Devo (Springsteen) Harris Shares His Entrepreneurial Journey
From Grammy Award Winning Producer & Writer to Tech Founder
Devo (Springsteen) Harris Shares His Entrepreneurial Journey
From Grammy Award Winning Producer & Writer to Tech Founder

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By Lisa Marie

December 17, 2023

When you’re cousins with Kanye and college roommates with John Legend, one can assume that a career in music is the most likely path to take in life. Given these surroundings that Devo Harris found himself in, it’s no shocker that his resume now reads Grammy award-winning producer and co-founder of G.O.O.D Music. Though these successes are incredibly substantial, Devo’s current ambitions extend beyond melodies and harmonies.

These days, Devo lets his creative juices flow as CEO of Adventr – a tech startup that seeks to transform video content as we know it. Connecting media giants, creators, and viewers in ways that have never before been seen, Devo Harris is pioneering a technological evolution that promises to restructure how we interact with media.

We recently had the pleasure of speaking in-depth with Devo about his award-winning career, the imprint that Adventr is planning to leave on the media landscape, and how he foresees transformative technologies such as generative AI impacting the future of the music industry. 


Though you have an extensive resume working on the business side of music, you also have credits as a producer and co-writer. How did you begin your journey producing and writing music?  

Devo: I've always loved music. I used to be a singer, and at some point the singing didn't seem like an option to really advance with. So I started DJing in college, and like a lot of other producers, I started to make beats. After DJing at these different clubs and parties, you figure you know how to make people move, and then you start playing around with beats. So between that and living with my roommate, who became John Legend, I just had a wealth of resources and inspiration around me. 


As a writer, you’ve been nominated for and won two Grammys for your work alongside Kanye West and John Legend. Looking back on these projects in particular, was there anything about either of them that was particularly special to you? 

They're both geniuses in their own right. I wouldn't have gotten into music if I didn't know those guys. I knew they were special, and so I knew if I helped these special folks, there was probably an opportunity for me. But 100%, if I did not know both John and Kanye, I would not have attempted to get into music. 


These days you’re largely focused on your pursuits as an entrepreneur within the tech space, with your latest endeavor being Adventr. How would you describe Adventr in your own words, and what are you looking to achieve? 

Adventr is a platform that makes it easy for creatives to make video experiences and achieve performance results that were never before possible. 

When I started working with Kanye, a big part of my job was burning CDs. This is before iTunes and streaming. We literally had to mail CDs to people, and to make the CDs, you had to do it in real time with a CD burner machine. It took a long time to make a CD for someone with beats on it. When iTunes, LimeWire, and Napster came out, it was just fascinating to watch technology and media formats change right in front of your eyes. I remember when MP3s came out, I felt like you couldn’t get any more advanced than MP3 – that this is the end of the journey of audio innovation. Now, MP3s are outdated. Then streaming came, and now you don't even need a file, you just access it through the internet. 

So I've had this obsession with formats for a while. What we're doing with Adventr is really introducing a new format that I believe will become standard on the web. We are really looking to introduce tools that define the next generation of video on the internet. 


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How did you make the leap from the music industry to tech, and how has the tech industry evolved since your beginnings? 

I made a music video some people may have heard of for a song called “Attack of the 5 ft. Hipster” over a decade ago. I believe this was the first interactive music video where you can choose what happens in it. People love that video. That's how I got into technology. I still use a lot of tools and lessons that I learned during my time in music in my technology work. 

How has technology changed since I've gotten into this space? Well, it's less racist, number one. When I started getting into tech and was looking to raise money, it wasn’t happening no matter how many Ivy League degrees I had or how much money I made. Being a black tech founder a decade ago was a non-starter on the capital side. Things have changed in these terms. There are more diverse founders, which is great. It's easier than ever to make technology products through the cloud and other sorts of tools. One thing that I'm excited about, which I always felt was going to happen, is that video has continued to grow. When you think of the future, you don't think about books and a lot of text. The future looks like videos, moving billboards, holograms, and is more image driven. 

That's why I'm excited about what we're doing at Adventr, because it squarely fits in with where the world is headed. 


The video you just mentioned has been dubbed by many as be the first interactive music video to ever be created. Can you share some of what inspired you to create this visual, and how this went on to impact your current work with Adventr?

