Meet Memorial

(Feb. 20, 1997, Gazette)

Alumnus-inspired software sparks

rock musicians' interest

By Karen Leonard

Andrew Mercer, a 26-year-old musician and music teacher from Spaniard's Bay, believes in pushing his limits. He said a student once gave him a plaque inscribed with the phrase: "The only limitations are those of vision."

"This is what I try to teach my students," Mr. Mercer said, "that anything is possible if you put your mind to it."

He knows what he's talking about. Mr. Mercer holds bachelors' degrees in music and music education from Memorial University. About a year ago he started his own company, Full Tilt Design. Since then, musicians and computer companies from around the world have developed a taste for the Internet software that he and his partner designed. The software, called Net Sessions, essentially allows musicians in different locations to play live music with each other over the Internet.

"I came up with the idea when my friend, Rob Power, moved away and we couldn't jam together anymore," Mr. Mercer explained, adding, "I thought with all of the technology today, it had to be possible over the Internet."

Mr. Mercer joined up with Patrick Murphy, a computer programmer, to create Net Sessions. Still working out of his home, Mr. Mercer contacted all the major players who he thought might be interested -- Roland, Yamaha, Microsoft and Intel Communications -- to convince them that Full Tilt Design had achieved the industry standard with Net Sessions. They agreed -- so much so that Intel Communications signed them on as a partner to further develop and distribute the product. The partnership allows Mr. Mercer and Mr. Murphy to retain all rights to Full Tilt Design and to have 100 per cent control over development of the software.

"Intel will be like a big brother to us," Mr. Mercer said. "They will provide us with things like equipment, programming expertise and advice, and step us through large contracts."

Mr. Mercer added that as part of the agreement, any industry development will stay in Newfoundland. Intel will also book the company for all the major trade shows.

Mr. Mercer is still spinning from his most recent trade show in Anaheim, Calif., which was hosted by the National Association of Music Merchants. There, he got to test his software with well-known rock musicians like Jon Anderson of Yes, and John Entwhistle of The Who. Many other famous musicians, like Herbie Hancock, Anne Wilson and Nancy Wilson of Heart, and Chris Cornell of Sound Garden have already requested the software.

Net Sessions could also be important to composers who are working with clients, since it allows them to play their compositions over the Internet, have the client provide input, and make changes instantly.

Full Tilt Design is still in the beginning stages, but the company is expanding. Mr. Mercer said they are hiring two new programmers and will move into an office in the new Genesis Centre at Spencer Hall (for more about the centre, see story, page one). He said they have received a lot of support from Seabright Corporation which runs the centre.

"David King [Seabright's president and chief executive officer] has given us a lot of support and solid business advice," Mr. Mercer said. "They really have a strong mentoring program."

The National Research Council of Canada also played a pivotal role in the company's success.

"We had a lot of financial help and advice from [the council]," he said. "We would never have been able to do any of this without their co-operation."