towards it. 


0:15:24 - Dmitri

Super interesting. Let's bring this towards kind of your more specific expertise in the marketing world, because I'm imagining that musical instrument makers in the past would market through the known retailers, the stores and eventually the e-commerce sites as well, and through media that already speak to musicians, that are known as musicians guitar magazine, keyboard magazine and probably through schools to get players when they're young or even when they're selecting an instrument. But how have you identified and reached customers? At Artiphon it's got to be different, because you don't have the grapefruit players, the people who already are playing the Orbit, to market to. So how have you found people? 


0:16:08 - Adam

One of the reasons Artiphon is successful is that we have had one foot in the past and one foot in the present. I think it's still the case that you can't buy a Fender guitar from Fender.com, that they work exclusively through distributors, so you have to go to Sweetwater, you have to go to Guitar Center. That's how it was for decades. That's how most musical instruments were and continued to be sold. But just the world that I grew up in. You make a great commercial, you put it on Instagram and that's how you sell shampoo or cereal. And that's the world that I knew well and I knew that we could do well in. So it was a lot of that D to C, direct to consumer advertising, building a funnel around that. And the benefits go far beyond just being able to make high margin sales. You get to control the entire conversation with your customer. You get to survey them, you get to learn who they are. You get to learn that two thirds of Artiphon customers have never played a musical instrument before. Like I said before, you get to learn the music that they listen to and the press that they read, and now you have really actionable insights for finding more people like them For anybody who's thinking about marketing a product at all tangentially related to music, music tech. Ask your customers who they listen to and you're gonna see some threads in there. 


At Art of Fine, it was always Jacob Collier, who was Jacob Collier. Jacob Collier, jacob Collier Okay, let's find this guy, let's make sure we get him some product. Who are his friends? Who are the similar artists on Spotify? Now you're actually starting to find people based on genre of the music that they like, and it's just interesting because we're not really targeting people on classic demographics where targeting people based on behavior and the sorts of things that they like to do in their spare time. That world of direct to consumer marketing has changed so wildly over the past couple of years and we've kind of been on the forefront of it. We've been riding these waves for years now and it's really, really exciting. 


0:18:25 - Dmitri

Yeah, it's funny when you mentioned Jacob Collier. I mean, the other thing about him is he really brings his audience into his process right, Like they become collaborators with him. He's really showing how he's building songs and things like that, and I could see why that would be such a good fit for somebody who wants to put their hands on the instrument that once. I wanna do a loop. How do I do a loop? 


0:18:47 - Adam

Yeah, it's funny I'm so much more interested in that than income bracket or age or gender. I feel that that way of targeting and marketing people doesn't work the way that it used to and it's, frankly, just less interesting to me. There are other ways to find your market, and I think that the really good marketers will figure that out in the next coming years. 


0:19:11 - Dmitri

I wanna go just a tiny bit deeper on this, but we do have to take one more quick break. We're doing a fast episode because we're just ready to jump out at NAMM, but I think we're giving Adam you're giving some great, solid information and things for people to think about. Let's take that quick break and when we come back I'll ask you more about the approach that Artiphon has used. We'll be right back, Demetri, here. Hey, are you coming to the NAMM show in Anaheim, California? I love checking out the musical instruments at the annual trade show of Music here, but I'd rather do it with you. 


So we're teaming up with the MIDI Association to hold a music innovators meetup at NAMM. Meet all the instrument, software and app innovators in one room. We'll pass the mic so you can match names with faces, and then we'll have an open schmooze fest. Meet at the MIDI Association booth number 10302. That's 10302 in the convention center. 


On Sunday, January 28th, from 11: 30 am to 12: 45 pm and keep an eye out on the show floor for the guy in crazy pants. That's me I'll be looking for the mad inventors and creative geniuses of musical gear to capture on video. Follow our Instagram at MusicTechTonics for reels of my favorite finds from NAMM Plus. We'll bring some of the best music making innovations at our next free online event in February and on upcoming podcast episodes. Find out more at MusicTechTonicscom and sign up for our newsletter so you're the first to know. Now back to the pod. So, Adam, when I think of Artiphon, I think of social media, I think of influencers and I think of impeccable video content, and I'm curious if you could talk a little bit about I mean, you got into it right before the break a little bit about, like, reaching potential customers directly, having much more of a direct relationship, interaction, conversation, but I'd like to hear a little bit more about how and why you've leaned in so much with these digital methods of marketing. 


0:21:03 - Adam

Well, let's talk just about user-generated content for a second. 


And just word of mouth marketing has been one of the most powerful forces in marketing for. However, however, let go back as far as you can. Right word of mouth, and that still exists. Some people call it word of mouth, which is cute, although it doesn't exactly roll off the tongue, All right. So how do you do that in 2024? How do you do it repeatedly, sustainably, forever and ever and ever? 


