Brandyn Armstrong couldn’t get to the studio.
In 2015, the East Cleveland rapper, who performs under the name Young Stacka, wanted to lay down some rhymes. But he didn’t have a car or enough money to book a studio space, and the recorder on his smartphone could only spit back tinny, low-quality voice memos.
“I was thinking it’d be cool if something existed like a studio-on-the-go,” says the 26-year-old Armstrong. “I started looking online and couldn’t find anything, and that’s what led me to create it myself.”
Three years later, that initial spark has materialized into Studio Stick, a dream catcher for the digital age. The 8-pound portable studio allows users to record wherever they are using their smartphone.
After winning $1,500 at the 2015 Cleveland State University Start-Up Vikes competition with a broomstick, carpet foam and duct tape prototype, Armstrong worked with engineers to develop today’s Studio Stick.
The 20-inch cherry-red box expands to include a microphone, mic stand, reflective filter, pop filter and phone holder, enabling users to capture high-quality recordings, purchase beats via a connected app and upload their creations to the web.
“We all have voices,” says Armstrong. “I don’t think anybody’s voice should be drowned out.”
Since inventing the product, Armstrong has written his own patent application, won more than $75,000 at startup competitions and caught the attention of rappers such as A$AP Rocky and Machine Gun Kelly. Last year, he brought Studio Stick into Steve Harvey’s Funderdome, ABC’s invention throwdown, where his product beat a challenger’s for the $50,000 prize.
“Everybody around me is excited, because coming where I’m from, we don’t see too many inventors. The entrepreneurs you see have barber shops, restaurants — but this is something new,” says Armstrong. “It’s definitely an eye-opener in showing people the possible.”
Armstrong’s own upbringing was marked by loss and false starts. His father was murdered when Armstrong was 4. He moved in with his grandmother, who used to operate the sound system during church choir practice. When she began to go blind, Armstrong took over the controls. By 13, he was already recording in Cleveland’s professional studios as a member of the rap group TYS and established his own record label three years later. But tragedy struck again. When a member of TYS was killed, Armstrong dropped out of high school at 17.
“Even when I was acting up, I knew at some point I had to get back on track,” says Armstrong, who went on to get his GED diploma at Cuyahoga Community College and two associate degrees from CSU. “I never looked at the finish line of my life as being somewhere negative.”
Today, he’s spoken on Rock & Roll Hall of Fame panels and judged the 2018 CSU Startup Vikes competition, where only three years ago, he was just a kid with a broom and an idea.