The story behind zZounds Music Discovery
Center. Summer of 1996 - 23 years old. I was working at
Projekt Records for about a year and a half , maybe two. I
started out as a shrink wrapper and ended up in sales. My
sales position came to a halt when Sam signed a huge
distribution deal and I ended up back in shipping. I looked
to the Chicago Reader for a new job. This ad jumped out at
me and screamed my name. It was for a sales position at a
new little music instrument dealership called zZounds Music
Discovery Center at 125 W. North Ave Chicago Il. The ad was
very unique and very intriguing so I called it of course and
instantly set up an interview. It was like it was totally
meant for me. I interviewed with the owner Ray and the
manager Chris Mosher (keyboardist soon to leave zZounds to
record his debut album with Sister Soleil). Part of the
interview was a written test to see how much I knew about
electronic music technology. Some questions were multiple
choice and others were short essay. They were pleased with
the results and I got the job. This was a major turning
point in my life and the beginning of my professional music
zZounds (now an internet giant) was an interesting little mom and pop store. It was started by an ex-attorney for Jenner and Block named Ray Worthy Campbell. Ray's vision was to open a music store for his kids so they could be exposed to music and have a fun place to practice and explore music as well. I sold midi equipment, software, and taught the occasional student who signed up for my Intro To Electronic Music Composition lessons. I also did the occasional home installation and instruction if a customer was willing to pay a little extra for the service and if they lived nearby. zZounds was located at the corner of North Ave and LaSalle in Old Town. The average clientele ranged from the budding Hip Hop producer to the insanely rich looking for a musical hobby or something for their children. I sold everything from Didgeridoos to the latest in music technology. This was the year soft synths made their debut and programs like Propellerheads Rebirth and Cubase VST technology were revolutionizing music software. I'll never forget the box of Opcode's Max that just sat on the shelf collecting dust. Working at zZounds was not all fun and games, in fact I had started at a very uncomfortable moment for the store and it's employees. Apparently there had a been a rash of thefts just before I was hired and the salesmen were the prime suspects. Ray had forced them to take a lie detector test. Some refused and quit and some were fired. There was a very sour vibe going around for the first couple of months after I was hired. Chris Mosher quit and Mark Schoenhals took his place. I worked closely with Mark since he was the other "MIDI" guy.
zZounds was definitely a unique learning experience with many ups and downs. Some days involved Ray handing me a box full of zZounds Kazoos and telling me to go down to Lincoln Park and North Ave Beach to make some noise and promote the store. He would also have us bring African hand drums, portable battery powered Keyboards, and Electric Guitars with portable battery powered mini amps. We had Robert Moog come in to do a personal performance of his new Midi Theremin. Later that night I went out to dinner with Robert and Ray down on Wells. We sold some of the most eclectic musical instruments in the city. Mark brought in a lot of Chicago's best House producers djs like Joe Smooth, Julian Perez, and Scott Smokin Sills. Some of my most memorable experiences were the "at home installations". Crazy stuff happened all the time. There was seldom a dull moment.
Selling musical instruments just wasn't enough for Ray. He was determined to make zZounds a school for music. I believe this is what lead to the store's demise. He hired on a handful of instructors and took on an additional space in Piper's Alley. Overhead was now really adding up. There was also a warehouse packed full of gear and on top of that he now had an additional rental space and more employees. There was no way he could compete with the already established and reputable music schools in Chicago like Old Town School Of Folk but he was determined to make it work or at least put up a good fight trying. During this time Mark was managing the zZounds website. He was using SEO tricks and sending out email blasts right and left and to my surprise it was working quite well. The internet/mail order aspects of zZounds were starting to outshine store sales. Keep in mind this is right around the time when the internet started to really pick up. I personally thought they should just closed down the store, keep the warehouse, and focus mainly on internet sales. Well eventually this is what became of zZounds while the other aspects simply disintegrated. Ray sent me to a NAMM convention in Nashville during the middle of all this change and this is when I met the folks at Sonic Foundry and found a better job.
Read about this chapter of my life here