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music : Innovation & Startups

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Thrival will show entreprenuers a good time

Many revelers will gather at Thrival this weekend to check out the festival's musical lineup, but for area entrepreneurs, the festival offers the opportunity to network, learn something new and maybe even be discovered, according to Thrill Mill CEO Bobby Zappala.

Zappala says the music and innovation festival started in 2007 because he and friends in the startup community felt they needed somewhere to have a good time while learning about what entrepreneurs in Pittsburgh were up to.

"People were doing interesting things, but they weren’t really communicating effectively," says Zappala, whose start-up incubator organized the festival. He described the festival as a local South-by-Southwest, "except instead of spotlighting talent from other places, we are shining a light on what's already here."

Buried behind the headlining acts, the event offers a free panel of workshops from September 8 through 14 aimed at entrepreneurs. Zappala says part of the thought behind this was to connect area startups with others who might be able to assist them and to help incubators like his discover new great ideas.

"In some places like Silicon Valley ideas are a dime a dozen," Zappala says, "but here in Pittsburgh, everyone wants to hear what you've come up with."

The panels are listed here, some require registration ahead of time, but Zappala says, "If there's something you're really curious about, just show up."

Who knows, your big idea could be discovered by one of the area's many startup backers including AlphaLab, Thrill Mill, The Sprout Fund or New Sun Rising. Google will also be hosting a workshop as will Chatham University.

Tickets to the muscial portion of the event are being sold at http://www.showclix.com/event/THRIVAL and cost $45 for one day and $75 for the entire weekend festival. Zappala said last year's event drew a crowd of around 2000 people and he expects this year's festival, featuring performers including Moby, DJ Z Trip and Talib Kweli to attract even more patrons this year.

Nebulus brings musicians together in the cloud

For musical collaboration, just look to the cloud and you will find Nebulus, a new website that allows for virtual collaboration without having to store large data files on your home computer.
Created by musician and Carnegie Mellon computer science graduate Robert Kotcher, the site allows users to record and edit audio online and add on to tracks that have already been recorded. Kotcher says Nebulus is like a mixture of Google Docs the online document storage and editing application, Apple’s recording software Garage Band, and the popular music-sharing site Sound Cloud, “Except there are no local files you need to store,” he says.
Anyone who has a large iTunes collection knows that audio files can take up a huge amount of space on a computer, often slowing down its functionality.

“We are all musicians,” Kotcher says of his startup team, “we all have different musical backgrounds and we’ve all had the same problems, where we go and record our tracks, save it locally, send it to the next guy and eventually you end up with 10 different versions on your computer,” he explains.

If users want to download the final track from Nebulus they can, but they don’t ever have to store the rejected recordings and they can work together to edit the piece like users can in Google Docs.
Before cloud computing—yes I said it—musicians would all have to go to the same studio to record a song, creating scheduling problems and requiring travel. If anyone remembers, that great band The Postal Service (circa 2001, hits such as The District Sleeps Alone Tonight) got their name because the band members would actually send eachother recordings in the mail in order to collaborate on songs, because the Internet couldn’t store huge files. Welcome to the future!
“What we wanted to do was to emulate what musicians do in the studio through the layering recording process, where one player records a track and then another person comes and records a track over them,” Kocher says. He and his partners are all musicians and they’ve had a great time playing together while perfecting the software.
Nebulus is allowing us to share its link with you for the first time publicly, so use it wisely and record your next greatest work at Nebulus.io

Thrival Music + Innovation Festival tickets on sale now

You can now buy tickets for Thrill Mill’s second Thrival Innovation + Music Festival The lineup features two full days of music Sept. 13-14, and boasts big name acts including Portugal. The Man, Moby, Talib Kweli, Phosphorescent, Motion City Soundtrack and Mayer Hawthorne.

The festival has grown in size over the past three years from its former iteration as a barbecue, to a now weekend-long concert attracting big-name national acts. This year Thrill Mill expects around 2,500 people a day to join them at Bakery Square II for the event.

In addition to the aforementioned national bands, local Pittsburgh musicians that will be performing include 1,2,3 and The Red Western.

Thrival is the annual funding mechanism for Thrill Mill, a startup incubator based in East Liberty. It’s also a pitch competition; eight to 10 startups will present their business plan and the winner will be awarded $25,000 furnished by PNC.

Thrill Mill CEO Bobby Zappala says that the festival is about showcasing Pittsburgh’s startup scene and notes that a number of events will be taking place throughout the week leading up to music festival.

“We’ll host a series of workshops and conferences ranging from coding workshops to a leadership symposium to a gaming roundtable,” Zappala says.

Ideally, other organizations around the city will seize the opportunity and the publicity to put on more cool events surrounding innovation and entrepreneurship.

Tickets are available via Showclix and range from $45 for a day pass to $350 for a VIP two-day pass. Learn more about the schedule and lineup here.

Pittsburgh Modular makes synthesizers used by musicians around the world

Richard Nicol is the creator and founder of Pittsburgh Modular, a synthesizer company that sells its music gear worldwide through about 25 dealers in the United States and a dozen more overseas. As a musician, Nicol has been fascinated with synths for many years and enjoys experimenting with them to produce new sounds. 

“You can create thousands of different worlds with the smallest turn of the knobs,” he says. 

