Spoke launches music therapy app for Gen Z, raises $1.5M round led by Ada Ventures

Apps like Calm and Endel are exploring an expanding new universe of what’s becoming known as “functional sound”. Calm and others are doing it in the meditation and sleep space, while Endel, which has raised $7.5 million, creates “functional sound” to enhance working or other activities. Now a new startup is launching what it calls “functional music”, and it’s raised institutional backing to power its next phase.

Spoke is a new app that generates music with what it dubs “mindfulness benefits”. The app is based on 18 months of R&D with modern musical artists and scientific advisors (a clinical trial is planned) and combines music with the mindfulness prompts aimed largely at a Gen Z, or under 25 age group, who are often put off by more “middle-aged” mindfulness apps and movements.

It’s now secured a £1.1 million pre-seed investment led by U.K.-based Ada Ventures, and featuring a number of high-profile U.K. Angel investors.

Unlike Endel, which generates its sounds using AI, Spoke employs artists, trained by a team of clinical psychologists, therapists and neuroscientists to produce music to help users achieve a desired mental state which, claims Spoke, has the same impact as therapeutic practices.

“Spoke brings together the seemingly opposing worlds of music culture and mental health,” Ariana Alexander-Sefre, founder and co-CEO of Spoke, said in a statement. “We believe that the music industry can play an incredible role in the mental health of listeners and artists, and fundamentally needs to change. There are many mental health apps available, but there is a generation being under-served. This is our first step forward – our mission is to show just how powerful music can be and how industry must evolve.”

Spoke says it is currently working with more than 25 artists, including Jordy, VIC and Jamilah Barry. As you might be able to tell, these artists are often far-removed from the rather comfortable world of meditation apps.

Alexander-Sefre says she was inspired to work on the app after knowing young people who’d taken their own lives: “I’ve experienced this very closely, with the youngest I’ve known being only 15 years old and it understandably has a life-changing impact on those closest to them.”

She told me: “My first business was an events company that merged live music with well-being experiences. I noticed that you really only see the same person in the well-being space — normally older female, middle-class women. However, in 2017, my younger brother’s best friend took his own life. And then two friends’ brothers also took their lives within the following year.”

“It took me about a year to really metabolize what happened. Obviously, what happened is unacceptable. But I think that what I found even more heartbreaking is my brother and his friends, they all refuse school therapy, they refuse school counseling. I worked in the well-being world at the time and I could see that none of these tools millions of people were using were culturally relevant to these young people. That sent me into lots of research and I learned that 80% of all suicides in the U.K. and in the U.S. are male, and there’s a silent epidemic going on. I also found out that Calm and Headspace, who I believe have democratized the mindfulness space, are used largely by women aged over 25.”

She told me she did thousands of hours of research and found that “young people are not interested in listening to people like yoga teachers, or experts monks”, but they’re interested in cultural leaders, like musicians: “I found that musicians were the most influential to pretty much nearly every young person I spoke to. It felt so ironic that the music industry has not been brought into the wellness space at all. In fact, musicians are some of the people who have some of the worst mental-health out there. Labels don’t look after them. That’s what led me to this idea of a new way of doing mindfulness, like a new culture of mindfulness, where you’ve got all of this proven scientific impact and mindfulness, the therapeutic guidance. So that’s what led to Spoke, which fills much-needed intersection between the utility of current mindfulness apps, and the entertainment of music apps in this personalized experience.”

Check Warner, founding partner at Ada Ventures, added, “Spoke is addressing a critical and completely underserved market — mental health therapy for young men. The daily news stories of young people, particularly young men, battling mental health issues are a tragic and constant reminder of the size and importance of the problem that Spoke is tackling. Spoke’s unique product combines music and rap with neuroscience to create a meditation product which is effective at reducing anxiety and depression.”

Alexander-Sefre’s co-founder and co-CEO is Michael Maher, a serial entrepreneur who formerly founded app publisher Zolmo.

Spoke’s creative team includes Lead Artist Lemzi and Executive Producer Daniel Miles. Lemzi is an East London-based rap/hip-hop artist. Miles is an Ivor Novello-nominated producer previously signed to Sony Music.

Alongside Ada Ventures, other participants in the pre-seed round include Bethnal Green Ventures and angel investors Nikhil Shah, co-founder of Mixcloud; Marla Shapiro, founder of HERmesa; Toby Moore, co-founder of Space Ape Games; Emma Blackburn, CFO of Ascension Ventures; and super angel Ed Zimmerman. Tom Adeyoola, founder of Metail, has also invested, and is now Spoke’s chairman.