Deep experience in the music industry is helping software firm Melodics hit all the right notes.
At a glance
For many of us, labouring over Three Blind Mice or Heart and Soul is what springs to mind when we think about music lessons.
And it’s one of the things Sam Gribben, founder of music learning software firm Melodics, kept hearing as he developed the idea for the company.
“People would tell us that they had done music lessons as a kid, but the more they got into music, the more they realised what they were learning was nothing like the music they wanted to listen to, or actually play.”
Melodics is on a mission to shake all that up, taking a modern approach to learning music in almost every sense.
It first launched its software in late 2015, offering lessons for finger drumming, which uses a new kind of digital instrument called a pad controller, and it now offers lessons for electronic drums and keyboards as well.
The company also differentiates itself with the music it uses in its lessons.
“The music you’re playing is made by our inhouse team but it sounds like something you might hear on the radio. So maybe you’re learning a scale or quite a simple chord progression but it’s over a dance beat with a synthesiser sound that sounds really cool. So it makes you want to do your practice.”
Before starting his own company in 2014, Gribben spent a decade at Serato, the globally successful Kiwi company whose software revolutionised DJing. There he formed not only a strong understanding of software development, but also deep connections in the music business as the company’s CEO.
The idea for Melodics was drawn together from a number of corners. Gribben was seeing new instruments, like pad controllers, become huge sellers, but that people struggled to learn to use them because they were new.
He also saw that while digital technology was changing the face of education, little was happening in this space for learning music – and that the motivational mechanics used in learning apps like Headspace (for mindfulness) and Duolingo (for language) might also be successfully applied in music education.
Key to Melodics’ success has been partnering with instrument makers to bundle Melodics software with their hardware to create a win-win situation.
“Because I had all these relationships with instrument makers from my past role we were able to go to them and say ‘we’ve got this product that’s going to help drive engagement with your product, so how about you help us try to reach people?’
Today the company’s software is bundled with products produced by around 15 different brands, including all the electronic drums produced by the world’s biggest electronic drum maker, Roland.
Another key to the company’s success is its culture. In 2016, the company took part in a programme run by Silicon Valley accelerator and investor 500 Startups. There they learnt an operational model that they’ve rigorously applied in the business, which involves constantly experimenting and testing in all aspects of the business to continuously improve.
“I’d always had these ideas about being innovative, being okay with failure and that good ideas can come from anywhere, but this is a framework that really helps us put structure around those ideas and live them in our culture.”
While attending the 500 Startups programme, Gribben was also struck by the willingness of founders in Silicon Valley to share their knowledge and experience, and he makes a conscious effort to perpetuate that same culture, putting aside time each week to meet with others in the tech community.
Andrew Paterson, Customer Manager Digital and Health at Callaghan Innovation, says it’s an approach that not only helps an individual founder and company on their growth journey, but helps strengthen our wider technology ecosystem.
“Sam is incredibly generous in terms of the time he spends giving back to the SaaS community in New Zealand,” says Paterson. “What I also think is great is the way Melodics is taking on interns and onboarding them into the company to train up the next generation of computer scientists in New Zealand using the experience they have in their team.”
As well as R&D Experience Grants to fund student interns over the last two years, Callaghan Innovation also supported Melodics with an early R&D Project Grant and advice services including Innovation IP programmes.
Gribben says the company is now focused on testing which areas of its market are most profitable so it can better hone in on future opportunities. It’s also trialling its software at the world’s largest contemporary music school – Berklee College of Music, in Boston – where teachers are using it to help keep students on track with their practice.
And Gribben has every faith they’ll find it does the job.
“I sometimes play with friends and after I had a breakthrough with my practice about a month ago they were like ‘Whoa, you just got a whole lot better!’ I said, ‘yeh, I’ve been using my product – and it works!’”
To learn more about Melodics you can view their profile on Scale-Up NZ, a free online platform providing valuable insights on hundreds of companies in New Zealand’s innovation ecosystem.
Updated: 31 October 2019