For several years I have been gnawing at an idea to start a website. A site that would utilize some of the same techniques I’ve been using over the years to teach my private students.
One technique in particular seems to be effective 100% of the time: Allow the student to play along with the teacher … all the time.
How do you do that when you’re not teaching Bill Gates’ kids? No one wants to pay for 365 violin lessons a year, especially at my rates.
I started tailor-making recordings for my students so they could play along at home and in private. This teaching tool, although a huge investment of my time, paid off wonderful dividends in every instance.
So my dream was to create a website where students around the world could pop on, choose a tune, and then play along with teacher. And I only had to record the tune once. Maximum outreach with minimum effort.
As I said, I grappled with this idea, or dream, for several years. I made several abortive attempts to start it up . . . but where do you begin with something like that? I had never launched a website before, I had absolutely no experience whatsoever. All I had was a dream. And I had the drive.
The most difficult part in the whole process was getting a consistent recording process that I was happy with. I had the tunes. I had the time. I had the will. But I would start recording one way, do several dozen tunes, and then stop for a while. When I came back, I would record in a different manner, with different settings, microphones, cables, etc. I got a different sound. This made me very unhappy, and I re-recorded those dozens of tunes several dozen different times, discarding all my previous efforts.
A big thing about recording is the isolation one needs to produce a good sound. I couldn’t very well issue something for sale that had an airline jet passing through, or a baby crying in the background. Or the neighbors next door fighting again. But I didn’t have the money to get this huge project recorded in a real studio.
Charlie Knoth, a student of mine, mentioned that a new rehearsal studio had opened up right across the way from his business. I looked into it, and I thought perhaps I could find the isolation I needed there. That worked for about a month. Then the drummers showed up. And worse, the bass players with their huge amplifiers. They had the whole Spinal Tap thing going on. They never met a decibel level they didn’t like, as long as it was above 100 db.
So I had to record when these “musicians” weren’t hashing through their stuff and rattling the walls. I’d go into the studio at 3:00 or 4:00 in the morning and record for 5 or 6 hours. That’s when the Rap musicians would show up. Who would’ve thought that Rap artists even knew what “morning” is?
I had just about given up, and Charlie had moved his base of operations a few blocks north to a larger warehouse. One evening, as I was giving Charlie his lesson in my studio and the bass guitars and drums cranked it up to 11, Charlie offered to build me a studio inside his warehouse. Made to order. I couldn’t believe it. He would charge me what I was paying to rent the studio from hell, and it would be perfect for what I needed. Awesome, I said. Let’s do it!
So on May 1st of 2012 I moved into my new studio digs and began work in earnest. I recorded with a Chinese built ribbon microphone and a used all-in-one recording deck, and the results – to my ears – were amazing! I started the arduous process of editing and uploading the tunes and the sheet music (arranged by yours truly) onto the website and launched it on May 11th.
I had done some research amongst some of my peers years ago to see if my idea had any marketable merit, and the one comment I kept getting (in addition to “awesome” and “why hasn’t anybody done this before?” and “it’s about time!”) was “You need to charge more for this!” Apparently, $4.99 for 9-18 tracks plus a PDF and jpeg of the sheet music seemed, to them, too little.
I disagree. I want musicians to keep coming back and using the site often, and I don’t want them to feel like they have to mortgage their girlfriend’s apartment (is such a thing possible?) to do so. Therefore, each tune, which is organized into an album, is available for $4.99. Period. So what if some tunes are 2 or 3 times longer than standard? It’s one tune for $4.99.
And because I wanted everyone to experience the success of using these recordings, I decided to provide a FREE Tune Of The Week on the home page. You can’t download it, and you won’t get the sheet music for it, but you can hang out on the home page and play the tracks for that tune as often and for as long as you like. Try before you buy, don’tcha know?
Also, when you are looking at the tunes currently available on the STORE page, you can preview every track in order to get a feel for the tune and make sure it is something you want to purchase. And if you click on the album artwork, up pops the sheet music for you to look at. How cool is that?
I have been blown away by the response to the site just in the first few days since I announced on Facebook that it was up. I have hits from people all around the world: Australia, Austria, Italy, Ireland, Great Britain, Canada, and all over the United States. The average time spent on the site is roughly four minutes, so obviously folks are taking the time to listen to the tracks. And yes, I have ways of tracking that particular bit of info.
The only downside to this whole project is the amount of time it takes me to upload the tunes I’ve already recorded onto the site. I have over 50 tunes ready to go, and less than 20 have been uploaded. But hey, it’s happening. I still have to go to work in order to pay the bills, and I still have to make time for rehearsing and recording. And let’s not forget that I have a sweetheart and a beautiful baby girl at home who expect a modicum of my attention as well.
But it has begun. I’ve made the start. People are interested, and I am happy that my dream is coming true. All the other stuff will be taken care of in time.
If you’d like to check out the site for yourself, visit www.fiddlin4you.com. Be sure to let me know what you think!
~ Michael Kelly, fiddler of Sligo Rags (Celtic Bluegrass Fusion)