Matt Sandler’s used to getting chased after.But for once, it’s his tech knowhow, not his musical skills, that have made him a hot commodity.
Investors, we hear, are salivating over his iPad app, Chromatik, which has seen “rabid adoption” among Sandler’s fellow musicians, a source tells us.
From what we understand, Khosla Ventures, Kleiner Perkins, Union Square Ventures and Andreessen Horowitz are all chasing the company down for a big investment in early 2013. The Los Angeles-based startup has already raised $2 million from Learn Capital, 500 Startups, Kapor Capital, Launchpad LA, MuckerLab, and a number of star musicians including Bruno Mars. It has a team of 13 people.
We spoke with Sandler and learned what the fuss is all about.
Sandler was an exceptionally talented teenager—so talented, the then-high school student was recruited by UCLA. He wasn’t a star athlete, nor did he heave perfect SAT scores. Instead, his coveted skill was playing the saxophone.
The professional musician has since played at most major venues in Los Angeles. He’s worked with Capital Records, Virgin Records, world-renowned musicians, and celebrities.
All of that experience helped Sandler find a gaping hole in the industry—one that his startup is now exploiting with its iPad app.
As most musicians know, learning music and playing instruments are incredibly social experiences. Bands and choruses get together to rehearse. Teachers help classes of students practice. But music-collaboration tools are few and far between.
Sandler, who was a private music teacher in addition to playing in a number of bands, realised the way music is taught and practiced has never really changed. Someone learning music today learns it essentially the same way Bach and Beethoven did, with teachers scribbling notes on sheet music, then sending students home to practice alone.
Those who are fortunate enough to play in groups are lucky to meet once a week. And if they make changes to their sections while practicing on their own, there’s no good way to get everyone else up to speed.
“Really, at its core, music is social and collaborative,” says Sandler. “But the tools we use aren’t.”
Today’s recording devices are “dumb,” he says. They don’t talk to each other. So he set out to fix that, and he created a company called Chromatik with his cofounder and CTO, James Wicker.
This summer, the Chromatik iPad app launched. Think of it as a digital music stand. It made its first public appearance on “American Idol,” where famed musician Ray Chew used it instead of piano sheet music during one of the episodes.
The app doesn’t have millions of users—and it’s not clear it needs to, given the professional market it serves. But its engagement metrics—the kind of numbers investors increasingly prefer to hear about—are outrageous.
Sandler says the average user opens the app four times per week, for 20 minutes each session. Musicians typically spend hours upon hours every week staring at sheet music. So now they’re staring at Chromatik instead.
“They’re pretty scary numbers in a way,” Sandler says of Chromatik’s metrics. “We power performance and practice; we’re the facilitator. If something goes wrong during the middle of the performance of your life, that’s not OK. We can’t fail you.”
In addition to hosting digital sheet music, Chromatik is also a tool for recording music. It uses the iPad’s built-in microphone to make sharing and storing sound bites easy. The app also supports in-line annotations. Teachers can make notes on Chromatik’s digital sheet music, then send the revised copy to students through the app. Everything is stored online, so the user’s music, recordings and notes can be accessed from any iPad or Web browser.
Music can’t be composed on Chromatik yet, but it’s a logical next step for the company.
Future monetization opportunities are obvious. It’s easy to imagine Chromatik becoming a mobile database for buying and hosting sheet music. Right now, music can be scanned to a computer and uploaded to Chromatik, like CD tracks when iTunes first launched. It can also be purchased and downloaded from stores online. Buying music directly from the app would make a lot of sense.
In addition, the platform is great for music teachers and students. Chromatik could become a platform for private music lessons. Chromatik could also offer paid subscriptions, unlocking more tools for paying members. (The combination of free and paid, or “premium,” services, is sometimes called a “freemium” model.)
While Sandler wouldn’t say much about plans for raising money, he did say that the heavy investor interest we’ve been hearing about is “accurate.”
“We’re very fortunate in that we have a lot of folks who are excited about what we’re doing,” says Sandler. “We want to impact lives across the globe. In order to power that, we’re going to need much more than $2 million. We were never under the impression that the [$2 million] would be the last round we’d raise.”
But how big of an opportunity is Chromatik really chasing? On the one hand, it’s not a broad consumer opportunity like Twitter and Facebook; only reasonably driven students, hobbyists, and professional musicians would even be interested.
According to Sandler, those groups alone constitute a $20 billion opportunity in the United States and an $80 billion market globally. Sandler says one in five people in the United States are actively playing instruments. Most of them do so for religious reasons, singing in temples or churches weekly.
Chromatik’s mission is to build the largest network of practicing musicians.
“Honestly, we initially started with a couple of friends who we knew would really like a better way to practice and play music,” Sandler says. “Now it’s become Chromatik. Putting sheet music on an iPad isn’t terribly interesting to me. It’s a means to power performance. But the collaborative piece is the most interesting part.”
If you want to learn more about Chromatik, this video is a good explainer: