The Rattle opened a studio in Silver Lake last year, which it operates as something between a startup accelerator, art co-op, coworking space and venture studio. Its goal is to rethink the way musicians and artists are compensated for creating something new or groundbreaking.
"In the music economy, artists are treated like writers of music for some label or publisher, so that the grown-ups can go and sort it out afterwards," said Chris Howard, CEO of The Rattle. "We wanted to see if we could translate the principles of startups and entrepreneurship to artists."
This week, the Los Angeles and U.K.-based creative collective announced its first investments into Los Angeles-based companies.
The Rattle CEO Chris Howard
They include a virtual reality tour guide platform, Animas, created by musician and artist Alexandria Rowan and FINKEL, an artist group that uses film and music to encourage people to explore new cultures.
Roughly 8,000 people have applied to join The Rattle since it launched in 2018, but it's only accepted about 400 artists and white-hat hackers between the U.K. and United States, according to its program director Brittaney Bunjong.
Only about 5% of applicants are accepted into its membership program. Only about 10% of those members receive a capital investment from the organization.
"I've found having outside eyes to provide direction on my choices as an artist and entrepreneur, learning about opportunities available to me, all has been appealing," Rowan said. "The co-working part of the process and getting to hang out with like-minded people has been wonderful."
Rowan uses virtual reality to create tours of cities for new residents and help them meet their neighbors, an effort she sees as complementary to trends exacerbated by the pandemic, when people working from home in shut-down cities opted to move to more affordable locations.
Animas will hold a demo event using its VR in October. The team will pick a small, relatively unexplored city (sadly, Los Angeles is neither) to host and showcase local artists and vendors. The event will also encourage residents to purchase local art and get active by using the technology to do an augmented reality scavenger hunt.
FINKEL's co-founders are husband and wife duo Brian and Jane Spencer, They're musicians who started a band of the same name but wanted to expand into filmmaking. After a failed attempt at recording a concert in Antarctica during the pandemic, the couple began experimenting with other ways to use film to expose local musical talent and culture.
Their first project, called "Islanders," will debut this year; it'll be a multimedia project examining the local artist culture in Mackinac Island in Northern Michigan.
A Finance Model for Artistic Provocation
The Los Angeles group is no more than 150 people who pay a $125 monthly fee to access the office space, engineering support and networking.
Howard said the Rattle doesn't make a profit from membership fees but instead takes equity in the startups it co-founds.
"The goal is to help them become financially independent," Howard said. "We deliberately shifted to an equity business model, so that if we're going in hard with members, then we will only commercially succeed when they commercially succeed -- and that's a philosophical difference between ourselves in the music business."
Eligible startups will receive funding from The Rattle for the first year of their operations plus access to its studio and creative space at the historic Mack Sennett Studios in Silver Lake. The Rattle declined to provide details on funding.
"We did so many experiments with how to finance an artist early on, so that they can be a great artist and a great business builder at the same time," Howard said, adding that musicians are forced into making money in only one or two significant ways: selling the rights to reproduce the music, or performing. "But if you establish your own company right from the very beginning and build that company as your artist's brand, you can enter any industry you want," he said
Howard told dot.LA it'd been testing the model for about two years before making investments, thought it has helped launch or develop 40 companies to date, he said.
"We partner with specific members in our community who we believe are making the most provocative or the most challenging projects and we co-found a brand new company," Howard said.
The Rattle has raised $3.5 million to date and is backed by Crowdcube, the Future Fund, London-based Dig Ventures and European investment firm LeanSquare. Former Virgin Music managing director Steve Lewis and Outrun Ventures Partner Chris Adelsbach also backed The Rattle as angel investors.
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The Rattle, a collective that brings together musicians and tech entrepreneurs, is reopening its doors for "counterculture pioneers" to apply to join its Silver Lake-based cohort.
The group aims to encourage unique artistic and startup collaborations among its members, provide resources to see them through and eventually invest in a subset of the resulting companies.
"We're looking for a specific mindset and type of member," said Helen Sartory, director of The Rattle LA. "We look for people who will disrupt the status quo in some way," such as with new financing models for creative projects or provocative artistic projects. An inclination toward experimentation and collaboration is welcomed.
The Rattle is a collective that brings together musicians and tech entrepreneurs.
Members accepted to the program pay a $99 monthly fee. In exchange, they receive access to resources like subsidized recording-studio time; sites for filming music videos; support from an in-house team that includes social media marketers, producers and computer programmers — and a mentorship network.
The Rattle originated in the UK in 2018 and expanded to Los Angeles shortly before the coronavirus pandemic. It currently has about 70 members in London and 45 in L.A. Sartory said about 60% of them are artists who want to use tech more smartly, 30% are tech-startup founders looking to work with artists and 10% the rare hybrids who are able to pursue both a startup and a musical career.
The group doesn't have a specific membership size they're hoping to grow to, but Sartory said its Silver Lake location will likely grow to around 100 members.
Merging art with startup culture has been fundamental to The Rattle's identity since its inception. The idea came about from an exchange between co-founders Chris Howard, a serial entrepreneur, and Bobby Bloomfield, a professional musician. Howard was surprised to learn that even among those who are able to play sold-out shows in big arenas and garner millions of streams, many musicians are hardly succeeding financially.
"They saw a disconnect between how artists and startups get investment," said Sartory, who noticed a similar gap herself as an emerging-tech investment banker pursuing a musical side-gig. "The types of deals on the startup side were so different than on the artist side; it seemed like the system was broken."
To help fix it, The Rattle has raised $2 million and developed a fluid business model that sees itself as a combination of a label, laboratory, incubator and collective. Like a record label, The Rattle seeks to help musicians make better music, find collaborators and market their work – but the collective does not take any copyright ownership. Like a laboratory, The Rattle encourages its members to experiment over prolonged periods. As a startup incubator, The Rattle is keen to facilitate a variety of business models. And as an art collective, "we have a bunch of crazy artists that come together" to make cool things, Sartory said.
The Rattle's "against the grain" ethos has already resulted in several interesting projects. Dozier, an L.A.-based musician, is working to create a virtual "artverse," where artists avatars can interact and collaborate in a digital world that expands beyond individual apps and programs. Incorrigible Entertainment, an artistic duo, is producing a virtual reality opera. Another member, Emre Tanrigan, has designed a VR drumming app that is a good example of the Rattle's approach, as several members offered their tracks to be part of the app's library so the founder could circumvent the rigamarole of traditional licensing channels.
L.A.-based musician Dozier is working to create a virtual "artverse."
Down the road, the group leadership plans to invest in a subset of its members' projects with a proper venture fund.
"We've spent the last two years learning how artists can work together and putting together this new investment model, which we're piloting in the U.K. and hopefully rolling out in L.A. very soon," Sartory said. The goal is to pick around 30 projects, she added, of which she is hoping about half will be U.S.-based.
Sartory believes sharing a physical space is important for allowing collaborations and experimentation to flourish, but the coronavirus pandemic has forced The Rattle to adapt.
"We planned for this to be a Willy Wonka factory where people come in and make mad stuff," she said.
That isn't quite as feasible as when The Rattle began constructing its Silver Lake location last December.
There is a silver lining:
"We're getting better now at building a virtual community," Sartory said. "We have artists in Paris, artists on the East Coast – it's getting easier to do that."
The cohorts in London and L.A. are also working together more than they might've otherwise.
"Had we not had the pandemic, we wouldn't have been able to gel the international community in the same way. But," she conceded, "it'd still be nice to have a big party."
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