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RTP music company Zenph strikes a new chord


ARTICLE by the News & Observer

A new company that purchased the intellectual property of the nearly defunct Zenph Sound Innovations is looking to strike a chord among the nation’s private music instructors.

The new Research Triangle Park company, christened Zenph Inc., has raised $900,000 in financing to launch an online music education platform it calls ZOEN (Zenph Online Education Network). ZOEN will match instructors with students, deliver digital instruction tools that take advantage of the original Zenph’s innovations, and provide services such as billing and scheduling over the Internet.

The financing announced Wednesday was led by Durham venture capital firm Intersouth Partners, which also backed the earlier Zenph – best known for its whiz-bang technology that won critical acclaim for recreating historical performances by legendary pianists such as Art Tatum and Glenn Gould on a computer-controlled piano. The privately-held business also ventured beyond the piano to re-creating performances created by bass players and had designs on creating an orchestra of virtual instruments.

That company, which raised nearly $11 million in financing and boasted an artist advisory board featuring luminaries such as Quincy Jones and Branford Marsalis, was wound down after failing to gain traction in the marketplace. It was a victim of the significant decline in CD sales and a failure to develop lucrative new revenue streams for its technology.

Zenph’s imminent demise suggests that Intersouth ended up writing off the bulk of its undisclosed investment, but Intersouth’s Katrin Burt declined to comment on the issue.

However, Burt was eager to talk about the potential of the new Zenph.

“It’s a whole new company going after a very different market,” she said. “We’re excited about it. It’s a good (management) team. We think it’s a very large market.”

The new Zenph has six employees led by Kirk Owen, who joined the original Zenph as interim CEO in March. Two other staffers at the new Zenph also are alumni of the old Zenph, which once had more than 30 employees.

Owen said the private music instruction market in the United States alone is $3 billion.

With ZOEN, Zenph is aiming to provide “the perfect match” between teacher and student by virtue of offering online instruction. Typically, matches are limited by convenience since students and teacher need to be in close proximity.

ZOEN also will exploit the technology the company acquired that turns music into data, Owen said. Its software will enable instructors to objectively track and analyze what students are doing well and what they’re doing poorly.

Zenph will receive a commission from the instructor for each lesson, with the amount dependent on volume, Owen said.

At least for now, however, the re-performance technology that put Zenph on the musical map is sitting idly on the shelf.

“We’d love to find a way to monetize that down the road,” Owen said. “We are a small company and we have to stay focused.”

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