Written by Eliza LaJoie
“Evolve or die.”
That motto has guided Gregory J. Gordon through the last 30-plus years of life in San Francisco. Now CEO of Pyramind, a music production company and school for electronic music artists, composers, sound designers, DJs, and audio engineers, Gordon has watched the tech industry transform his hometown from a countercultural haven into a world-class business hub. A former freelance recording engineer for classic rock luminaries including members of the Grateful Dead, Gordon now finds himself an advocate for the art of video game music – as a board member for the Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, he lobbied for formal recognition of the field at the Grammys, and has developed something of a cult following for the music he designed for games like Halo and Sunset Overdrive.
With each shift in San Francisco’s culture and the global economy, Gordon and Pyramind have survived and thrived at the intersection of business and music. This year, the company was named to the Inner City 100 list in recognition of its rapid growth – revenues have nearly doubled since 2011 – and the city of San Francisco has played a key role in Pyramind’s business growth story.
A San Francisco native, Gordon grew up immersed in the Bay Area punk scene during its heyday in the 1980s. After realizing that his passion for singing in his new wave band wasn’t enough to build a career, he customized his college major at San Francisco State to combine broadcast communications, music and businesses.
“If you’re going to do this, you’d better have a clue,” he recalled telling himself. He rented a run-down warehouse in San Francisco’s SOMA neighborhood, fixing it up into a rehearsal space and project studio serving his personal network of bands, the emerging electronic music scene and the hip-hop artists flourishing in nearby Oakland.
Upon graduation, Gordon continued to move with the times. Taking a day job as a software beta-tester, he spent his nights laying out complex arrangements of raps, vocals and other audio samples, earning the nickname “Mr. Wizard” from the Bay Area artists he worked with.
Another pivot came with the dot-com bubble, when Gordon shifted his focus to sound design for the first wave of startups. After being invited by San Francisco State to teach a course at his alma mater, he realized that there was a demand for formal instruction in sound design and interactive audio, and began serving students in his own space.
Today, Pyramind serves between 100 and 150 students each year from two specially-equipped buildings on Folsom Street, just blocks from the SOMA warehouse where Gordon got his start. Working to serve the needs of the current tech industry, Gordon’s staff focus on sound design for video games and also provide training for DJs. Funded by a $100,000 SBA loan, a major renovation transformed the former radio broadcasting space into a high-tech warren of recording studios, classroom space and mixing equipment, where many eras combine in unlikely harmony: DJ decks share a classroom with a grand piano, and desks are equipped with both QWERTY keyboards and blue-lit electronic music keyboards. An instructor nods appreciatively as a student’s soaring classical track swoops into a glitchy techno drop.
Ever sensitive to the trends and challenges of the industry, Gordon and his team work to leverage Pyramind’s dual role as an educational institution and an industry participant, focusing on connecting students to their contacts and customers in the music production and sound engineering industry. Pyramind prides itself on the high-quality professional portfolios and strong professional networks with which its students graduate.
Though Gordon could have chosen to establish Pyramind in a more conventional performing arts city like Los Angeles or New York, he is confident that staying in San Francisco made his business the unique entity it is today. Framed awards and certificates of recognition hang above Gordon’s desk from the California State Assembly, the City of San Francisco, and his SOMA neighbor, the Renaissance Entrepreneurship Center, which nominated Pyramind for the Inner City 100 award.
But from his second-story office window, Gordon finds himself looking at a neighborhood that has changed drastically since he was a teenager, a city where he and other small businesses and artists must struggle to survive. While the SOMA and Tenderloin neighborhoods were once home to many music studios, condos and tech startups now dominate Gordon’s view.
In this new landscape, he is determined to build a viable path for students of the arts, and is already planning the next evolution to keep Pyramind on the cutting edge, including expansion into sound design for virtual reality. But beyond technology, he hopes to ground Pyramind even more firmly in the creative community that has anchored it for so long: potential future offerings include incubator space for alumni ventures and a streamlined online platform that connects students, alumni and industry leaders.
“We want to promote our graduates and build a global community,” Gordon said.
In October, Pyramind was honored as one of the fastest-growing urban businesses in the U.S. at the 2015 Inner City 100 Conference and Awards. To learn more about the Inner City 100, click here or email Eliza LaJoie.