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Bruce Pavitt
Bruce Pavitt, who started Sub Pop in 1988, is now working on a new digital music startup

Bruce Pavitt, the man who discovered Nirvana and popularized the term “grunge rock,” has officially entered the startup ranks with a new digital music format he hopes will take off like CDs or MP3s and revolutionize the industry.

Pavitt, who co-founded the famous Sub Pop Records back in 1988, is working on a stealthy new startup called 8Stem, GeekWire has learned. Pavitt is the company’s creative director, while co-founder Adam Farish is the CEO.

8Stem CEO Adam Farish
8Stem CEO Adam Farish

The company is based on the idea that music fans are getting bored with buying static songs and just hitting play. 8Stem wants to launch a new standardized format, where artists release songs already broken down into separate recording channels, such as vocals in one and guitar in another. Listeners or aspiring DJs can then make changes on the fly, removing one instrument, adding another, substituting the vocals with their own, or looping a drum beat.

Pavitt said this kind of remixing is already fundamental to the hip-hop culture, and 8Stem just wants to give average listeners the ability to customize the songs in their own library, too. He said he thinks musicians will be open to the new format because it will give fans a way to engage with their music in a whole new way.

The company wasn’t quite ready to reveal its monetization strategy, but Farish said there are a few different routes it could go.

“Music is about to enter a radically new phase,” Pavitt said. “Music is going to be interactive, artists are going to allow for their pieces to be manipulated, remixed and co-created with their fans.”

Pavitt is a legend in the Seattle music scene, and even has his footsteps cast in bronze along Nordstrom’s downtown Walk of Fame. Not only did he sign bands like Nirvana and Soundgarden for his Sub Pop label, but he is largely credited with marketing the grunge rock movement that put Seattle’s music scene on the map.

But a lot has changed since then, and that iconic music scene has in many ways been replaced by an iconic technology scene.

Pavitt has had a front row seat for the changes along the way.

8Stem“All these dorm rooms for technology workers that are going up has essentially squeezed out a lot of the creative class,” he said. “I think a lot of creative people from Seattle have moved down to Portland.”

He added that he still loves Seattle, and thinks the project he’s working on now ties into Seattle’s history as a hub for both music and technology.

He first got involved with 8Stem when Farish, a longtime friend, showed him a prototype about a year ago. The two had been talking about changes coming to the music industry for years, and suddenly Pavitt said he saw a piece of technology that could help make it happen.

“Post Nirvana, a lot of the indy culture became more corporate,” Pavitt said. “Frankly, I got kind of bored with this new indy culture. It’s more like sonic wallpaper for an Urban Outfitters experience. So I’ve always been sort of a revolutionary at heart. This project that Adam is spearheading is really the first thing I’ve gotten excited about in a long time. I truly think that this is going to revolutionize the music industry in a major way. This isn’t just a little app. This is a whole new era of the music industry.”

8Stem has been operating in stealth mode out of Orcas Island near Seattle for over a year. An SEC filing shows the company has raised $367,000. Farish said that seed round will help fund technology development as the company plans to release its first product early next year.

8Stem has already signed up a small hand-picked group of bands who will release songs in the new format and it’s creating a consumer-facing app listeners will be able to use to remix the songs.

In the meantime, 8Stem is looking for beta testers to try things out.

“This is a million times bigger than an app,” Pavitt said. “There’s only been a small handful of music formats in the 130-year history of the music business. This is epic.”

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