Entrepreneur Marissa DeVito '03 helps music aficionados remix their favorite tunes.
by Carl Hansen '99
The family dinner table doesn't seem the most likely place for the genesis of a big-business idea, but that's exactly where UmixIt, a new way to listen to music, was born. While she was still a student at Ithaca College, Marissa DeVito '03 and her brother, James, discussed how it would be cool for ordinary people to listen to each track of a band's studio session separately -- something usually reserved for recording engineers and a select few others. Their father, Don, a veteran music executive who had been bringing his children into the studio for years, agreed and helped to back his children's entrepreneurial venture, UmixIt Technologies.
With her brother James and Aerosmith's Steven Tyler
"UmixIt is a remixing program," says Marissa, "that comes as a CD or DVD extra on an artist's album." When the disk is inserted into a Windows computer, a virtual mixing board pops up that allows the listener to become a much more active participant in the music experience. "You can solo or mute any instrument, sing along with the karaoke-style lyrics, add your own instruments, or even create a remix with the included drum loops and effects," Marissa explains.
Artists like the idea. The software adds value to their CDs by giving consumers additional access to their music. And such added value might just be the boost the music industry needs as CD sales have been lagging.
"There are obviously more software remixing programs out there," Marissa points out, "but none that offer the artists' multitracks." UmixIt focuses on the content, licensing the software to record companies and charging royalties and authoring fees for getting the song into the (patent-pending) UmixIt format. The company tapped music software developer Cakewalk to create the software, which protects the copyrights on the music using Windows' latest digital-rights technology. A version for Macs will be released in the future, but no date has been set yet.
UmixIt made a big splash at this year's International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas where Craig Barrett, CEO of Intel (whose chips help to power Cakewalk's technology), introduced UmixIt and its founders to a large audience as part of his keynote address. Then Steven Tyler, the front man for the rock group Aerosmith, danced on stage and belted out the group's hit "Walk This Way" to help demonstrate how the software works.
"I met [Marissa and James] at a recording studio in New York," said Tyler after his performance, "and they were talking about this project that they had in their head." It wasn't long before Aerosmith and the group's label, Sony, decided to hold up the release of You've Gotta Move to include UmixIt software on the title track. "You can take Joe [Perry]'s guitar off and put yours on or take my vocals off, or do whatever you want," Tyler explained.
"Being up on stage talking about UmixIt was very scary," recalls Marissa. But it was great promotion for the company, and now other artists are following Aerosmith's lead. Billy Joel is even taking Marissa and UmixIt on the road for his master classes. "He sees it as a teaching tool," she says.
Marissa graduated from IC with a bachelor of science degree in entertainment industry studies, which she created through the planned studies program in the School of Humanities and Sciences. She took classes in public relations and advertising, music history, business, and sound engineering. "It was a very well-rounded major," she says. "I had help developing it from [television-radio professor and chair] Wenmouth Williams and [writing professor] Hadley Smith," she says. She also cofounded VoiceStream, an a cappella group still going strong, and was involved with the Bureau of Concerts. UmixIt seems a natural progression from her IC academic and extracurricular experiences.
"I've always been interested in music," says Marissa, "ever since I was really young and going to concerts with my dad." With assistance from her father, she eventually became an intern at a sound studio where she worked in various departments, adding to her breadth of experience in the industry.
Now she and James hope that business will stay brisk for their two-year-old company. At 24, she has big expectations to fill as cofounder, executive vice president, and manager of UmixIt. "But I think," Marissa says, "in the music industry 'young and fresh' is a good thing."