That music video was made on fumes. We had no money, so we shot this thing with an iPod. We were trying to do something super cool and different with this Rock-Rap group called Riot !n Paris. We were pushing the boundaries of technology. This is all stuff that we still do. We’re still pushing the envelope creatively. We're still pushing the boundaries of technology every day, and now we get to do it with more resources, though we're still not quite at the Meta level yet. 


How do you foresee interactive video impacting the music industry as time progresses? 

It's interesting because I know there's a disinvestment in video in the music space right now, but what we’ve found is that with these more participatory formats, people engage more, they remember more, and they buy more. Not just a little bit more either, but dramatically more. So I think as that information becomes public knowledge, I think there'll be an uptake in more interactive formats across every space, including music videos. 

The days of you making a video and literally putting it out and saying, “I hope everyone likes it”, is so dated. What we do at Adventr is not just interactive videos. In fact, you're not allowed to say “interactive videos” in our company. Now, you can make interactive content, but what you can also do is make videos that are intelligent. You can make videos that people talk to, you can make videos people sing with and they can correct you while you're singing. You can make videos that know about your browsing history. You and I can both get a video, but yours will look different – yours will be different than mine based on your web experience. So there's all sorts of signals and data that can make video more relevant to you. That's really what we're doing at Adventr. I think all those capabilities are going to be powering video generally in the next few years. 


Generative AI is one of the cornerstones of Adventr’s interactive video technology. With so many hopping on the AI bandwagon since the creation of ChatGPT, how do you foresee this technology impacting the music industry in particular? 

Man, I’m really excited about AI and all the opportunities that it creates. The impact of AI will be partially based on regulations and how AI is legislated. I don't know how it's going to shake out, but I think AI is just going to make music even bigger. I think it'll make it tougher, but it'll make it bigger. The same way that people pushed back years ago. When drum machines and samplers came out, they started putting out these digital tools like Logic and FruityLoops that came with the music already in it. So imagine musicians. You're a musician and you hear about these new recording tools where all the instruments are already in it, and they already have all the drum beats and the guitar loops. 

People felt that this was a major travesty – that this is the end of the music business. “You don't need musicians anymore”. “There will be no more heart in music”. All it really did was just make music more accessible to people. I don't play any instruments, so years ago, me and my sensibilities would not have been able to participate in the music space, which would mean no “Diamonds From Sierra Leone”, et cetera. Technology allows people like me to express myself, and I've hired a ton of musicians using it too. It’s the same thing with AI. It just opens up the playing field to more people. 

I would not be as scared of AI as I feel a lot of creators are might be, because you'll get more growth in the industry, more niche, and new sorts of sounds and vibes. All in all, I'm excited about what people will do with AI. 


Who are some of the members of your team at Adventr, and why did you choose them to be a part of your company’s mission? 

We have a great team, and we're hiring, so definitely check out our website or LinkedIn. We're doing some really new stuff, man, and we have a new way of looking at media. I want people on our team who are smart, who are motivated, who are risk takers, and who enjoy cinema and video. 

Our Head of Product is a filmmaker. He was my boss at Vimeo. He was the General Manager of Vimeo and now works with us, helping us shape our knowledge. Siara Singleton just joined our team. She's on the marketing team, and spent years both teaching marketing and working in cybersecurity marketing for other digital tools. 

For me, I need to see evidence that you can get stuff done by yourself, that you like the space that we're in, and that you believe. A lot of people who work in our company are people I told no at first. They would push back, and start just doing stuff for free. They were just so hungry to work for our company. That sort of passion really shines through for me. 


In the tech space, growth and adaptation are a constant. How do you handle competition in the tech world? 

I don't think about competition a whole lot. We do research and we keep tabs, but we have a pretty singular view of what we're doing. For me, if we focus on executing what we're doing and being the best and most valuable for our customers, we'll win. I think it's the same thing in music. If you spend a lot of your time looking at your competitors, seeing what other artists are doing, and benchmarking against other artists and peers, it's going to be really hard for you to stand out, innovate, and lead. 


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Is there any correlation between music and tech? Do you get a similar feeling completing a project as you did when finishing working on a song? Is collaboration similar? 

It's very similar. I think one big difference is that with this tech stuff you're never done – there is no such thing as something being done. From a musical perspective, you could say the song is done, the album is done, but other than that it's totally similar. 

