Music Entrepreneur

Where Are They Now: Carpet Booth Studios

Photo courtesy of Carpet Booth Studios.

Photo courtesy of Carpet Booth Studios.

Today we check back in with local business Carpet Booth Studios!

Last July, we chatted with Carpet Booth Studios, a full production and recording studio in Rochester, a few months after their official opening. The studio is owned and operated by local entrepreneur Zach Zurn.

Zurn named the studio “Carpet Booth” in homage to the business’s humble roots, a makeshift production studio he and friends constructed in his mom’s basement as teens.

Carpet Booth has made significant strides over the past year, said Zurn. The studio has been working with local and non-local artists spanning most musical genres. The business currently has two interns on staff and celebrated their one-year anniversary this spring.

Carpet Booth has also moved to a brand new space in southeast Rochester over the past few months. Zurn aims to complete renovation of the new studio space by the end of 2018, for which the business is currently seeking funding.

Currently, Carpet Booth is “working to establish ourselves as the premier recording studio in the Rochester, Winona, La Crosse, and Mason City area,” explained Zurn.

Press Release: ROCKchester 'In Their Element' Series Releasing Later This Month

Photo courtesy of ROCKchester.

Photo courtesy of ROCKchester.

ROCHESTER, MN -- Throughout the month of March, ROCKchester will be highlighting the talents of local youth musicians with the 'In Their Element' video series. 

The series will capture four local groups playing small, intimate acoustic sets in places that define them as artists and Rochesterites. These places capture the essence of all corners and cultures in Rochester, from the soft undertones of Cafe Steam to the fluorescent glow of a Graham Arena hockey rink.

Videos will release every Friday through the month of March, beginning with indie-punk artist and Century High School junior Wyatt Moran.

Sam Butterfass, an alt-Americana musician and 2015 Mayo graduate, will follow Moran, with indie electronica outfit Fauna & Flora, and indie-folk artist Greentop finishing the series.

ROCKchester founder and curator Dylan Hilliker is excited about the direction of the series.

“Music often influences the connections we make, both with people and with places,” Hilliker said. “The ‘In Their Element’ series puts ROCKchester artists into settings they are most familiar or most associated with for personal, intimate performances.”

Cinematography and audio recording for the series was handled exclusively by local artists. Kevin Andrews, Emily Nelson, Jack Hilliker, and Will Forsman combined to produce all video content, while Mitchell Nelson recorded, mixed and mastered all audio.

The sessions will be released in their entirety on ROCKchester’s official website,

Rochester Startup Spark DJ Accepted into Techstars Music Accelerator Program

Spark DJ Founders James Jones (left) and John Gavin Boss (right) speaking at a previous 1 Million Cups Rochester.

Spark DJ Founders James Jones (left) and John Gavin Boss (right) speaking at a previous 1 Million Cups Rochester.

A big congratulations and good luck to Spark DJ founders John Gavin Boss and James Jones. This Rochester music startup is off to Los Angeles to participate in the Techstars Music Accelerator. Techstars is a premier accelerator program and global network that provides entrepreneurs with the resources and connections they need to succeed.

The accelerator program begins on Monday and runs for thirteen weeks in LA. Only ten music startups were accepted into the program. During their time in the accelerator, Spark DJ will have the opportunity to receive mentoring from a variety of experts in music, media, tech, and venture capital to move their business forward. Techstars Music also invests $120K into each honoree.

Spark DJ is a mobile application that uses artificial intelligence and data science to deliver live-curated music right from a cell phone to provide high quality, well mixed music. The startup has also made significant strides in Minnesota. They are previous High-Tech division finalists in Minnesota Cup, the state’s premium startup competition, and were Golden iPod Champions in Beta.MN Startup Showcase in Minneapolis.  

Pure Rock Studios and Special Guests to Present at Next all Music 1 Million Cups Rochester

Join the entrepreneurial and small business community at the next 1 Million Cups Rochester on Wednesday July 12th (tomorrow!) from 9-10AM in the Bleu Duck Kitchen Event Space. This month is a very special music focused edition of 1 Million Cups! Join in to welcome featured entrepreneur, Ryan Utterback of Pure Rock Studios, and bonus innovators Dylan Hilliker, Founder of ROCKchester, Zach Zurn, Owner of Carpet Booth Studios, plus a special performance by Pure Rock students.


