Perfect Pitch: David Larson Levine
Founder, Musician, CEO
Current City: Shepherdstown, WV
Current Job and Entrepreneurial Focus: Founder/CEO of Scoby Society
Notable Prior Jobs: Serial entrepreneur (fintech, video game tech, renewable energy tech).
When I Started Performing: 8.
Performing Arts Background: Saxophone in award winning jazz band elementary school, jr. high & high school; founded the band Senator Flux, which released 4 albums on European labels, had a video on MTV, and toured the US, Canada, and Europe.
How did your performing arts background supercharge your entrepreneurship? My music experience was in the DC post-punk scene that centered around the Dischord Records ecosystem. It was a true ecosystem that included bands (Minor Threat, Fugazi, Lungfish, Rites of Spring, Fire Party, Gray Matter, Three…), performance spaces like church basements, Fort Reno Park, DC Space…), restaurants where many of us had day jobs (particularly Food For Thought, Dantes), fanzines (Uno Mas, Who Cares?), and social justice organizations (Positive Force, Community for Creative Nonviolence).
Dischord kept record prices low (under $5.99 when others where at $7.99 to $9.99), and ticket prices low (most shows were $5 and all ages).
We mostly booked our own tours by making phone calls and mailing out cassettes and press kits. We started smaller spin-off labels like Simple Machines.
At one point, the major labels started sniffing around. David Geffen came out to DC and tried to sign Fugazi for a few million dollars, but since Ian McKaye co-owned Dischord, he turned down the offer.
Geffen then went to Seattle and signed Nirvana, which put the whole Pacific Northwest scene on the map. Pearl Jam, Sound Garden, Alice in Chains and many others broke out.
Dave Grohl, who was part of the DC scene as the drummer for Scream, joined Nirvana for Nevermind. When he got back from recording in LA, he stopped by our band house in Arlington, VA and played the rough mixes for me and my bandmates.
It totally blew our minds.
We had no idea it would knock Michael Jackson's Thriller off the top of the charts, but we knew it was powerful and different.
Grunge became the thing, and DC remained a musical backwater.
A few months later, Dave Grohl recorded some songs in our basement studio that would become the first Foo Fighters album.
I left the music industry when I was introduced to LambdaMOO (multi-user object oriented) at XeroxPARC. It showed me what collaborative consensual virtual reality could look like. It was a text-based VR where all of these talented people were building vehicles, clubs, hot tubs, characters… and then building off each other.
It was a new scene.
I believed at the time (and still do), that the internet would go beyond being simply a new distribution channel for all forms of digital media.
I believed that the connection of people through this network would fundamentally transform what we viewed as culture. It would become natively collaborative, mediated and malleable. Shifting and morphing in real-time.
Machine learning is just starting to give us that, once we find how to tune and train the systems in interesting, creative ways.
Understanding the relationship between the business and creative aspects of music gave me the foundations of my entrepreneurial career. The VCs are like the major labels, and the Bay Area, Austin, Boston, etc are like the music scenes.
The vitality, however, is not in either. I chose to build my entrepreneurial career here in the woods on the river of WV because I knew that the day would come when creativity coupled with business and technology would make anything possible, from anywhere.
Also, I love the experience of co-creation. Songwriting for me is very similar to product development — conceiving and realizing something that is just right. That fits. That people respond to.
Favorite Performer: Avett Brothers.
Follow David Larson Levine:
Twitter - @motocoaster
Instagram - @motodave
Facebook - motodave