Novi entrepreneur gets bassists back into the groove

Bass, perhaps more so than any other instrument, is felt as much as its heard. The rumble of a car with the bass turned up. The rumble inside your chest when standing too close to the speakers at a concert. Now imagine being a bass player yourself.

According to Yerko Sepulveda, and bass players both professional and amateur alike, feeling the bass is just as important as it is hearing it. Sepulveda, a Novi resident that is a bass player and engineer-turned-inventor, has come up with a new way to ensure that bass players can feel the pulse of the bass as they play it. It’s called BackBeat and it’s creating waves throughout the music world.

“Growing up, I always loved music and Legos. I loved creating things. Those were my formative passions growing up,” Sepulveda says. “Four years ago, I began to marry those two abilities into something useful.”

As a bass player, Sepulveda noticed that the concert experience was changing. Rather than hear themselves through on-stage monitors, musicians were playing along with in-ear monitors. Sometimes the bass would get lost in the mix, making it hard to hear the notes. And as amplifiers were increasingly being located offstage, bassists could no longer feel the bass rumbling through the amplifiers behind them. Bassists can tell what notes they’re playing through that rumble, and not just by ear.

As an engineer, Sepulveda began to dream up ways to fix the problem. That fix is BackBeat, a portable and wearable device that attaches to the back of the bass guitar strap. When the bassist plucks a string, the BackBeat transducer sends a vibration straight to the musician's body.

BackBeat was designed by Novi entrepreneur Yerko Sepulveda and brought to market with the help of Oakland Entrepreneurial Alliance.

“It comes from the idea that when you’re playing in front of a big set of amps, you can feel them at your back. And I was looking for something that was portable,” Sepulveda says.

“It just seemed like the perfect solution for what I was trying to do.”

From great idea, to concept, to market

To accelerate BackBeat to market, Sepulveda worked with Oakland County's small business support ecosystem to create a business plan and develop a pitch to fund his invention.

Looking to get feedback, Sepulveda pitched during a 1 Million Cups event, set up by the Oakland Entrepreneurial Alliance (OEA), an effort of member organizations Automation Alley, Oakland County's One Stop Shop Business Center, Oakland University's OU INC, the Michigan Small Business Development Center Tech Team, Walsh College Launchpad and the Lawrence Technological University Collaboratory.

"Yerko presented his concept at 1 Million Cups and he nailed it," says Greg Doyle, manager of the One Stop Shop Business Center and Tech248 of Oakland County. With feedback, Sepulveda refined his prototype, honed his marketing pitch, and worked to get crowdfunding,

In just four short years, Sepulveda’s invention has gone from the drawing table to the production line. Response has been swift. A successful Kickstarter campaign raised nearly $130,000 in pre-orders and pledges, far exceeding its initial $25,000 goal.

The campaign's page features a testimonial from five-time Grammy Award winner Victor Wooten, world-renowned bassist for Bela Fleck. Wooten has been named Bass Player of the Year by Bass Player magazine three times and is recognized by Rolling Stone magazine as tenth-ranked bass player of all time.

Most recently, Lauren Taneil used BackBeat while playing bass for Beyonce’s 2018 Coachella set.

“One of the best things for me is going out and meeting musicians,” Sepulveda says. “To go out and meet my heroes and show them BackBeat and get their endorsement has been the biggest satisfaction of this.”

Sepulveda has left his career as an engineer to focus on BackBeat full time. Now that the Kickstart campaign is completed, he’ll be making the pre-ordered units by hand from his Novi home. All 500 of them.

Pre-orders continue to be available online, and the product is scheduled to ship in September.

A perfect storm of innovation and acceleration helped Sepulveda get his concept into production and out to market, proving that great ideas plus business support can equal success for the small business.

"It's a great story of how Oakland County worked with this entrepreneur, the OEA being instrumental, the value of 1 Million Cups, and it all tied in, all in three or four months," says Doyle.

Sepulveda says that he’s already received interest for similar products for guitarists, keyboardists, and drummers.

His decision to go full-time with BackBeat appears sound.

Read more articles by MJ Galbraith.

MJ Galbraith is a writer and musician living in Detroit. Follow him on Twitter @mikegalbraith.