Player piano system designed to work with every piano
The music industry was stunned by the unexpected passing of PianoDisc President Gary Burgett. For a time, the loss left the company reeling. “We were shocked and devastated,” says PianoDisc Executive Vice President Tom Lagomarsino. “As a co-founder and partner with his brother, he was a big part of the business and a daily inspiration. We miss him greatly and think about him every day, but under Kirk’s leadership we’re moving forward with Gary’s spirit to motivate us.”
With Kirk Burgett at the helm and his brother Mark Burgett serving as director of technical services, PianoDisc has remained on the cutting edge of a piano player system market that, especially in recent years, has been shaped by rapid advances in technology and consumers’ growing appetite for convenience, customization, variety, and flawless performance. That market has also become much more global. PianoDisc products are distributed in 59 countries, and pianos equipped with its systems can be found in private homes, hotels, restaurants, music schools and universities, recording studios, hospitals, and other settings in nearly every corner of the globe.
In the company’s ongoing efforts to make the whole world its market, one of its biggest challenges—and greatest successes—has been to make its products work with virtually any piano. A small but telling example of the attention to detail invested in this quest includes the adjustability of trill position and key depth in its ProRecord system. Featuring no-contact optical sensors that won’t affect the piano’s touch or playability, ProRecord can be installed on virtually any brand and model of acoustic piano. “Pianos are designed differently from brand to brand,” explains Lagomarsino. “Different key depths and lengths affect dynamic interpretation and how instruments feel and play. Also, players may prefer a lighter or heavier touch, and those preferences affect how they want their performance to be recorded and played back by a player system. ProRecord features the unique capability of accurately capturing trills played from the top or bottom of the key and playing them back using PianoDisc. These and other parameters such as damper and soft pedal management are adjustable on a ProRecord system to meet the demands of just about any player, on any piano.” A new version of the system, ProRecord IV, will be released in the second quarter of 2016.
Just as the company’s collateral marketing and technical support materials are available in seven different languages, its iOS app for ProRecord is now available in English, German, Italian, Japanese, French, Spanish, and soon will be offered in Chinese. According to Lagomarsino, this development addresses not only the millions of people who already play piano in China, but also that nation’s growing luxury market, where pianos—especially grand pianos—and player systems are considered status symbols. (In general, worldwide, PianoDisc has seen a shift to fitting its systems to higher quality pianos.) “It’s a budding market,” he says. “There will be a lot of opportunity there for our industry.”
The iOS App for ProRecord is just one example of how PianoDisc, which was founded in pre-New Media Age 1988, has responded to the ubiquity of personal communication, media, and computing devices and their growing impact on consumers’ expectations. In fact, the company has developed numerous new products and apps designed to enhance the control options of its player systems. Its iQ Intelligent Player System, for instance, allows the user to control a PianoDisc-equipped piano with familiar iOS and Android devices, MP3 players, and other music playback devices. (The system is also compatible with custom home automation applications and when used with a smart phone stays connected during phone calls.) This feature can also be used to control PianoDisc videos of piano performances that are simultaneously played on the piano. For breathtaking “concerts at home,” these high-def videos complement the high-def performance of SilentDriveHD, the heart of PianoDisc’s performance playback technology. The recently updated SilentDriveHD features a faster processor and streamlined architecture for improved velocity sensing and timing accuracy as well as a remarkable 1,024 levels of individual note expression. The growing PianoDisc video library covers a wide range of musical styles, from jazz and pop to New Age and classical, including many featuring instrumental groups and vocalists.
Also new, PianoDisc Radio captures music broadcast by PianoDisc and streams it to the customer’s piano wirelessly. PD Radio allows the customer to easily schedule their piano to turn on and off at any time and to play for any period of time. PD Radio now features its own optional and simple-to-use iOS app. Its music is free to PianoDisc customers, available 24/7, and includes a seasonal Holiday and Christmas station.
New options for home entertainment can also be found in PianoDisc’s PianoTube Live YouTube channel, which can be sync’ed to customers’ pianos, as well as a 24/7 live streaming music channel that’s free to customers and an active e-commerce store that uniquely allows customers to buy individual songs instead of whole albums. PianoDisc is also the only player system manufacturer selling its songs on iTunes.
Other PianoDisc innovations address a wide range of market needs. A PianoDisc QuietTime kit, for example, with its easily installed mute rail, can be built or retrofit into any piano to enable silent practice through headphones. Tones are generated by the QuietTime MagicStar synthesizer, which can also capture MIDI performance, a feature valued especially by music students and teachers. And if the iQ System is for the masses—and dealers are saying it is—the esoteric end of the company’s app development is represented by the new Calibrate app, which was created primarily to help trained PianoDisc technicians calibrate key system features and settings quickly and easily.
As PianoDisc keeps pace with new digital technologies, Kirk Burgett continues to also lead its more tradition-rooted sister companies, Mason & Hamlin pianos and Wessell, Nickel & Gross piano actions and service tools. As with PianoDisc, all of these companies’ products are distributed extensively worldwide. At the end of the third quarter, U.S. sales of Mason & Hamlin pianos, which are all hand-built near Boston, were up 4% for the year. Meanwhile, budget-conscious schools and universities seeking to extend the life of their pianos through rebuilds are turning to Wessell, Nickel & Gross, whose products are valued for their quality, durability, and low maintenance.
“PianoDisc is embracing the challenging and changing times by designing products with the kind of technology and features that today’s customers have come to expect,” says Lagomarsino. “We see plenty of opportunities and a bright future in the piano industry.”
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