Plus Eight Equity Partners Talk 'Pushing the Bounds' of Electronic Music Through Investment
Historically art and commerce are portrayed as being at odds, but John Acquaviva, a DJ with decades of experience behind the decks, and Rishi Patel, who spent years at high-flying financial institutions like Morgan Stanley, are aiming for a seamless and profitable merger of the two with Plus Eight Equity, a fund dedicated to "artist-driven community-based investing" in music technology.
"There has been a misunderstanding between the institutional capital world and the music culture," Patel acknowledges. "There's that divide. We come from both worlds -- we provide a bridge."
The fund, which debuted in March of 2014, is an outgrowth of the eponymous techno label founded by Acquaviva and dancefloor luminary Richie Hawtin in the 1990s. Hawtin serves as chairman of the fund; Pete Tong, the famous producer and BBC DJ, and Ben Turner, a longtime Hawtin associate who also founded the International Music Summit with Tong, sit on Plus Eight's advisory board. For the last 36 months, the group has been raising money, and the fund announced on Tuesday that it closed with capital committed from partners in North and South America, Asia, Europe, South Africa and Australia.
According to Patel, Plus Eight is the only fund of its kind, serving to link financial resources with a pool of DJs, club promoters, label owners, and technology experts from six different continents in the hopes of nudging the electronic music experience towards the horizon. Acquaviva and Hawtin have a long history of embracing technological progress: they were closely involved with the development of Final Scratch, the program that brought digital files into the DJ booth, and Acquaviva also helped launch beatport.com, the biggest digital retailer of dance music in the world.
"A lot of the new Plus Eight stems from the old Plus Eight," Patel tells Billboard Dance. "We took that vision and we added a couple small elements to it. Plus Eight is from a turntable -- when you push the pitch to the end, that's playing a record to the limit, pushing music to its outer bounds. That's exactly relevant to what we do: we invest in technology to push the bounds."
But Patel stresses that the latest evolution of Plus Eight "is not just a couple DJs coming in and throwing darts at the board." "The leading lights are the leading artists," he says. "But that's wrapped around a thorough mantra of financial discipline. We are very rigorous in our diligence when we evaluate companies."
The fund interacts with the market in very specific ways. "We're not growth equity investors, we're not angel investors," Patel clarifies. "We're post-proof-of-concept investors: here's what you can do to make it better, make it cheaper. Here's how to bring it to the market."
"We're like A&R guys at the label," he continues, "except instead of evaluating music demos, we evaluate business plans. There's a lot of bulls--t you have to go through to find that hit, but with our experience, we know a hit when we see one."
In total, Plus Eight has evaluated 350 companies to date -- a pool drawn from both its extensive network of individuals knowledgeable about the latest developments in the electronic music industry, and a commitment to shaking the bushes in search of impressive new products. "We have a pretty robust pipeline," Patel says. "And we're on the road at all the major events we need to be. This will be the second year where we'll be judges at the Sonar start-up competition, a great place to meet the most cutting-edge music technology start-ups out there."
Of the 350 possible investment opportunities, Plus Eight has committed to just eight. One of the products that's furthest along is a backpack-sized bass-plate manufactured by the company Subpac to provide a home-listener with the pleasantly sternum-shaking sensation of a fierce low-end. "You're not gonna blast the bass in your apartment complex -- it's gonna drive your neighbors crazy," Patel says. "This is an elegant solution." Wearing a Subpac while listening to music, floors and walls will remain blissfully free of bass while a user's torso absorbs a steady throb.
Like many of the products Plus Eight has invested in, Subpac has applications outside of music as well. Videogame players who want to make their gameplay experience more visceral have been cueing up for Subpac products, as have South Korean movie theaters interested in adding a rumble dimension to film viewing. Patel also recently tested a Subpac insert for car seats.
Other products Plus Eight has shown interest in are aimed at the burgeoning worlds of music apps and streaming services. Users control Doppler Labs' HERE One earplugs with their phones, customizing their reception of whatever sounds are present in their surroundings -- cut out all the highs when a subway train is screeching to a halt nearby, for example, or do on-the-spot sound mixing to counterbalance the bad acoustics of countless clubs.
A different technology called Pacemaker interfaces with Spotify, taking a group of songs selected by a streamer and beat-matching and mixing them just as a DJ might do. Unlike Soundcloud, which has struggled to keep mixes online because the songs within them aren't licensed, Pacemaker only saves metadata information on the songs that were in the mix and the manipulations that were made to make them flow together, thus a Pacemaker mix can be instantly reassembled by another Spotify steamer without legal repercussions.
Now that the fund is closed, Plus Eight partners will have even more time to work closely with the companies it has invested in. "We get involved in our companies," Patel says. "We'll take board seats; we do a lot of active mentoring."
"Plus Eight brings a level of professionalism to the music industry that isn't so common," he adds. "Our industry's growing up, so it's time to grow up. Let's do correct business together."