About Pure Rock Studios

Pure Rock Studios is Rochester’s premier lesson and performance center that custom fits lessons to meet student’s needs. Pure Rock provides private and group lessons, but also gives students the ability to participate in live performances. The Pure Rock team believes that live performance builds up a student’s confidence and stage presence, a skill important in multiple aspects of life, and allows students to immediately apply techniques learned in class.

Launched in: 2011

Founder: Ryan Utterback

Industry: Music



About ROCKchester

ROCKchester is a local music and arts festival curated by teens and featuring teen musicians and artists.

Launched in: 2016

Founder: Dylan Hilliker

Industry: Music


About Carpet Booth Studios

Carpet Booth Studios is Rochester’s only full production and recording facility.

Launched in: 2017

Founder: Zach Zurn

Industry: Music


About 1 Million Cups

1 Million Cups is a free, national education program developed by the Kauffman Foundation. 1 Million Cups takes place every Wednesday at 9AM across 116 US communities to support and encourage entrepreneurs. The program is based on the idea that entrepreneurs connect and discover solutions over one million cups of coffee.

Singer/Songwriter Opens Carpet Booth Music Production Studio to Fill Gap in Rochester Music Scene

Photo courtesy of Carpet Booth Studios.

Photo courtesy of Carpet Booth Studios.

At only twenty-five years old, musician and entrepreneur Zach Zurn is getting his feet wet in the small business scene in Rochester and learning on-the-go. Although young, Zurn is on the founding team of two other businesses: the tech startup Tinua and the entertainment franchise BubbleBall Rochester. Recently he’s launched his own business, a full production and recording facility called Carpet Booth Studios, to serve the emerging music community in Rochester.

Zurn, a Texas native, is inspired by many musical influences like The Beatles, The Beach Boys, Bee Gees, and other golden oldies of the 50s, 60s, and 70s. His parents were themselves musicians and he hopped on his mother’s drum kit and started playing at a young age. At thirteen, Zurn became obsessed with the production and recording side of music and began experimenting with microphone placement and the creation of clean, unique audio.

He and some friends rigged up a makeshift production studio in his mom’s basement, tacking old carpet to the inside of a closet to create a dead vocal booth where they would record covers and original songs.

“And that’s actually where the name Carpet Booth Studios comes from,” Zurn explained. “It pays homage to [Carpet Booth’s] humble, humble, humble beginnings.”

Growing up, Zurn played in several small bands, toured, and most importantly, wrote songs. After graduating from Winona State University with a degree in Music, he worked at a church in Rochester in music and media and rented out various studio spaces around town for music production.

With the exit of friend Jim Fricker’s North Coast Productions last fall, Zurn saw an immense need for a full-time production and recording studio in Rochester. Three months ago, he opened Carpet Booth Studios on the corner of 2nd Street Northeast and Broadway to fill that gap.

Carpet Booth Studios is a full-service production and recording house, facilitating any type of audio recording service like voiceover, full EP and album production, podcasting, session work, and songwriting.

Word of mouth in the music community has organically helped the business grow so far.

In addition to running this budding business, Zurn is developing his own career as a solo singer and songwriter. He’s created works for several businesses around town, such as Nalu Float, where he was hooked up with an hour-long float session and wrote a twelve-minute ambient piece that “musically displayed how my emotions were feeling at that moment.”

Just this month, Zurn released his original single “Losing My Head,” which he calls a slow-roasted, crock pot tune addressing his self-confidence issues and fears.

“I’m kind of a melancholy person at heart,” Zurn said. “I think I’m a happy person because I don’t express my melancholy in my everyday life because I express it as a songwriter through my art.”

Zurn says he second guesses himself constantly, questioning if he’s talented enough to make it in the music industry. Everyone deals with self-doubt at some point, he explained, “especially if you’re an entrepreneur because your entire existence is a risk.”

Songwriting has been a healing process for Zurn. He says the oxymoronic pairing of despondent lyric with the bright music of “Losing My Head” should not work, but it gives insight to “the psychosis of what happens in my head.”

This fall, he plans to release a four song EP, including this single, which will be quite diverse in genre.

