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KCBS Cover Story: Zoo Labs In Oakland Shows Musicians How To Think Like Startups

OAKLAND (KCBS) — Some of Silicon Valley's greatest companies and some of the world's most famous rock bands have one thing in common—starting up in garages.

KCBS Cover Story: Zoo Labs In Oakland Shows Musicians How To Think Like Startups

But now musicians are applying some of the ideas that have made Silicon Valley companies such a success by learning to think like startups at Zoo Labs Music Residency—a music incubator in West Oakland.

Lead singer Joanna Teters of Mad Satta, an eight-piece band from the East Coast says they're not a band, they're a "team" and they're not rockers on the rise, they're a startup developing their business model.

"This place is an unbelievable nest of support and creativity and smarts," she says.

The "smarts" come from co-founder Vinitha Watson, who used to work at Google, and her partners, who wanted to create the first incubator for musicians. They call Zoo Labs a creative accelerator.

"We make art compatible with business. We make our musicians' creative process compatible with the way they want to design their businesses," Watson says.

"We're helping bridge those two worlds."

Artists apply for a two-week residency, which includes not just room and board and studio time but workshops on marketing, management and branding and even imagining the future.

"The workshops that we go to in the morning directly stimulates the creativity in the studio in the afternoon," Teters says.

In the afternoon, some of the bands emerge with three new tracks. One, was just finished this week, by Wages, a psychedelic dream-pop band from Los Angeles.

Wages drummer James Dedakis says he doesn't think of himself as being "business minded."

"It's something that makes my skin crawl, you know—the thought of trying to sell yourself," he admits with a laugh.

But Dedakis says the Zoo Labs residency opened his eyes and his brain and said that the band's music moved in unexpected directions.

"The more we learned about ourselves and started thinking about what we're trying to do with it, the better the vision became in our heads and it was easier to bring that out."

While Zoo Labs is a nonprofit, relying on grants and donors, Watson is hopeful the concept itself will accelerate, allowing even more artists to incubate in places like this and transform the future integration of music and commerce.

"I believe that as humans, we search for these designed experiences that transcend beyond ourselves and I believe that musicians have the ability to deliver that experience," she says.

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