About five years ago, Nicol took an advanced circuit building class at the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts (PCA), where he met his instructor Michael Johnsen, who is now the “mad scientist” who designs the equipment that Nicol manufacturers and sells at Pittsburgh Modular. Johnsen still teaches analog circuit building classes at PCA, and is currently teaching a beginner level audio circuit course that covers such basics as soldering, construction, schematics and the idiosyncratic world of “circuit bending.”

Johnsen, who also teaches filmmaking to high school students, has nurtured a longterm interest in electronic music and the techniques that have been used to make it throughout the years. Helping people understand electronic music — all the way down to the circuit board — is practical knowledge to have in a very digital era, says Johnsen. 

Nicol began building handmade synthesizer modules in his basement as a hobby while working as a full-time software developer. Using bold components and dynamic layouts to promote interaction and experimentation, his creations resembled something built in a 1950s science fiction laboratory. It didn’t take long for people in the synth community to take notice and express interest in purchasing Nicol’s creations of modern analog circuitry, marking the birth of Pittsburgh Modular.

Pittsburgh Modular, which quickly outgrew Nicol’s basement, is headquartered in the former Mine Safety Appliance factory building, located at 201 North Braddock Ave. in Pittsburgh’s East End. 

Though Pittsburgh Modular is relatively young, there are some big names using its gear. Because the synths are sold through dealers, it’s not always possible to know who’s using them. But some of the big names they know of include Trent Reznor, Deadmau5 and Depeche Mode. 

In January, Pittsburgh Modular announced a full line of synthesizers and modular gear, which the company just began to ship. 

“Pittsburgh is a big music town — but it’s a rock ’n roll town,” says Nicol. “We weren’t sure how well [our synths] would sell in Pittsburgh.”

But to Nicol’s delight, Pittsburgh Modular gear is selling very well at its local dealer, Pianos N Stuff on Freeport Road.

“Pittsburgh is a great city to start a company,” says Nicol. “I don't think we could have built this company from ground zero to where we are now in most cities.”

The company also recently started Pittsburgh Modular Records and its first release was "Encryption Cypher,” a project with Herman Pearl (a.k.a. Soy Sos) of Tuff Sound Recording, who paired its synth sounds with remixed beats by Pittsburgh’s top hip-hop artists.  

Writer: Amanda Leff Ritchie
Sources: Richard Nicol & Michael Johnsen

Pittsburgh-based AltarTV, the alternative music network for bands and artists on the way up

When their days in a band began winding down, longtime friends Alex Mohler and Alex Drizos considered starting a business.  
Their first thought was to open a production company to produce original concert footage from local events. The idea grew into AltarTV, an online repository of the music of bands and artists from around the world who were flying just under the radar.   
Since 2011, the studio in the Rose building in the Strip has produced seven original series, all high definition videos that share the music and stories of the artists through live concert footage, documentaries, intimate artist interviews and exclusive in-Pittsburgh-studio performances.

Altar TV’s specialty is finding those acts that are on the verge of crossing over to the mainstream, explains Mohler, vice president of AltarTV. 
“We are bound by our mutual passion for music, content and a mission to re-connect artists with their fans in new and interesting ways,” Mohler says. “Our mission is to capture that moment when an artist is breaking out. That’s our specialty, finding artists that are at that point.”
AltarTV has a "nimble" team of seven who wear many hats, he adds. Everyone was either a former touring musician or has experience in film production.  
More than 200 segments have been recorded to date. There's “Unplugged and Unrehearsed, ” “Noise from the Underground,” “Studio Diaries” and “Here and Now. ” The network, hosted on Ultra Genie, reaches 60 countries including China, one of our biggest audiences, he says. 
The artists cross several genres and are local and international. There's the up-and-coming band from Las Vegas, Imagine Dragons, who wander The Point before their concert; they performed on Jay Leno last month. Scottish folk rock band The Dunwells. Rapper Snoop Lion (who recently changed his name from Snoop Dogg). 
There’s also a few unexplained segments such as “Lucky the Painproof Man Eating a Lightbulb,” which you may or may not want to force yourself to watch.
“We want to be the destination where people know they can consistently get good quality video and media about artists they care about. We want to rise above all that noise.”
Writer: Deb Smit
Source: Alex Mohler, AltarTV

Ticketseller ShowClix moving downtown, HIRING 20

If you wanna catch up with ShowClix, better take off running.

The online ticket seller is expanding into its fourth space in just four years, 12,000 square-foot digs downtown on the 13th floor of Centre City Tower on Smithfield Street.

Yes, they will be leaving their cool, 3,500 square-foot space in Shadyside behind, but the cereal wall goes with them, says Lynsie Campbell of ShowClix. The downtown space also features a full-service café and smoothie bar, coffee, espresso, fruit, and big screen TV.

In addition, there's a large screening room equipped with a projector and large screen, theatre seating, movie theatre-quality popcorn and candy bar, says Campbell.

ShowClix is in hiring mode, looking to add 20 people to their current team of 32 in the areas of engineering, creative sales, and marketing. The company has an immediate need for software engineers.

The past year has been an interesting one, Campbell relates. The company moved into Shadyside with nine people, focusing on product development. This past year, we hired two key positions, a new director of sales and a new director of marketing.

"At that point, we put the pedal to the metal. We've finally built out our sales and marketing departments to the point where we could move a lot faster," she says.

The new space has expansion potential, Campbell adds. "We really wanted to select a space where expansion would be possible within three years. This is a really open space, with windows on all sides, concrete and cork floors. Things are moving so fast, it had to be move-in ready."

Writer: Deb Smit
Source: Lynsie Campbell, ShowClix

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