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Thursday, October 22, 2015

Frank Zappa's Dream Of Downloadable Sheet Music Now An Everyday Reality

Frank Zappa imageWith the passing of his wife Gail last week, stories and memories of Frank Zappa rush back into my mind. One that I'll never forget was when Frank did a sales pitch to a venture capitol company for my startup company way back in the early 80s.

Frank had this idea to transmit sheet music electronically to music stores, and had the ear of what was then the largest venture group in the country, Rothschild Capital.

My then business partner Steve DeFuria (who's been a VP at Line 6 for a while now) and I had an idea for a computerized music score writer that we called the MicroScorer.  Printing the music from a score is a feature in pretty much every DAW these days, but back then the idea was revolutionary as all music copying was still done by hand.

Frank connected us with Rothschild Capital, and we flew to New York City for a meeting. There we actually met the famous Baron Von Rothschild up in the penthouse of 1 Rockefeller Plaza in the middle of downtown Manhattan.

The company liked our idea enough to set up another meeting on our turf back in Los Angeles, which is where Frank came back into the picture.

Since we didn't want to have a meeting in my small apartment, we looked around for a suitable place. Frank came to the rescue by giving us the use of his studio to make our initial pitch to two Rothschild bankers, which happened to be at 9AM, one of the few times that he slept (every day he had two 8 hour shifts in the studio and some private writing after that).

About 15 minutes into our pitch, Frank burst into the meeting with coffee cup in hand, torn t-shirt, sweat pants with a hole in the knee, bare feet and severely matted hair, obviously right out of bed. Hardly business attire, even for today's Silicon Valley.

Steve and I groaned a little inside, wondering how his appearance was going to go down with the 3 piece-suited straight-laced New York VCs, but Frank launched into an absolutely captivating hour and a half pitch on our behalf, holding everyone in the room in the palm of his hand.

That was Frank. Everyone who ever came in contact has a story (usually a lot more than one).

Our project and Frank's were never funded, mostly because the oil crisis that year made energy investments the better bet, but it was an interesting little ride at the time.

Today Musicnotes is the market leader in downloadable sheet music, and what the company does is something that Frank actually envisioned in 1981. Sheet music over the Internet was one of his dreams, and he'd be proud to know that it eventually happened. Wish he were still here to see it.

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