Before a musician makes an album or reaches the top of the iTunes chart, they have to learn and perfect their instrument. New startup Chromatik is launching a digital music platform for music students and instructors to help them practice, perform and teach music. The Los Angeles-based company is currently in private beta, and will be launching its iPad and web apps publicly later this year. It’s already being used by educational institutions including Julliard, and has partnered with American Idol to help their in-house performers.
Founder Matt Sandler got the idea for the company while taking a Saxophone Performance major at UCLA. He was also teaching music through the UCLA Music Partnership Program, and he was inspired to start a company that his musician friends and students would use. “While I don’t believe that the state of music education is broken per se, I firmly believe that there’s plenty of room for improvement,” Sandler said in an interview. “Especially in lowering the barrier to entry to high quality music education resources.”
The cloud-based tool aims to make the teaching and practice process collaborative by supplementing or replacing offline tools like recorders, sheet music, metronomes, and tuners. Music teachers can share sheet music with students, and the music includes reference materials like recordings and lessons. Students can then record their practice sessions and send them to their teachers to get feedback, including annotations on the sheet music. The shared music and recording sessions are then stored in the cloud, and accessible through the mobile and web apps.
Originally Sandler targeted the tool at schools, including K-12 and universities, but that has since branched out. “If you take a look at the macro music learning space, musicians can be found in all walks of life. Music isn’t strictly an academic subject taught in schools. Rather, it’s academic, cultural, social, and professional,” Sandler said. He said that while elementary schools and universities are big target markets, potential users could be private instructors, individual learners and professional groups. Their largest customer segment is still K-12 schools though, and Sandler said they’re rolling out the Chromatik platform in hundreds of schools, universities, extracurricular programs and groups.
The startup is almost totally focused on the learning stage, rather than performing and sharing music like a musician would on a platform like SoundCloud. Currently students can share their recordings with teachers, but Sandler said they will be adding sharing options, and that SoundCloud is likely the best fit for what they’re doing. But Sandler said since they’re focused on learning music, feedback on practice sessions is more important than sharing sounds with the world.
“Practicing music is intensely personal. But at most times, it’s incredibly helpful to have another trusted set of ears on what you’re doing. So in this stage, we believe that it’s integral to facilitate interactions with a small, trusted group of people who you explicitly select to share your music practice sessions with,” he said. “That said, music is inherently social when you get good at it. When you make a fantastic recording or nail a specific piece, you want to share that with the world. We’ll eventually have a way to do that, but when building a product of this nature, you need to be cognizant of musician sensitivities at different stages of the learning cycle.”
Sandler said the American Idol partnership came about because a friend worked for the show, and said music director Ray Chew was looking to make the transition to iPads. They recently went live with the American Idol backing band, and both the band and the music directors use the iPad app for rehearsals and live performances. “Picture the entire band playing with iPads in front of them in place of their sheet music and stand, and that’s what we’re doing with Ray and the American Idol band,” Sandler said. He said though it’s early in their partnership, the musicians seem to love it. “It’s not every day that you get to see one of your products used on the most popular TV show in the world. So it has certainly generated a good deal of excitement, both internally and externally.”
The company has raised $1.1 in seed funding from Learn Capital, Kapor Capital and 500 Startups, and will be looking to raise a round of Series A funding later this year. Though he wouldn’t give specifics on the business model, Sandler said “musicians are used to spending money on both content and instruction. We’ll eventually be introducing a business model that incorporates both of those elements.” It’s likely that teachers will be charged for sheet music, and potentially could facilitate their lesson charges through the platform. But rather than confirm revenue models, Sandler said his team is currently focused on getting the HTML5 and iPad versions of Chromatik ready for public release, and on testing with music groups.
Musicians have long used online tools to record and promote their work, but Chromatik is targeted less at the individual musician, and more at groups and educational institutions. As long as they can secure a solid revenue model, they seem to have early traction with users and groups, and massive exposure through the American Idol partnership, so they’ll be well-positioned for their public launch later this year.