Last year, popular console music games Guitar Hero and Rockband outsold digital music sales by over $100 million, according to sources cited by game-review site Primotech.
Now, Atlanta startup iVideosongs is trying to tap into the market with its guitar instructional video site, which launched just a few weeks ago at the DEMO conference.
iVideosongs lets musicians (primarily guitarists) of all ability levels play complete songs from both originial artists who wrote or performed the songs and stand-in instructors (click on picture below for a demo). The site features downloadable video content that is DRM-free and accessible and transferable to a wide variety of devices.
There are 60 to 70 songs on the site now, with a little over 200 songs in reserve to be phased in. Cofounder and CEO Tim Huffman says the company is shooting for 1,000 titles by the end of the year.
The site is seeing some exceptional traffic numbers. Since launch it’s had 35,000 unique visitors. News of the website has spread worldwide so quickly that the company has already seen sales in England, Canada, and Brazil. In fact, there’s been so much traffic from Brazil that the company is beta-testing a Portuguese-language version with well-dubbed instructional lessons. The company is also trying out a Mandarin version, although Huffman says that expanding internationally is not the company’s main focus just now.
The site’s main draw may be the big names it’s lured in so far. Its list of notable artists includes the Beatles, featuring famed producer Giles Martin, who recorded 30 Beatles songs, including “Come Together” and “Yellow Submarine.”
The company hopes to revolutionize the instructional music video market in much the same way Apple did for songs in the last several years. Just as Apple successfully turned music pirates into paying users, Huffman hopes to appeal to the many artists who frequent free, but illegitimate guitar tablature sites by providing the real version of the songs, which are typically difficult to find.
After spending two years in legal negotiations, iVideosongs has signed on every major music publisher, as well as most second-tier music publishers, says Huffman. It includes music from such bands as the Beatles, Third Eye Blind, and Switchfoot. Users can search the site by skill level, artist, and song title. It also has demonstrations from artists from Elvis’s band, James Taylor, and Chuck Leavell from the Rolling Stones, to name a few.
Huffman’s not new to the instructional video scene. He was behind the popular Blues Guitar Explorer instructional CD released in 1997. And he’s also an experienced guitar player. He received a grammy nomination for his work on a 1983 gospel album titled “More”, and he’s recorded and performed with members of Lynyrd Skynyrd.
When he started iVideosongs, he wanted to develop a site that would leverage technology to connect artists with aspiring musicians. There were already sites where musicians could pick up the guitar tablature for a particular song, and there were already numerous guitar instruction videos. But these resources, says Huffman, only provided tablatures that were close to the real song. Only the artist who originally performed the song, he says, would know the music exactly. So to Huffman, the core difference between iVideosongs and other instruction resources is the ability to study a song exactly as it was performed.
55 percent of all U.S. households have at least one active musician (not all of them, of course, guitarists) and those musicians (and their support system) pay for an $18 billion industry, says Huffman, citing numbers from the National Association of Music Merchants, and the Music Trade Association.
By providing accurate music lessons from artists and top-level instructors, Huffman says iVideosongs wants to break down the barriers for those not only interested in learning an instrument, but also those who can’t read music. But to those who are accustomed to getting guitar tabs on websites for free, the cost may not be cheap.
The company provides some technique tutorials free but charges $4.99 a video for songs instructed by contracted artists, and there’s a $9.99 premium for songs instructed by the original artists themselves. The site’s contracted artists hail from such renowned music schools as Boston’s Berklee College of Music. Videos by contracted instructors generally run 30 to 45 minutes per song, while artist videos run over an hour.
Huffman argues, though, that aspiring musicians are more than willing to pay for the instructional videos given that many of them currently pay $30 to $60 per hour for private teachers
iVideosongs uses a watermark on its videos to protect against piracy and has also retained Greenburg-Traurig, the largest law firm in the music industry.
It does, however, have some other potential sources of revenue on the table that may make the downloading business model less important: It’s in negotiations with leading online music portals, cable, and telecom companies to provide third party on-demand distribution for its videos. Huffman expects a deal to be officialized by mid-year.
Despite the fact the music industry’s been reeling since online music sharing began — in fact because of it, Huffman says artists have welcomed this model as a promotional vehicle as well as another line of revenue. Artists, publishers and copyright holders get royalties from the sale of the videos. Older artists have signed up in order to preserve their legacy and to make sure their music is played correctly.
iVideosongs also features cross-promotions with Taylor Guitars, PRS guitars, and a number of other guitar-related products. The products market iVideosongs on their sites, and iVideosong’s instructors use the manufacturers’ products.
The company is also building community features onto its website, although Huffman says it is engaging with leaders from other social networks for possible integration.
iVideosongs is based in the Atlanta suburb of Alpharetta Georgia, has 8 full-time employees and has raised $3 million to date from a private NY equity firm.
David Adewumi, a contributing writer with VentureBeat, is the founder & CEO of http://heekya.com a social storytelling platform billed “The Wikipedia of Stories.”