From the March 1997 issue of Startups

Vanessa Singer found a beat to a different strum.

When Vanessa Singer discovered she needed surgery as a result of a brain hemorrhage, she started playing the guitar to help her cope with her impending operation. With practice, Singer discovered that her creative abilities increased, encouraging her to continue dabbling in playing and writing songs.

When one of her new compositions called for the sound of a maraca--a shaker-type percussive instrument used to create a rhythmic beat--Singer attempted to shake the maraca while strumming her guitar. Unable to fit the maraca in her hand and play the guitar at the same time, Singer got creative: she went into her kitchen for a small knife, cut a slit into the maraca, and stuck a guitar pick in it. Her new makeshift invention enabled her to provide her own percussion accompaniment with ease. The rest, as they say, is musical history.

"I absolutely knew, right there," recalls the Woodland Hills, California, inventor, "that I had something that would be on every music-store counter in the world."

The commercial version of Singer's invention, The Rhythm Pick, a hand-held percussion instrument shaped like an egg capped with two guitar picks, is now sold in more than 40 countries, and has generated sales of close to $15 million worldwide. Singer's company, Take Your Pick Inc., has also developed two new products: The Rhythm Thang, a percussion shaker with the same body as the Rhythm Pick, but with an elastic Velcro attachment to fit the outside of your hand, and The Rhythm Bag, a suede-and-leather-like shaker bag that offers two tones, allowing the user to shake it as maraca or as a tambourine.

But Singer's success did not occur overnight, nor did it come beating down her door. After presenting her product to potential investors and obtaining a patent, Singer began her research. First, she test-marketed the product in music stores all over California, surveying the staffs and allowing customers to try the product, gathering opinions about her pick. Within three months, Singer had amassed 2,500 opinions about how to develop and improve her product.

"When I first handed it to the people in the music stores, they looked at me like I was a lunatic," explains the 28-year-old Singer. "Then, when they actually tried it and heard a demonstration, they got excited."

Singer's next task was to research the various facets--such as advertising, promotion and accounting--of establishing her business. She estimates it took her about $50,000, generated from investor loans, to start up her business, which covered patent costs, computer design, and producing the mold for her product.

With diverse recognition from such famous movers and shakers as Wolf Marshall, one of the most respected guitar instructors in the world, and Paul Stanley of KISS, The Rhythm Pick has definitely created a riff in the music world.

Says Singer: "If you have something that you believe in and you get a good, exciting response from other people, that's inspiration enough to accomplish whatever you want to accomplish. I'm having a really, really good time."


Allyssa Lee, a freelance writer living in Los Angeles, only knows three chords on the guitar.

Contact Source

Take Your Pick Inc., (818) 710-8945.