Scott Imblum is putting a personal spin on the music industry with his U Rock Music Center in McMurray.
The days of practicing in a garage, shelling out thousands of dollars to make a CD and then selling said CD out of the trunk of your car are over, he says. The owner of U Rock since March, 2014 is preparing clients to rock the new world of music, an industry that is increasingly shifting away from label-driven artists to self-made musicians.
“We teach our students how to play instruments, but we also teach them how to use the tools to produce their music,” Imblum says, sitting on a clear, plastic chair in a space that is more urban loft than suburban music store. “For instance, we have a student we’re helping record an album. We’re showing her how to record, how to mix her vocals and how to get it ready for and post it to iTunes.”
The center isn’t your typical big box music store. It has a cool edge with exposed brick walls and a homey feel. There are multiple rooms for every purpose. One serves as “drum room,” another a room to record vocals. Moving through the hallway, it’s a tossup what you may find.
On this particular day, Imblum demonstrated the “Folk Station,” a rack full of banjos, fiddles, ukuleles and other instruments the Avett Brothers or Mumford and Sons might need to cut their latest albums.
Imblum, 24, is a student of both music and business. A California University of Pennsylvania graduate, he’s been playing the piano since he was three years old. He’s also an entrepreneur and the co-owner of Pump Peelz—a company that makes skins for insulin pumps, that he owns with his wife Emily.
“I worked at the Pittsburgh Technology Council for two years,” Imblum said. “I’ve been around a lot of startups and figured why not apply it to the music shop?”
U Rock is a music incubator that is sending dozens of musical entrepreneurs out into the world with not only the musical skills they need, but also the technical skills. Imblum wants to turn the center into a Toms Shoes of music, selling music accessories online and donating proceeds to local music programs.
“Most of our teachers here at the center are local high school music teachers. They’re working on like $700-a-year budgets. Even if we could raise $100 for them, it would be huge,” he says.
Remember that aspiring vocalist whose album Imblum is helping to record? Teachers and students alike have played instruments on some of her tracks.
“We invite students to play (gigs) with us,” he says. “We rent the Hard Rock Café (in the South Side) out twice year and our students gig there. We want them to have real life experience.”
You don’t have to be an aspiring Bruce Springsteen to take classes at the center, he adds.
“If you want to come learn classical guitar, that’s cool, we’ll teach you,” he said with a smile. “If you just want to learn enough to impress that beautiful girl whose attention you’ve always been trying to get, we’ll teach you that too.”