Zurn says for artists like himself concerned with “the craft of songwriting and the craft of creating this visual and sonic experience for a show,” there just aren’t many performance options right now in Rochester’s music scene. After Midwest Skate Park closed in late 2010 and Wicked Moose this year, there are a real lack of venues for concert-style performances in Rochester.

The recent opening of The Jive Mill near Carpet Booth Studios was a welcome addition to the scene, although this venue is tapped at about fifty people.

Open mic nights at places like Forager Brewery, C4, and The Rochester Art Center also provide an opportunity for emerging artists.

“But again, the thing that I see about the music industry, as far as live playing goes, is that other than The Jive Mill just opening up, which is so great, there are not places to play where you go for a show,” Zurn affirmed. “That brings the conversation to the Armory.”

The Rochester City Council is moving forward with discussion of two proposals for the former senior center, one of which would create a multi-use entertainment venue in the historic facility. This proposal- from Entourage Events Group, Fine Line Music Café, and local representative Sunny Prabhakar- would create space for both national and local music acts.

Right now, Zurn sees an entire music community germinating organically in the area surrounding the Armory building, which includes his own Carpet Booth Studios, The Jive Mill, Avalon Music, Northstar Bar, and Welhaven Music.

“We do have a little music compound, a little music district, popping up right here in Rochester, which is super cool. And I’m stoked to be a part of it,” Zurn said.

Spark DJ Utilizes Artificial Intelligence and Data Science to Set the Bar for DJing

Photo courtesy of The Commission.

Photo courtesy of The Commission.

Spark DJ aims to disrupt the music entertainment industry by “replacing DJs with data science.” The app allows for live curation of music and seamless transitions between songs to keep a party going, delivering high quality music every time. Spark DJ earned accolades at both Minnesota Cup and Beta.MN and recently told their story at 1 Million Cups Rochester. The Spark DJ founders will showcase the app tomorrow night and invite all of Rochester to come out for the party.

Spark DJ creators John Boss and James Jones both have a deep love of music. Boss, a New Jersey native, began DJing at age thirteen after being gifted hand-me-down DJ equipment from a favorite cousin, a DJ in Pittsburgh. Boss would host parties for kids, as a kid himself, and even DJed a Gap store opening.

Jones, a self-described “data nerd,” was interested in the construction of music and beats. While in college, he needed a job but was limited on time while pursuing a dual degree in engineering and economics. He made an extensive list of ways to earn cash as a student, which included anything from cutting grass to day trading. Jones enjoyed DJing and could “spin for like three to four hours at a time.” He found that DJing was by far the best return on investment per hour for a college student.

“I was already into music and then when I started DJing, people really liked what I was doing,” Jones explained. He had the opportunity to open for some major acts like Big Sean, Girl Talk, and Bones Thugs-N-Harmony.

Boss and Jones both got to be such in-demand DJs that they had too many gigs. Both worked to solve this problem in amazingly unique ways. Boss started Apollo Music Group, a Rochester-based DJ management service, where he could vet and hire top-rate DJs to staff his increasing number of bookings.

“I was the weird one where I was like, I’m going to make this algorithmic clone of myself and try to use that instead,” Jones said.

Jones actually got hired on by Boss to DJ with Apollo Music Group. “I was telling him about this idea. And he got really excited about it and then I got really excited about it,” Jones explained. And it all snowballed from there to create Spark DJ.

The Spark DJ app uses artificial intelligence to deliver live-curated music right from a cell phone, providing “high quality music, mixed well, every time.” Hosts choose their favorite artists on the app and set up parameters for guests. Party-goers can then connect with the app using geolocation to submit song requests.

Spark DJ is not meant to replace DJs but to set the standard for DJing.

“I don’t think we’ll ever be able to compete with someone who’s really mastered their craft and is really taking a very artistic approach to what they’re doing and engaging the crowd, creating a really unique experience. Those guys, those are guys we want to be as DJs,” said Jones.

The pair explained how the bar for DJing was so much higher twenty years ago, when you had to buy tons of equipment like records, CDs, and a turntable. “The talent level at the time was respected. It was a craft,” explained Boss.

Now with MP3s, people can just download songs onto their laptop and start playing music, which has created a surplus of subpar DJs.

Spark DJ aims to raise the bar for all DJs. “If you can’t DJ better than Spark DJ…you shouldn’t be a DJ,” explained Jones.

