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VocalBrain CEO eyes bootstrap, capraise options for vocal-training platform
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  • Tech veteran weighs pros + cons of early funding options
  • Vocal coaching, training via community platform easing thru betas
  • engineering talent with heart for Music a priority
  • AI/ML plays a role, but company prioritizes artist growth, engagement
  • Go To Market campaign to hit within 180 days
  • Brace of advisors in-place ahead of expansion
  • Music-loving founder's influentials included a Jazz great

DEEPLY EXPERIENCED tech-sector veteran Michael Rutherford, who's also a dedicated amateur musician, confirmed he is considering raising outside funding to expand engineering and marketing for his startup, VocalBrain Inc.

However, Rutherford also told Venture Nashville that, as the company's founder, CEO and majority owner, he's not eager to deal-away the advantages that he believes he and potential future investors will enjoy as a result of his having relied almost entirely on bootstrap funding, while employing lean-startup principles.

That said, he also confirmed he has had some early conversations with professional investors, and he has also executed several small SAFE transactions among friends and family.

Michael Rutherford

Rutherford's Brentwood-based company, conceived in 2021 and registered in Delaware six months ago, offers a platform for vocal coaches, choirs, veteran performers, and dedicated beginners who seek to develop and preserve their voices with the help of coaches, self-paced online instruction, and engagement within communities of their peers.

Brentwood-based VocalBrain's temporary corporate website is here.

The walled-off VocalBrain app, itself, remains in semi-stealth mode, and VNC understands it has begun generating revenue from over-the-transom newcomers and beta users converting to paid-beta.

Though Rutherford declined at several points to suggest a target for a hypothetical capital raise, he acknowledged he is preparing an investor presentation deck and estimated that the scheduled advancement of the platform to full B2B2C operations would probably require a $200K spend.

That would be on top of the several hundred-thousand dollars worth of in-kind work and $10K cash Rutherford said he has already invested in the company.

Meanwhile, time is of the essence: Rutherford's plans call for a fully commercialized platform operating by Labor Day -- 180 days from now -- by which point an aggressive 12-month marketing campaign would also have kicked-in.

Farther over the horizon, when the company is fully B2B2C-ready, Rutherford expects the platform to begin serving a third market segment -- individual vocalists who subscribe on a direct-to-consumer (DTC) basis, i.e., without a coach-in-the-loop, at least initially.

Its temporary website notably includes, but does not aggressively emphasize the platform's use of artifical intelligence and machine learning (AI/ML).

That moderate tone is deliberate, Rutherford said, explaining, "We use AI and may have stumbled upon something pretty interesting, but we want to brand ourselves as something other than an AI company."

At another point in a series of interviews, he told VNC that while ML/AI, digital voice analysis, gamification, adaptive vocal coaching, recognition of student learning patterns and requirements, etc., will remain important and evolutionary within the platform, the unifying element in VocalBrain success is expected to flow from enabling coaches, students and others to engage effectively with peers and other professionals.


Rutherford, 54, expressed confidence that VocalBrain has few, if any near-term platform development or marketing challenges that he, his team and their advisors haven't successfully faced before.

Nonetheless, he acknowledged that raising outside capital could accelerate platform extension and allow increased focus on customer and partner discovery, and increase sales revenue.

He added that a full-stack engineer -- particularly a person with prior knowledge of Music -- is his staffing priority.

He explained that he believes he can quickly train a strong engineer in machine learning, AI and related matters, if the candidate needs that; but, ideally, all key team members will know something about music and the building of music-centric communities.

Earlier in his career, Rutherford worked within and-or via contractors for Asurion, Microsoft, eMids, Optum, Kforce, Agilix Labs, Deloitte, Willis, and Emdeon, among others.

Over the years, he earned his tech stripes by shouldering software-solution design and development, engineering, social-collaboration, knowledge-management and other tech-centric roles. Rutherford's LinkedIn profile here.

Kevin Gift
Otto Gross II

His VocalBrain team thus far includes Nashville-based Co-Founder and Chief Product Officer Kevin Gift Jr., who's also a musician and private music teacher; and Strategic Advisor Otto Gross II, who is a former creative director for local edtech startup QuaverEd, as well as Worship Director for Christ Church Nashville, among other pursuits.

Rutherford also emphasized that his early collaboration with veteran Nashville vocal coach, Jake Burton, owner of Jacob Burton Studios, has proven crucial as the team has developed an offering that not only accommodates the most sought-after coaches in Nashville, Los Angeles and New York, but also ensures that the platform will soon be able to coaches, singers and others who are based far from major music and entertainment centers, in the U.S. and eventually abroad.

VocalBrain is also advised by attorneys with Morris Manning & Martin (Atlanta); and, Studio Bank SVP Phil Shmerling in Nashville. The CEO said one of his family handles VocalBrain's accounting.

Further emphasizing his interest in bootstrapping, Rutherford also said he recently began working with Roy Jay, an Orlando-based mentor, and together they are "working through" the LeanStack program for startups founded by Ash Maurya.

Despite what seems an intense pace, Rutherford seems largely at-ease as he moves stepwise toward his next decision about capital.

At one point, he alluded to a point validated by many entrepreneurs, saying, "The reality is, the longer we keep in the lean mode, the less we will have to ask for and more of the equity we can retain." More Lean info here.


Based on VNC research and conversations with Rutherford, sector entrants include Erol Studios (Vancouver); SimplySing (Simply, fka JoyTunes, Tel Aviv); Yousician (fka Ovelin, Helsinki); and, School of Rock (Philadelphia).

