Maggiore talks into a microphone in a club next to a live band
Features & Articles

This Pitt MD/PhD student invented a new kind of DJing in his spare time

  • Arts and Humanities
  • Innovation and Research
  • Graduate and professional students

What does tissue bioengineering have in common with running a DJ technology startup? It’s a question that wouldn’t mean much to most people — but the answer is core to Joe Maggiore’s identity.

“One is investigating human nature through science, and one is investigating human nature through experience,” said Maggiore, a Pitt MD/PhD student and startup founder. “It’s about developing an evidence-based mindset and making sure that whatever the answer to your question is, you’re going to learn something.”

Maggiore is five years into his program at Pitt, and that keeps his days plenty busy. But he’s also been sampling the region’s nightlife, which left him with an itch he couldn’t scratch. Uninspired by the Pittsburgh music scene and enchanted by his parents’ stories of the disco heydays, he decided to try to craft something different: more spectacle, more awe.

Maggiore talks while setting up lights. A laptop is on in the foreground.

“Imagine if there was a nightclub that had a different DJ every night. And in that nightclub, there are house musicians that these DJs get to perform with every single night,” Maggiore said.

That idea grew into a software startup he called Conduction. At its core, the platform is simply a flexible way to share bits of sheet music. After uploading musical scores, a DJ can cut, paste, fade and mix songs on the fly. Conduction then sends the corresponding musical notes to a group of instrumentalists, who accompany the DJ’s improvisations.

Musicians using the technology can combine two very different types of performance, marrying the texture and humanity of an orchestra with the fluid creativity of a DJ set.

Conduction got its first demo in November, and on Aug. 19 it’ll get its first public display at the This is Red Space, a repurposed church in Munhall, Pennsylvania. The event will feature five test-drivers leading an orchestra of 40.

“This is a massive step for the whole team,” Maggiore said. “It’s an opportunity for 40 musicians that have never performed together to get to do a really cool new performance in a setting that is really unique.”

Those 40 performers are pulled from another group that Maggiore founded: The Moment, a collective of musicians who Maggiore says are eager to take advantage of new technologies and styles of performance.

“These are all local Pittsburgh musicians, almost all undergrads, grad students or recent grads,” he said. “When we did the early Conduction demos, the musicians always refer to it as like Guitar Hero, but in real life.”

Maggiore has taken full advantage of the resources available to startup founders through Pitt’s Big Idea Center in the lead up to the debut. Conduction won a Big Idea Blitz and placed third in the 2022 Randall Big Idea Competition, and the startup has also been sustained for close to a year by an investment from the Big Idea Advantage Fund.

“We’ve developed phenomenal relationships through the Big Idea Center, especially through one-on-one mentoring,” Maggiore said. “They set you up well to go out into the world and experientially fail and succeed on your own.”

Maggiore is eligible for all that support as a Pitt student, a role that might leave someone else with little room to start two additional businesses. He’s now in the PhD portion of his program, where he’s testing ways to add veins to tiny, experimental analogues of kidneys in the lab to make them more realistic for testing and, one day, potential candidates for transplants.

It’s difficult and technical work. But Maggiore says it has one more thing in common with running a startup: It’s fun.

“I'm doing this out of sheer enjoyment. Getting to craft experiences and do science is unbelievably fortunate,” said Maggiore. “It’s 99% intense tedium — but then you hit an incredible milestone and it’s like, let’s go. Let’s do this.”


— Patrick Monahan, photography by Griffin Sendek