Boss and Jones are now both in Spark DJ full time, learning the ropes of entrepreneurship. Before launching the startup, Jones was a statistics analyst at the Target headquarters in Minneapolis and Boss a financial analyst at IBM. Although both studied some degree of business or economics in college, Boss said you “can throw that out the door on many occasions.” Right now, the founders are connecting with other entrepreneurs, learning from their mistakes, and understanding how to navigate the startup lifestyle.

Plugging themselves into the entrepreneurial community has paid off big. Spark DJ was a High-Tech division finalist last year in the Minnesota Cup, Minnesota’s largest startup competition. Just last week, the pair were Golden iPod champions at the Beta.MN Startup Showcase in Minneapolis. Boss and Jones said these experiences were validating and helped them connect with people who loved what they were doing.

“It’s easy to go in a corner and code…but it doesn’t work like that. We’re all connected. …Going through the Minnesota Cup really helped us meet a lot of different people and learn a lot of stuff that we probably wouldn’t have learned just sitting in the corner,” said Jones.

Now the founders are deciding where to base the company, Minneapolis or Rochester.

“[Rochester’s] a little more in its infancy stage. But it’s in a healthy, fun one. It’s fun to be here. It’s fun to see what’s happening…you start to really see things,” said Boss. “If we can give people hope to stay in Rochester and start something great, that’s something that would be exciting for us as well.”

Boss and Jones invite everyone to link up with the founders and try out the Spark DJ app at their showcase event tomorrow night. The party starts in the Bleu Duck Kitchen Event Space at 5PM and moves to The Doggery at 8PM. Click here for more information.

Rochester Teen Empowers Youth Music Community with ROCKchester Festival

Photo courtesy of ROCKchester Festival.

Photo courtesy of ROCKchester Festival.

Teen musician Dylan Hilliker has ambitious dreams for the youth music community in Rochester. Last May, Hilliker launched an eight-hour music festival featuring local teen musicians, curated entirely by teens, called ROCKchester. The event brought in over 350 attendees in its inaugural year and will be back for the second edition this July.

Although he’s only eighteen-years-old, Dylan Hilliker has played music for most of his life. A native of Chapel Hill, he began playing the guitar at age seven. Shortly afterwards Hilliker discovered his true musical passion: drums. After his family moved to Rochester in 2008, Hilliker began taking lessons at Pure Rock Studios, a music education and entertainment facility in Rochester, back when owner Ryan Utterback was still teaching out of his garage. Hilliker’s love for music propelled him into his school’s jazz, pep, and marching bands, as well as the pit orchestra. He played in three teen bands in Rochester during middle and high school, releasing several EPs and full-length albums. This past fall, Hilliker headed off to college in Nashville to study Music Business. But even in this new music scene he continues to perform.

It’s fair to say that Hilliker is an expert on the Rochester youth music community; he’s immersed in it. He recognized the immense musical talent festering among Rochester’s teenagers. However, there was a distinct lack of teen-friendly music venues for these artists. Coffee shops like Café Steam were a great place to start, Hilliker said. But people did not typically visit those places for the music. “I wanted to have a venue and an event that could really showcase the talent that Rochester has,” he explained.

Photo courtesty of ROCKchester.

Photo courtesty of ROCKchester.

To address this need in the teen community, Hilliker launched the very first ROCKchester Festival last May, “to get our voices heard and get our music out there on a more professional platform.” The first ROCKchester took place at the Wicked Moose. The event contained over eight hours of music from six local teen bands and five teen singer/songwriters, encompassing all genres of music, including rap, jazz, rock and roll, indie, and electronica.

“It’s just so cool to see that we have kids in Rochester that are doing more than the hard rock and the country and things you typically see around town,” Hilliker said.

ROCKchester also featured several local teen artists.  



This inaugural music festival had a two-part mission. The first was to encourage teens to share their music- get them playing somewhere outside of their basement or bedroom- to an audience on a professional platform. “It’s not art unless you put it out there. You have to be able to project your work into the community and into the public,” Hilliker explained.

Photo courtesty of ROCKchester Festival.

Photo courtesty of ROCKchester Festival.

The second goal was to educate teens, and adults, about the youthful music community in Rochester. “We want kids to see, basically, the best of what Rochester has in the teenage and the college age range so that they can see what they can become,” Hilliker said.

