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Industry Focus: Melodics Founder Sam Gribben On How Improving Your Music Through Practice Can Be Fun

We chat with the founder of Melodics to discuss his company that provides lessons to individuals in finger drumming, keys and electronic drums.
Melodics CEO Sam Gribben

Sam Gribbon

The world of music education is complicated, underfunded and most of all, under appreciated. It is an afterthought in most schools, when it can be an interesting creative outlet for many who are looking for something like that. In the internet age, a lot of education has moved online and Melodics is a resource that is very focused but provides a valuable resource for those who are looking to start to advance their skills in music.

Melodics provides lessons, digitally, for individuals who wish to learn how to play keys, electronic drums and finger drumming. It comes at a flat monthly rate, instead of a per lesson rate, so you can dive in and immerse yourself in the lessons created by the likes of DJ Jazzy Jeff, John Tejada, Emmavie, Thugli, Atish, DJ Spinna and more.

We spoke to founder Sam Gribbon about the company, how practice makes perfect,

1. Can you explain a little bit more about Melodics and its mission?

We’re on a mission to make it easier for people to learn to play instruments. What we’ve found is that people like learning, they like playing… but most people don’t like practicing. It’s seen as a necessary evil, something boring that you have to grind through to get better. We’re out to change that, and show people that practice can be a fun part of learning to play an instrument.

Making practice fun is one thing - but what’s much more important is that we help to make practice a habit. We have lessons for keys, electronic drums and finger drumming. The lessons are fully interactive - you connect your instrument to your computer, and you can see which notes are early or late (or just completely wrong) in real time. Each lesson is broken down into multiple steps, and if you’re struggling with one part, you can loop up sections and slow it down.

We’ve been heavily influenced by the world of gaming - but Melodics is very much a serious learning tool. Stats, progress graphs, trophies, and getting the 3 stars when you finally nail a lesson help to keep you motivated. There are people who are on a streak - practicing with Melodics at least 5 minutes every single day for 365 days and counting. It’s amazing to hear their stories of what they were like when they started out compared to a year on.

2. Who are these lessons meant for? Beginnings, pros or anyone in between?

Because Melodics focuses on practice, we really cater for all levels. Everyone needs to practice, and in fact, it’s the experts that understand this most of all. As DJ Jazzy Jeff put it, “If you make music, Melodics is like going to the gym for a workout.” About half of our customers would call themselves beginners, so we do put a lot of effort into helping people who are just starting out.

3. Which lessons are the most popular? Are people gravitating towards one of your main three areas over another?

We’ve been teaching finger drumming for the longest, so we have a lot of people playing those lessons, but keys lessons are where we’re seeing the biggest uptake now. I think that just speaks to how many people there are out there that want to learn to play keys and are looking for something that’s designed specifically for producers. Our goal is to teach things that you can apply straight away in your tracks, and lots of people use Melodics as their 5-minute warm up when they get into the studio. The music is relevant - the lessons use techno and trap, house and hip-hop, certainly no three blind mice!

4. Why did you choose electronic drumming, finger drumming, and keyboards as your areas to give lessons on?

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We started off with finger drumming because when I was at Serato I saw that finger drumming was totally exploding, but there was so little out there to help you learn. From there it made sense to expand to keys. Most of our customers were electronic music producers, and we kept getting asked to make Melodics for keyboards. There were lots of things out there for learning to play piano, but there wasn’t anything for those wanting to up their keys skills to help be a better producer.

Melodics for electronic drums is a little different. That wasn’t originally on our plan, but we did a one-day hack session at our office, basically hooking up what we made for pads to an electronic drum kit - and by the end of that day we were totally hooked. It was just so instantly rewarding. I’ve always wished I could play the drums, and I’ve always sucked. After a playing a few minutes I was like, OK this is fun, and it’s going to work. I can feel myself getting better already!

5. My father has given music lessons for a long time, so I imagine he would be a little skeptical of this. How does this compare to sitting down with an actual tutor?

It’s very much complementary to REAL music lessons, because of our focus on practice. We’re always getting hit up by teachers looking to use Melodics in their classrooms. What they see is that this is an amazing way to keep their students practicing. The student that practices regularly will do so much better than one that doesn't practice. A teacher can focus on helping the students to learn new skills in the classroom, and Melodics takes care of making sure they come back to class with plenty of practice under their belt.

6. A lot of companies with subscription services struggle to make money at the start. Do you pay artists to create lessons and then how do the financials work from there? Are there royalties attached to each lesson used?

We paid artists to license their music right from the start. We have a revenue share model with the artists, so the more subscribers we add to the platform, the more our artists receive. This works really well because as the artists help us to spread the word about Melodics, their royalty checks grow.

7. How did your experience at Serato inform starting this company and running it?

I learned a huge amount from my 10 years running Serato, and it definitely helped with setting up and growing Melodics. I think the biggest thing was just how important it is to figure out what your customer is actually looking for and why they’re using your product. It’s really easy to fall into the trap of dreaming up new features and spending all our time making stuff that people might love. It’s so much more important to watch people using your product, see what’s not working for them, and improve that. Something simple that does one job well is so much better than something that does an OK job of lots of things.

Melodics comes with lots of instruments. We bundle Melodics with 12 different hardware brands, from Roland electronic drums to Akai keyboards. Spending 10 years in the industry working certainly helped to get to know people at all those companies!

8. What is the future of Melodics? Will you expand your lesson repertoire into different areas?

We have a bunch of stuff in the works. We’re going to be bringing in more theory, but subtly. The feedback we’ve had is that people don’t want to have to wade through theory before they can get playing, but once you’ve mastered something, it’s interesting to learn more about the underlying theory behind it.

We’re constantly making improvements to how we get you playing the right thing. We’re doing more to understand people’s goals and build curriculum to help them get there faster. And once we’ve nailed getting you into a regular habit of practicing 5 minutes every day, the next thing we’re focused on is being smart about guiding your practice, so that 5 minutes of Melodics practice will get you further than 30 minutes of unguided practice.

That and we’re always looking at new instruments we could help people to learn! 

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