Latvian audio companies go international

Music is art, but it's also a business, with technological advances proving to be a lucrative source of income for Latvia's brightest. A Latvian Television story looks at three internationally successful businesses that produce cutting-edge music software and equipment. 

Sonarworks - a new reality of music

The Reference software by Latvia's Sonarworks start-up is being used at several thousand studios across the world, from creative enthusiasts to high-level studios of Maroon 5, Coldplay, Lady Gaga, and others. 

The company has attracted investment of about €2 million within five years. Nevertheless, it did not come easily at first.

For the first several years, the company used its self funding in LA and New York, demonstrating prototypes and persuading people that their software is a radical innovation in the world of music studios. Currently the company is focused on risk capital as its main investment support. 

Concurrently, they also benefit from visiting trade shows, aiming to become a global company. They say their key to success is investing time in direct contact with potential end-users, understanding their worlds, their problems and the ways software can help them reach their goals.

Mārtiņš Popelis

"It's important to find a practical way of selling a product, and the driving force that makes people purchase the product. From time to time, I see people who think they've got a wonderful idea, but when it comes to the market it turns out it was only good on paper and is really of no use to anybody," said Sonarworks co-founder Mārtiņš Popelis. 

Sonarworks currently funded by risk capital, and recently rolled out an app for audiophiles who seek to recapture a genuine studio sound. The company has thus reached a wider audience. 

"Our main goal is changing the way people approach sound, and to become the new standard for sound, bringing the final sound to the listeners in the way the studio had planned it, regardless of the efforts by headphone and speaker manufacturers," said Popelis. 

"We want.. to come to a reality that no matter what quality earphones or speakers you have, no matter where you listen, the studio and the musicians have control over the way it sounds," he said. 

Gamechanger Audio - crowdfunded effects pedal for musicians

When they first started, Gamechanger Audio treated it as an experiment, working in the evenings part-time.

"When the business started looking serious, we knew very well that we don't want any investment, to give away parts to other people. We wanted to keep the control. We realized early on that we'll choose the way of so-called crowdfunding, offering our product to clients in an unfinished stage. It could be said the first 400 clients were the ones who funded our early development and manufacture," said musician and the man behind the idea Iļja Krūmiņš.

He also says that the company's finances have also benefited from the grant program Atspēriens, as well as a business loan from the Imprimatur Capital Seed Fund.

"Plus Pedal"

Iļja himself comes from the music industry. He's a guitarist at Big Bluff, a rockabilly outlet, and has studied at a music school in London where he came up with the idea of creating a new effects pedal. Iļja says it's important that the focus always remains on the product.

"There are local brewers, for example, in every town. They make something themselves and stamp pretty labels on the bottle. We have a different approach. There's a single product with unique qualities and which is produced industrially and offered for sale across the world," said Krūmiņš. 

Their Plus Pedal represents a singular category of sound in the world of effects pedals, offering a 'sustain effect' for guitar players. It's somewhat akin to the sustain pedals found in pianos. Gamechanger Audio recently released the Plasma Pedal for musicians playing heavy stuff.

The music business is full of surprises--like the company discovered when one of their clients turned out to be the chief sound engineer for Pink Floyd's The Wall. 

Erica Synths without stop

While electronic music in Latvia is sort of an underground thing, four years ago the Erica Synths company realized they have something to offer to this niche.

The company builds upon the tradition of the Soviet-era Musical Instrument Factory of Riga, which was the the largest manufacturer of electronic music instruments in the Soviet Union.

Erica Synths have recently returned from Los Angeles where they partook in a trade show and built contacts. 

"Erica Synths" Showroom

"Marketing is quite costly today. Facebook likes are very expensive, while AdWord keyword placement in certain categories may burn up Latvia's budget within minutes," said Erica Synths founder Ģirts Ozoliņš. 

"My recommendation is investing all you can into the functionality of the product," he said.

His company is developing without outside help, but has a backup plan which includes business incubators, 'business angels' and crowdfunding. 

Erica Synths currently offer about 50 modular synthesizers, i.e., musical instruments that can be combined from different models. 

Modulārais sintezators

While there are but a handful of people who use modular synthesizers here in Latvia, Erica Synths' business is mainly abroad with Hans Zimmer, Depeche Mode, Deep Forest and others using their products. 

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