I think Artiphon has been really successful with the user-generated content. Go to Artiphon.com and scroll down the webpage. You don't even have to go that far. We repost almost every piece of user-generated content on our homepage and we tag you and we share it and we include you in newsletters. And we do that because, I mean first, I mean we just think it's awesome, right, Like these are people actually using our products. 


For the most part, they're successful experiences, so we wanna share that, we wanna highlight it. But it also creates this viral effect because people get their Orbas and their Cordas. Those are our two main products and I feel like they almost have this expectation that that's just a part of it now and they know that if they make a video, we're gonna put them on a pedestal, because they deserve it. It benefits them because they're getting more visibility on their accounts. Everybody appreciates a little extra exposure and it's so good for community building and the marketing value of that is hard to quantify, but it feels immense to me. So we've always been very, very strong with encouraging people to take videos and photos and share them, and again we've gone as far as featuring the stuff right on the homepage of Artiphonics.com for everybody to see, and that's really benefited us. 


0:23:02 - Dmitri

But I've seen a lot of videos where your hands, your voice and your face are in the videos too. Is that basically kind of like role modeling what's available for the users to create? 


0:23:13 - Adam

It used to be that we really, really stressed out about quality. What camera are you gonna use? What lens, lighting, everything has to be Apple-esque quality, and that's how we did things for a long time. The lines are so blurred now between the content that a company makes and the content that users are making, and that can be really fun to play into. 


So if you want user, we have a feature where you can sample things on the device. If you want users to go and make videos of themselves sampling things, you have to be the first one to do it. And I don't mean somebody that you hire on Fiverr, I mean you, the CEO, the CMO, the director of this, the head of that. Like, no, like, you need to go clean off your iPhone and do your hair and go out in the woods and grab a bunch of sticks and show how to make a beat using things you found in nature. And I don't mean tomorrow, like, I mean today, at like 9 am. Like, put it on your calendar and go get it done. And I promise you, if you do that and you do it with some level of regularity, you're gonna see videos of that start to pop up, and it doesn't happen any other way. None of this happens truly organically. These things need to be seated and you have to lead by example with your audience. 


0:24:31 - Dmitri

Wow, that's amazing. Adam, thank you so much for this. You're sharing all these insights and I'm pumped to be running around NAM with you this week. I know you're gonna be there as well. I'm curious. Maybe we should try. Maybe you could show me some of this. Maybe we could actually showcase a little bit on the Music Tech Tonics Instagram. Would you be up for shooting some social videos with me at NAM and we could post them to Tech Tonics? 


0:24:53 - Adam

I think that's great. I think NAM is a perfect place to do it, especially if someone listening out there has a new product or a new feature update or does something really hot that they wanna show off. I feel like this would be a perfect opportunity to test out all of these different things that I'm throwing out there. 


0:25:11 - Dmitri

Oh man, I'm so excited. I love this. I don't think we've ever done anything like that on the podcast, where it's gonna become this interactive thing this week at NAM. Okay, listeners, follow Music Tech Tonics on Instagram and see what we come up with, or DM us. Actually, you heard about it on one of our breaks. Come to our innovators meetup at the MIDI Association on Sunday morning at 1130 AM. And if you're thinking how do I tap into this, Adam Guy's marking an expertise for my musical instrument or software company, just shoot me an email. Music at rock paper scissors.biz. Music at rock paper scissors S-C-I-S-S-O-R-S. The worst word in the world to put in a domain Dot biz B-I-Z. And maybe Adam and I can hop on a call with you to put together a plan. Would you be up for that? We could do that, right? You know, if a couple people reach out, sure, awesome, all right, let's go not get our ears destroyed by the drums. Room over at NAM and we'll go see some cool new form factors. How's that sound? 


0:26:06 - Adam

Let's explore, let's see what's here. Thanks so much, adam. We'll see you soon. 


0:26:10 - Dmitri

Good to meet you. Thanks for listening to Music Tech Tonics. If you like what you hear, please subscribe on your favorite podcast app. We have new episodes for you every week. Did you know? We do free monthly online events that you, our lovely podcast listeners, can join? Find out more at musictechtonics.com and, while you're there, look for the latest about our annual conference and sign up for our newsletter to get updates. Everything we do explores the seismic shifts that shake up music and technology, the way the Earth's tectonic plates cause quakes and make mountains. Connect with Music Tectonics on Twitter, instagram and LinkedIn. That's my favorite platform. Connect With Me. Dmitri Vietze, if you can spell it, we'll be back again next week, if not sooner.




Music Tectonics at NAMM 2023

Let us know what you think! Tweet @MusicTectonics, find us on LinkedIn, Facebook and Instagram, or connect with podcast host Dmitri Vietze on LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook.

The Music Tectonics podcast goes beneath the surface of the music industry to explore how technology is changing the way business gets done. Weekly episodes include interviews with music tech movers & shakers, deep dives into seismic shifts, and more.

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