Tech of the Week: former Serato boss releases new beat-making app

Another day, another app, this time from former Serato CEO Sam Gribben. The app, called Melodics, aims to provide the means and the motivation for aspiring DJs to learn the not-so-lost art of pad drumming.

Fans of electronic drumming will already be familiar with the term, but for the uninitiated, pad drumming, also known as finger drumming or cue drumming, is when drum samples are triggered by hand from an electronic device – think of a higher-tech version of this. The fleeter the fingers, the more impressive the results.

But finger drumming is hard to learn, and as Gribben found out, there’ are precious few places to learn it (if you’re so inclined), so he decided to do something about it.

So with today’s launch we caught up with the former Serato big-wig to find out just why the world need another virtual drum app, how YouTube is inspiring practically everyone and why the worry that someone’s going to steal your idea is just a big waste of energy.

Idealog: It’s a nice looking app, Sam. How long has it been in development? 

Sam Gribben: Yeah, about a year – since I left Serato – but quite a bit of that was teeing things up before we started.

We did it slightly backwards from the way some start-ups do it, because we were endorsed by artists before we started making it. I made a lot of contacts at Serato, and I had great relationships with a lot of companies. Those companies have a lot of stuff to help people make music, but not learn music, so I talked to them in the beginning, and got verbal agreement that they would distribute it, so I got the sales and distribution before I started making it. Most people start with a cool product, they make it, then they’ve got to figure out how to get it to people.  

How many people have you got on the development team?

There are four us full time and a few extras.

And how was that development financed?

We have been very lucky with some Callaghan Innovation R&D money. We made a co-funding arrangement with them. I'd raised a small round in December last year and then I was able to take it to Callaghan.

So where did the idea come from?

I was just learning for myself off YouTube. YouTube is amazing. There are now millions of user-lessons on YouTube. ‘Lesson’ as a keyword alone is in the top of the result, but learning from YouTube is so limited. You can watch it, pause it and rewind it. I just thought ‘wouldn’t it be good if I could plug my instrument into YouTube and it could give me feedback?’

The other thing that was happening was all this cool stuff with gamification, like Nike’s FuelBand. It gives you a target and a status report, and you can compete with your friends. There’s another one called duolingo too that’s been a big influence for us. Now the techniques that those products use to motive people to work, they’ve been proven, so I just thought ‘why not apply that to music?’

Did you do any market research?

Well I knew a lot of people in that industry, but the other thing I did was talk to people a lot. I think one thing people who are starting things worry about it, people in New Zealand especially, is that someone will come along and steal their idea. But that’s not really likely. Most people just don't have the skills or free time to just steal your idea and build an app, so I talked to people for a long time, saying ‘I’ve got this crazy idea’, and they kept saying ‘that’s not crazy’.  

You’ve chosen to go down the subscription path for the app – why is that?

Well we were looking at a pay-per-lesson or subscription model – we investigated both in parallel – but the whole purpose of the thing is to motivate practice. We talk about it as ‘learning’ but it’s not, it’s practice. If you don’t practice you won’t get better. Having to make a decision about buying something every time you want to learn something new is an obstacle to practice. When it’s new and bright and shiny people are motivated. They say ‘yes I’m going to do this and I’m going to practice every day’, so it's all geared around meeting your daily practice goal, and trying to get that 10 minutes of practice done.

The other thing about the subscription model is that a part of that subscription fee goes to the artists – they get paid when one of their lessons get played. There aren’t many artists out there who aren’t looking for new ways to make money, and they’re really enthusiastic about teaching their fans, so that support has been great. I ask them if they’ve got hard drives sitting around with unfinished stuff on them and every one of them says yes. So we can take 16 bars and we get to release that as a DJ Jazzy Jeff exclusive. We’ve had a lot of support from our artists.



It’s a crowded space in the app store for virtual drum kits – how is Melodics different?  

It is quite different in that it’s not for making music or performing music – that’s where its crowded – rather, it’s a trainer for your muscle memory.

I think the other bit that’s different is the support we’re getting from the manufacturers. They’re really interested in ways people can learn to use their products. It’s not a product to play beats live, but it’s a platform for learning and training.

The app integrate with various hardware controllers already on the market, right?

Yeah it does, I think around 100, and we're adding them all the time. You can use it with just a laptop and a keyboard, but it’s not nearly as good that way.

This is a new product category that’s growing quickly. We go to these trade shows every year and they put out these YouTube videos of people doing demos of these devises and the view count is just huge. There’s a lot of product being sold and a lot of interest, but very few people who really know how to do it and no established method of learning how to do it. Every time a new one of these products came out, they get someone to do an amazing performance and show you how to use the features, but to learn how to do what that person is doing? That’s really hard. Ww just saw an opportunity there.

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Melodics is a free download and comes with 20+ free lessons. For access to premium artists lessons, and new content each week, users can subscribe at the introductory price of US$9.99 per month.