Hilliker thinks we have the capacity to create a professional music culture in Rochester similar to that of the Twin Cities or Duluth. But right now, the lack of venues in Rochester is affecting teen and adult musicians alike. This limitation is chewing away at the professional music scene here and restricting career choices among the youth of the city.

Hilliker has come across many talented teen musicians in Rochester. He wonders, “if they would have aspired to be professional musicians if they would have had more opportunities to play and had venues that were friendly towards teenagers and friendly towards kids who are coming up through the ranks.”

This year, the second edition of ROCKchester will take place in the brand new Pure Rock Studios performance space. To Hilliker, this is the perfect match for the music festival. Studio owner Ryan Utterback is a music mentor to Hilliker and many other kids, and adults, in Rochester, who is helping to get teen musicians heard. This year’s ROCKchester takes place July 15th and will include teen musicians, teen artists, and even a food truck lineup. The organizing team is still looking for local artists to play at the event. More information can be found on the ROCKchester Festival website.

However, Hilliker’s vision for music in Rochester extends beyond this mission with ROCKchester. He wants to use music to give back. Over winter break this year, Hilliker and friend Andy Furness put on a Unity through Music event series. This sequence of house shows featured teen musicians and even included an open mic night at the Rochester Art Center. At a time with much social unrest, this event celebrated community, understanding, and compassion and was completely organized by teenagers. The Unity through Music series raised over $350 for local charities.

“[Music] is really something that can do a lot of good and can teach kids not only to love music, but to love giving back and love helping others,” Hilliker affirmed.

Professional Drummer and Music Instructor brings LA Music Scene to Rochester with Pure Rock Studios- Executive Summary

In case you missed the podcast yesterday, here is the executive summary of our interview with Pure Rock Studios owner Ryan Utterback.

A native of the small farming community of New Hampton, Iowa, Utterback taught himself to play the drums at age fourteen in his family’s woodshed. He later attended Minnesota State in Mankato and formed a band with some friends. The group become a touring act, playing about 100 to 120 shows per year and recorded three albums.

After his college band broke up, Utterback applied to and attended Musicians Institute in central Los Angeles to cultivate his love and passion for music. After moving to LA, he quickly joined a band and played drums with the group for close to six years. The group played at premier LA venues like The Mint and The Viper Room and participated in the SXSW music festival.

Utterback opened the original Pure Rock Studios music lesson facility with two colleagues in a transformed warehouse in Whittier, California. After two years at Pure Rock, Utterback knew that it was time to return home to the Midwest. He moved into a home in northwest Rochester and began teaching music lessons out of his garage. When his students grew from one to seventy-five, he knew it was time to find a larger space. In January 2015, Utterback opened Pure Rock Studios of Rochester in its current location in northeast Rochester.

Pure Rock Studios is a lesson and performance center that custom fits lessons to meet student’s needs. Pure Rock provides private and group lessons, but also gives students the ability to participate in live performances, if they want to. Utterback believes that live performance builds up a student’s confidence and stage presence, a skill important in multiple aspects of life, and allows students to immediately apply the techniques they learn in class.

“Pure Rock is the live performance opportunities as well as private lessons. It’s Pure Rock Studios. We rock out. We rock out country music. We rock out praise music. We rock out hard rock music. All styles. But we really want that performance aspect,” Utterback explained.

Pure Rock Studios of Rochester currently has fourteen instructors who are all working musicians. Along with Utterback’s wife, the team has been extremely instrumental and supportive of Pure Rock’s growth. Currently, the studio is undergoing a 3,000-square foot expansion to add on a performance space and almost double the size of the facility.

Utterback encourages students to learn about business, especially when they’re young, although he admits business ownership requires a lot of hard work and hustle. He wants his students to know that you can make a career out of music. “You can be that recording artist that plays a video game. You can make a jingle for the next Pixar movie. You can be a touring artist and play. You can teach. And you can teach and still do all those things,” he said.

The music venue scene, especially small venues, is lacking in Rochester, although the city is full of musical talent. Utterback believes that there must be a healthy art scene in Rochester, which includes music, to get people to stay here and make it a real destination city. “People need to go out and support live music if they want it to continue. Music does something to you. It can take you away from whatever stress you’re dealing with. And that’s important in a town with a major medical center,” he stated.