When I was in music working with Kanye and GOOD Music, we had a small crew of very passionate people who were united on a mission not just to make Kanye and the label as big as possible, but to influence culture, to leave a stamp on history, and to develop our own skills and careers. It's the same thing that we're doing in tech. 

We don't know where we'll be a year from now, but we know we have a group of passionate people who are pointing in the same direction, making our goals very clear. Especially for us at Adventr, you have to innovate to get there. That's the same thing that we did in music. The same way I don't play any instruments, I don't code either, but I know how to get the right people in the room to deliver the feeling. That's a big part of what I think what you have to do in music – you have to create these feelings. That's what we do at Adventr too. We want creators and the viewers to have the same feeling of energy, the same excitement, the same anticipation. Just like when we made that crappy music video a decade ago. 


What are the differences between an emerging artist and an emerging tech entrepreneur? 

I think it's really similar. I've been on my tech journey for many years, and now we're starting to break through a little bit and people are like, “wow, where'd this come from? This is crazy. You just made this. You have all these patents. I never heard of this. Where'd this come from?”. 

It's a very similar journey to artists who often work many years, and eventually find themselves. You might think it's overnight, but it's not. People probably started hearing about Kanye in, what, 2004? His first album came out around then. When I met him in ‘95, he was already a professional in the studio. He'd been working in the studio for years. He was producing for artists in Chicago, so it was probably 1990 or maybe even before that when he was getting started. 

So it's a lot of work. There's a lot of differentiation. If you're a new artist, you should figure out how you sound different. Do not try to sound like everyone else. You want to sound like your own thing, and find the people who believe. Find the people who believe in what you're doing. Put them on your team, give them the space to execute. Being an artist is a lifestyle. It is not a job. It's all consuming, and it's a lifestyle. 


Are there any pieces of technology that you feel artists should be using to gain a competitive edge on their competition? 

If you have a strong engineering buddy, there's all sorts of cool things you can do with AI to communicate with fans. Maybe your music is similar to Offset’s for whatever reason. You feel people who mess with Offset, also mess with your music. You can build little scripts that go and communicate with Offset fans automatically, and tell them about you on social media, email, et cetera. It's really fascinating what you can do with some of this technology.


What’s a piece of advice you’d like to share with someone who’s looking to start a tech venture of their own?

Think twice about it. It's a lot of work. I think you want to think about where the puck is going, not where it is. So what does five years from now look like? What are the macro trends that you can point out to potential team members or investors and say, “this is what's happening, and this means the future looks like this”? Do you have any special advantages that can make it easier for you to compete or achieve that goal? It’s important to be honest about your skill set and where you need help, and then work your ass off to get that help on your team. 


If you had the opportunity to put any two artists on a single song that you could write for, which two artists would you pick?

Oh, wow. You know, living with John Legend, I could write records, write hooks, and I could perform them and you would think I should be banned from ever being near a keyboard. But then I would have John sing the same thing and then suddenly it’s a single with Common. The performance does so much – it does everything to bring a song to life. So when you ask that, I really think, “who are the best performers who could bring a song to life?”. In terms of how I approach songs, I think it'd be pretty cool to have Aaliyah and Drake on a song. I think they're both awesome performers who would complement each other, and could take a crappy song and make it hot. 


Do you have any plans to return to making music, and do you currently use music as a creative outlet in your personal life? 

I could see myself making music for a movie or something. I am a partner at Crescendo Royalty, which is a fund that buys music rights and copyrights similar to Hypnosis. I get a music fix that way. 

Right now, as we work on Adventr do different marketing projects and films, my musical outlet comes from picking some of the music for these different projects. I want our marketing vibe to feel more like Griselda than Microsoft. That's where music currently sits for me. 

How can I use music that the people don't normally get to hear, and use that as an expression of our brand and what we're trying to do with this underdog, super innovative, and urban-based organization. That's inspiring. That's what I want you to take from our brand. That's how I'm creatively involved in music right now.. 


If you could only take one album with you wherever you go, which would you choose? 

My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. I think it's the perfect Hip-Hop album. 


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What does the phrase “big ass kid” mean to you? 

I feel like a big ass kid speaks to the child within us all. It speaks to who you were before you were jaded, before you had crazy bills, before you started making compromises, and just speaks to the state of living and being from your heart


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