Jam session startup turns up the volume

Red Flag rehearsing in the space over the weekend. (Courtesy of Morgan Huff)

A yearlong effort to establish a practice space in Richmond for casual musicians has landed a venue.

Orbital Music Park is beginning to take shape in the Mark Franko Custom Building warehouse at 2100 Tomlynn St., where Orbital founders and longtime bandmates Tom Illmensee and Morgan Huff have signed a three-year lease for about 2,000 square feet of space.

Construction started this week on two enclosed, soundproof rooms that individuals or groups can rent for practice or jam sessions. The concept includes an instrument library and is intended as a place where people who play music recreationally can perform and connect with others.

Orbital Music Park will be housed in this warehouse on Tomlynn Street. (Jonathan Spiers)

After initially embarking on a capital raise last year to get Orbital off the ground, Illmensee and Huff pulled the brakes on that plan and now are funding the project themselves, with a small business loan from Virginia Credit Union covering the bulk of the roughly $90,000 startup cost.

Since securing the space this month, Illmensee said they have received 20 reservation requests, including one at a $200-per-month level. Rates range from $20 to $350 per month based on the amount of desired time, and teachers offering private lessons can rent space for $12 per month.

One of the rooms – or “pods,” as Illmensee described them – will be outfitted with a digital technology recording platform that Illmensee said will allow users to record their sessions. Designed by Peter Fraser of Richmond design firm 37, the pods are built to be portable and are climate-controlled.

The initial concept for Orbital was to use old shipping containers for the practice spaces, but Illmensee said building the pods turned out to be more cost-effective. If the pods prove successful for a six-month period, he said the idea is to build more through a fundraising round.

“This is the smallest footprint we could self-fund to prove the concept so that we could continue to grow,” said Illmensee, who like Huff has a background in tech and software design.

In addition to the two pods, Orbital’s space will include a lounge area, café and a performance stage, where players can practice performing in front of groups. Ashland-based contractor Chopper Dawson is outfitting the space, which Illmensee said has capacity to accommodate as many as 120 members.

“We have the scarcity (economics) building in our favor. I think we’ll sell out pretty fast – in the good way, not in the lame way,” he said.

Morgan Huff, left, and Tom Illmensee in the Orbital space. (Courtesy of Orbital Music Park)

Illmensee said the change in funding approach for Orbital came at the advice of local investor Brad Cummings and others, who recommended starting small before pursuing a larger capital raise. He said Cummings connected them with Virginia Credit Union, which provided a $70,000 small business loan. Illmensee said he and Huff each pitched in $10,000 to cover the $90,000 startup cost.

“We thought about it, and ultimately we loved the simplicity of just having a single bank provide the funding,” Illmensee said. “Brad was convincing in telling us not to give up any equity. We had convertible notes ready to go, and he was right. I think we wanted to run a marathon before we had done a 10k.”

Illmensee said Orbital is aiming to open in early January. In the meantime, as a sound check of sorts, the space hosted its first rehearsal this month with Red Flag, six middle-school-age girls who Illmensee said cover rock songs in Mandarin Chinese. He described the group as a prime example of the types of players Orbital hopes to accommodate.

“They have been looking for a reliable and affordable practice space for over a year, so it was a pleasure to invite them in,” he said. “We’re headed in the right direction, I think.”

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3 Comments on "Jam session startup turns up the volume"

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Michael Dodson

So is Nuckols P&G moving or this space in the back of the plumbing company’s offices and warehouse?

Tom Illmensee

OMP is in the back of the warehouse.

Greg Montalto

This is an OUTSTANDING idea

Live Music is a cornerstone of any truly Creative City

(but hosting adult musicians is like herding cats)

Richmond NEEDS Orbital Music Park

Much Kudos to these two musical facilitators (and visionary community leaders)