Innovation Destination Hartford Website Curator Nan Price visited Parkville Sounds and met with Founder Stephen Cusano to learn more about his startup, which provides space for Hartford-area musicians and artists as well as touring bands passing through the city.
NAN PRICE: Have you always been entrepreneurial?
STEPHEN CUSANO: Yes, absolutely. I’ve been playing the drums for a long time, which started me on my path playing my own gigs and trying to start my own band.
NAN: Artists and musicians are inherently entrepreneurial. You are your brand and your business, and you always have to market yourself.
NAN: How did you develop the business concept for Parkville Sounds?
STEPHEN: It started out with a personal need. I went to the University of Hartford Hartt School of Music where I studied jazz specifically for just drums. I had a practice room at the school, but once I graduated I had to move my drums into my West End apartment. I couldn’t play there. I needed to figure out how I was going to practice. And I needed a place to make music whenever I wanted.
I wanted to stay in Hartford because I love Hartford. I found this place on Park Street in the Parkville neighborhood, which has allowed me to meet those goals. I can play 24/7 and I can make as much noise as I want.
I guess the entrepreneurial part of me had a vision. I saw bands needing a place to practice, needing a facility, and needing the services we offer. I saw a need in the Hartford area for local musicians and people passing through needing a facility where they could create.
I realized I could really help other artists and musicians hone in on their craft. For bands passing through, Parkville Sounds provides a space to practice and get a good video session. And it gives them another reason to stop in Hartford.
NAN: Did you base the idea on any other business model?
STEPHEN: Not particularly, but I knew there was no practice facility in Hartford for musicians. Growing up as a musician, I once took a lesson from a well-known drummer in New York City. We went to a rehearsal studio with many rooms. That was the first time this seed was really planted. I had never seen anything like that before. Usually my lessons were at a teacher’s house or at the school.
NAN: At what point did you realize this business model was viable and sustainable?
STEPHEN: We provide practice and rehearsal space, video sessions, and instrumental lessons and we also rent sound. It’s sustainable for me because I give lessons, I run this, and I perform. I’m also a touring musician. I’m out playing on the weekends with a lot of different bands.
Parkville Sounds is home to multiple musicians who live in Hartford. It helps them out because a lot of our lesson teachers live in a place where they can’t bring students in. For example, it’s been great to see people want to take lessons from Mike DiPanfilo, the guitarist for Hartford-based funk/soul band West End Blend.
And renting out the space for band practicing is a huge part of our business. Some people just want to make some noise or get together and play with each other. I love that! There’s a guy who comes here twice a week and plays bagpipes at 6:00 a.m. There’s no other place in Hartford where you can do that!
NAN: Was your overhead relatively low when you opened? Did you already have most of the equipment?
STEPHEN: I’ve got drums for days because it’s all my stuff! Little by little, I’ve been getting more equipment. Before I opened the business, I didn’t have too much. I knew what to get and I bought what I knew would be needed.
NAN: And you’re entirely self-funded?
STEPHEN: Yes. I’ve never asked for funding; the business has been floating and paying for itself. It’s really working quite well.
NAN: And how are you marketing?
STEPHEN: Mostly social media. We’ve gotten a fair amount of press, too.
NAN: Aside from you, who else is involved in Parkville Sounds?
STEPHEN: It’s me mostly. Connor Millican, co-founder of IdleWilde Printing Company helps me out with a lot of the video editing, branding, and graphic design. IdleWilde is just across the hall, so that’s convenient. Jillian Foley, owner of The Dance Collective is our operating officer. She’s very talented. Jill schedules our lesson teachers, runs social media, and developed our website. She’s our point of contact.
Connor and Jill have helped me a lot. When we first moved here, this basement was an empty space. We got a great deal, but the deal was that the landlord would put up some walls and we would do the rest. We moved in January 2017 with just some bare walls. We did all the interior stuff ourselves.
It took us from January to April to finally open the doors. The landlord saw what we did and helped increase the space for us, which has doubled our size. Now we have three different rooms where we can have a lesson, rehearsals loading in, and another person practicing. Having multiple rooms has opened up a lot of opportunities for our business.
NAN: As far as the business side of things, do you have a business background?
STEPHEN: No. My father is a successful businessman. I’ve learned so much from him. He worked on some well-known products at Anheuser-Busch, Famous Amos, and Cape Cod Potato Chips. With anything business-oriented, he’s the first person I call because he gives me the guidance I need. I don’t have that study, but he has given it to me, in a way.
NAN: Any other local mentors?
STEPHEN: The co-owners of Hog River Brewing Co. have been huge mentors to a lot of the people in the Parkville neighborhood. Watching Ben and Joy Braddock run that business has been instrumental to our growth. We’ve been working closely together now with Connor to develop a weekly concert series called Twang Thursdays. We’re trying to get more music and more collaboration in the neighborhood.
NAN: Parkville is becoming a hub of creativity and innovation. There’s so much energy with places like reSET, Hands on Hartford and the Café at Fifty Five, Hog River Brewing, IdleWilde Printing, and Hartford Denim. Do you see it building?
STEPHEN: Absolutely. I’ve always seen it as a stomping ground for artists. We’re in a niche market—Hartford is not like New Haven or New York City. Anything you can put your mind to is really possible. It wouldn’t be possible for me to do this in New York City.
Hartford has so many talented artists throughout this entire city. They’ve been living here, working here, and touring the world using Hartford as their home base. I see the love they have for the community and what everyone is building around the neighborhood. It’s inspiring to see all these musicians and artists work here and live here and try and hustle their businesses.
NAN: What’s next for Parkville Sounds?
STEPHEN: We recently had a meeting with CPTV. They’re interested in turning some of our Parkville Sessions into a four-part series of 30-minute episodes throughout the neighborhood. Parkville Sounds takes musicians on a guided tour of Parkville, sharing unique stories of how this area is being revitalized by emerging creative businesses. We will showcase live music, unique stories of the historic neighborhood, and the artists who use the empty factories to ignite creativity.
It’s been crazy and so much fun. I knew there was a need for this kind of space and I know we can grow here. This is not the end-all-be-all space for Parkville Sounds. We’re going to continue to grow and we’re going to continue to push.
This is already a home for a lot of musicians, but I’m always looking for the right space—a real place where I can do some more serious recording and really make it like a residential home for recording.
Each avenue of the business has been growing and developing rapidly. It’s been great to change and roll with it.