There are also ancillary, and occasionally platformy entrants, such as 30DaySinger (30 Day Lessons Inc., San Francisco), Singeo (Musora, Abbotsford, B.C., Canada), Ramsey Voice (Austin) and still more, critiqued in a 2024 Singwell ranking here.

VNC research indicates other sector entrants have popped-up globally during the past decade or more, but, on-the-fly, it proved impossible to determine the statuses of those businesses, e.g., Vanido (Delhi, Menlo Park) and Vocal Sensei's La Vocal (B.Slade, Los Angeles).


VocalBrain's current online content is delivered entirely in English. However, plans call for next introducing content in Spanish, with subsequent offerings in German and then "East Asian" languages.

Rutherford pointed-out that these four language categories are common priorities among global content producers, and specialized suppliers provide uploadable packs of languages for platform incorporation.

Asked about potential targeting of markets beyond Music, per se, Rutherford said that in due course VocalBrain might well win adoption in the Health sector.

He said he has had some informal contacts and discussions with some healthcare professionals who are addressing vocal, auditory, mental health and-or related conditions.

Today, the company's website notes that VocalBrain technology can be used to help "therapists create customized vocal exercises that facilitate emotional expression and cognitive recovery through music." The platform may also be used to support speaker training, presentation skills and confidence among teams and their members.


Rutherford's interest in the intersection of tech and Music began early: A native of Los Angeles, he was enamored of video games and began programming games in his childhood on a Commmodore 64 (C64).

He told VNC, "The C64 had built-in MIDI and a SID chip, so I started making music like many others. I used video games to learn how to program, and a good video game requires a good soundtrack, so I read all I could on music composition. I eventually started playing the guitar to put the theory into practice."

"I kept using video games to learn new programming languages and problem domains. A video game requires data management, sound, graphics, security, AI and all the other aspects of enterprise software with the addition of needing to model very complex systems. You have a fantastic skill set if you can independently create a video game. It is something I look for when hiring engineers," he continued.

During the COVID lockdown, Rutherford said he spent more time playing musical instruments, but -- even his ear for music "got way better" -- he got bored always playing in isolation.

Amid that boredom, he recalled that a few months prior to the COVID lockdown, he had been captivated by the documentary Jazz, by Ken Burns.

Louis Armstrong

That widely acclaimed program included a segment about the talent and influence of one Louis Daniel "Satchmo" Armstrong. Rutherford said the program, and particularly the Armstrong portion, left him with heightened awareness of the importance of the human voice as an instrument.

Fast-forward: He hit upon the kernel of a concept that became VocalBrain.

Sharpening the point, he told VNC, "If I had not lived under the myth that 'singing is a gift you are born with', it could have changed the course of my life and I would have probably pursued a career as a musician or music producer."

He later added that the purpose of the AI/ML-enabled platform is solely "to teach people to be better at skills they want or need, not make up for a lack of them. Someone called us 'the opposite of Auto-Tune'," he added.

Prior to the tech career outlined above in this story, Rutherford's early career included a stint working alongside his father, Robert Rutherford, who was the person who first advised VNC of the VocalBrain's existence and who himself remains engaged in the trucking sector.

In 2003, Michael Rutherford earned a professional certification in computer science at the University of Washington, Seattle, while working on a Microsoft assignment. In 1994, he earned a bachelor's degree from Middle Tennessee State University (1994) that was focused on journalism and biology. His media experience included reporting for The Tennessean, The Franklin Review-Appeal and other outlets.

A Los Angeles native, Rutherford and his family reside in Williamson County. He has two children in college and one soon graduating high school.

The CEO said this morning that he continues to play "guitar, bass, keys and some drums." He has been coached in singing by Co-founder Gift.


Roy Jay

Above-mentioned advisor Roy Jay's LinkedIn says he is, among other roles, an advisor to hybrid incubator AI Forge (Miami, London). Jay's column on customer discovery is here. During our interviews, CEO Rutherford confirmed he participated in an AI Forge program, in 2023.

[Updated] Rutherford also told VNC this afternoon he is aware of the Music & Entertainment (MSE) peer network program and has become a member of Nashville Entrepreneur Center (EC), with degree of involvement yet to be determined.

While according to its website VocalBrain can be used by studio producers in "fine-tuning vocals for studio-quality sound," the company has no interest in voice-generation technology that creates voice-tracks that mimic celebrity voices.

When asked by VNC, Rutherford aknowledged that may in the longer-term develop additional intellectual property within or beyond the boundaries of VocalBrain Inc., per se. VNC

. last edited 0906 7 March 2024

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Tags: 30DaySinger, Ash Maurya, Bob Rutherford, bootstrap, choirs, coaches, Commodore 64, edtech, education, entertainment, Erol Studios, gamification, healthcare, Jacob Burton, Jake Burton, Ken Burns, Kevin Gift, languages, lean startup, LeanStack, Lo Vocal, marketing, mental health, mentors, Michael Rutherford, music, Musora, Nashville Entrepreneur Center, Otto Gross, Ovelin, Phil Shmerling, platforms, Project Music, QuaverEd, Ramsey Voice, Robert Rutherford, Roy Jay, School of Rock, SimplySing, Singeo, singers, Singwell, Studio Bank, training, Vanido, video games, Vocal Sensei, VocalBrain, Yousician

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