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Acing Accessibility: Virgin Musical Instruments on their Mission to Make Music Simple

by Victoria Wasylak • in
  • Features
  • January 2018
• Created: January 29, 2018

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Virgin Musical Instruments has a motto – “Keeping music simple” – but making music easy and accessible for other people in real life is by no means any small feat.

Fortunately, Virgin moves in particularly large strides and just happens to be partnered with one of the larger electronic musical instrument factories in the world.

Formed in August 2013, Virgin Musical Instruments started by selling just a few different digital piano models and Xkey Controllers, but in 2017, the company offers their brand-named models: Artesia digital pianos and keyboards, Artesia Audio, Hitman Electronic Drums, Xkey MIDI controllers ,and Xkey Bluetooth controllers.

Don’t look for any instruments with “Virgin” carved into them – they don’t brand anything under the Virgin name.

“We got the music bug pretty early, and never left it. Everyone on our staff has the same kind of feeling – just hooked on the industry,” Virgin M.I. CEO Matt Harpster says.

Harpster first got hooked in the music industry by working as an electronic engineer, and working for Sony and Lockheed Martin before splitting to the music industry, working in product design and development for over 20 years in M.I. until he started Virgin Musical Instruments and partnered with the factory in China. His own love for music sprouted from learning to play the piano at age 10, and then going on to perform in bands in high school and college.

As of 2017, Virgin has a factory in China and two warehouses in California (20,000 square feet in San Diego and 50,000 square foot flex capacity warehouse in Southern California for Q4 sales promotions), with plans to implement a third warehouse in Tennessee. Virgin’s products are also distributed in 34 countries throughout Asia, South America, North American and Europe. And while a lot of MI companies claim to be on the cutting edge of technology, Virgin M.I. actually is, vending the newest innovations in what it means to be a musician. From a keyboard that weighs in at under 2 pounds, to electronic drum kits, Virgin M.I. represents what it means to be a MI company in 2018.

The Branches of Virgin M.I.

Since the Virgin M.I. name doesn’t appear on any of their products, it’s important to break down the products in Virgin M.I.’s wheelhouse.

“Our three biggest markets/ sales channels are consumer electronics, of course MI, and music education, so those are the three we concentrate on,” Harpster says. Virgin offers their Artesia brand digital pianos and keyboards plus their Hitman Brand of Electronic Drum Kits, which the company designs and develops themselves, as well as microphones, headphones, monitors, and other audio components under the Artesia name. The Xkey keyboards from CME, in contrast, are something that Virgin brought on board from China to distribute in the United States. The Xkey also features a new Bluetooth version.

“It’s very different from anything else on the market and it reaches a lot of niche spots that Musical instruments don’t normally sell in,” Harpster adds.

Looking forward, Virgin is constantly upgrading current models with the latest features and tech while working on the Zen piano and drum, for all three sales channels, another step into the world of technologically advanced instruments.

Under all three names – Artesia Pianos and Keyboard, Artesia Audio, CME, and Hitman – Virgin carries products for musicians of all skill and are competitively priced to further make all the products accessible for every budget. Currently, the different products are available nationwide through Music Stores and various online vendors such as Guitar Center, Sweetwater, Apple, and more.

The Art of Simplifying Music

In the new millennium, technology has presented itself as a double-edged sword in the MI world – while technological advances have helped to create new and more fun formats for learning how to play an instrument, there’s also a whole new world of games and distractions that can draw students and their interest away from learning how to play. On top of that, big box stores and the ease of ordering online from sites like Amazon has further challenged the industry – and Virgin M.I. is keen to all of that. Harpster describes the inundation as a “flood of technology,” that all companies will have to adjust in order to survive in.

“I think the industry is still kind of absorbing how to get technology integrated in a way that brings more musicians to the market. It’s definitely transitional, but at the same time, that’s the beauty of it and its opening so many more doors. There are so many more fun and attractive ways to learning music than there was previously,” he says. “We know there’s a large demographic who may be intimated by music stores because they’re not a musician and as a result, the industry is missing out on all those uncommitted people.” Virgin’s answer to that, of course, is their online approach.

“What we mean by making music simple is, we all know that everybody who is interested in playing music has an excuse for not playing an instrument – but we also know that everybody to a certain level can,” Harpster explains. “What we try to do is break through those barriers by putting something together that can be fun, engaging and affordable. There are great advantages to playing an instrument for all different ages and stages, and we want as many people as possible to take advantage of that.”

He cites things like accessibility, time constraints, and money all as issues that Virgin keeps in mind when designing instruments that can be for anyone.

“To make music simple as possible for the general public, you have to be able to get people quality instruments at a price point that they can afford,” he adds.

The most unique aspect of Virgin’s approach to their mission of simplicity is making sure that patrons can enjoy their instrument right away – that is, that they can get to a point where they are confident in what they sound like while playing as soon as possible, so that they don’t lose interest because they feel they sound “bad” as a beginner.

“For instance, a digital piano that has a built-in tablet, or a tablet that comes with it, full of software on it, and can be for anybody – whether it’s a first-timer learning how to play piano or it could be for the trumpet player who wants to learn how to play piano better, or any kind of musicians that may have experience on another instrument,” Harpster said. “But we packaged everything onto that tablet so that they can go easily, step by step at their own pace at whatever age or skill level they may be at coming into this.

“That’s our making music fun – having products that have everything turnkey, so whether it’s you or whoever it is who doesn’t have experience with the music, they can start to enjoy some level of it right away. Getting that first step – sounding good or at least being able to enjoy it right away. Once that happens they are hooked just like the rest of us,” he added.

The Magic of Mobility

A major factor of Virgin’s dedication to simplicity is their focus on mobility; namely, the portability and tour-ability of the Xkey. The ultra-thin mini keyboard, which weighs less than two pounds, plugs into phones, tablets, and laptops has been a huge development in the keyboard market.

“The Xkey is truly a revolutionary instrument, not only because of its mobility and professional features that it has, but also because of its design and how it can be sold outside of the music industry,” Harpster says.

In particular, the Xkey has been widely popular with touring musicians, who are able to practice and record with the Xkey when they are on the road.

“They can’t be around their rig all the time, and so when they’re on the tour bus, they can go over a certain arrangement together or talk about idea they have for a certain song, or changing a progression when they’re all together, where normally you have to go to your 88 note piano or 61 note piano, this is 6/10 of an inch thick, 1.3 lbs, and with you wherever your backpack is,” Harpster explains. This focus on niche markets has helped Virgin MI prosper.

“Tech users may buy them as iPad or iOS accessories, tablet accessories, things like that – that’s an interesting departure from the normal MI sales,” he adds.

Considering how frequently musicians are on to the go – for tours, gigs, band practices, and other jam sessions – the mobility of the Xkey is a huge benefit for active artists. Similarly, the Artesia backpack mobile studio and mobile performing bundle sandwiches everything artists need to lay down a track and feature a variety of pro audio and musical instrument configurations. All of the recording bundles include the Bitwig 8 Track Studio, a digital audio workstation that can be used for producing, and designing sounds. Even with a bundle and keyboard, these bundles all can fit into backpacks, weighing less than three pounds and not requiring AC power.

Factors like these are how the many different pieces of Virgin M.I. comes together – from the three different brands that the company has developed, to the many different ways that Virgin M.I. pushes to make every user’s musical experience to be simple, satisfying, and stress-free – proving Virgin M.I. to be an umbrella of innovation.

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