Tiny Music Startup Chromatik Goes Elephant Hunting, Bags "American Idol" and $1.1 Million

By Michael Carney , written on May 2, 2012

From The News Desk

In the music industry, an association with "American Idol" is about as big as trophies get. Chromatik just bagged the great white elephant. They’re also announcing $1.1 million of new financing. Why not throw in a set of steak knives for good measure?

The tiny music startup, which aims to disrupt the centuries old model of music practice, performance, and education, has formalized a partnership with "Idol" musical director Ray Chew. As of this past Monday, the house band ditched their paper sheet music and replaced it exclusively with the Chromatik iPad app in both practice and for the live shows.

This really shouldn’t happen with a product still officially in private beta, let alone on a show which has no room for error with tens of millions of worldwide viewers. Acknowledging this makes the accomplishment even more impressive and speaks to the magnitude of the problem being solved.

Like nearly every other musical group around the world, "Idol" has always distributed physical sheet music to each member of the band. On a weekly basis, this meant hundreds of pages of material were circulated to dozens of individual musicians, only to later be recirculated, when inevitable changes occurred. Version tracking and general organization were a nightmare.

With the Chromatik digital platform, the entire process is streamlined and automated. Each musician simply logs into her mobile app account, where she can access to the global set list. New material can be uploaded from existing digital libraries or can be scanned directly into the system. Content is digitally interpreted and automatically converted into a functional MusicXML file. Each score can then be annotated and tagged. All actions are fully synced both locally and in the cloud, reducing the risk posed by possible connectivity issues during live performances.

During a practice session or performance, the director, or in some cases a member of the band, can add comments, “turn the digital page,” or otherwise manipulate the material seen by all users in ways that are important to musicians but which laypersons (such as this reporter) may not fully appreciate.

The end solution is one that is designed by music professionals to “fit the specific workflow of practicing musicians,” says company co-founder Matt Sandler. He should know, having toured professionally as a saxophonist, taught music technology at his alma matter UCLA, and worked in A&R and technology at Capital Records and KROQ 106.7.

Chromatik’s target audience is the 14 percent of Americans who practice or perform music in an organized environment on a weekly basis. A significant portion of these customers are not professional musicians but rather those involved with school bands and private music lessons.

For these “mainstream customers” and their instructors, the changes are nothing short of revolutionary. Chromatik gives the ability to remotely comment on digital sheet music and to assign and then submit recorded performance homework.

As a result, Sandler says that the company has hundreds of schools, groups, and ensembles lined up and waiting for the public release of its product.

There is currently no true competition in the marketplace for this product. Sandler says that Chromatik’s biggest obstacle is the fact that “the nature of music performance demands our product work right 100 percent of the time. Our iPad app is there. I wouldn’t have rolled it out on 'Idol' if it wasn’t.” The company’s HTML5 app, on the other hand, is still “getting there.”

Chromatik’s newly announced $1.1 million seed financing was led by Learn Capital, with participation from Kapur Capital, 500 Startups, MuckerLabs, its current incubator LaunchpadLA, and several angels.

The company and its advisors have outlined several monetization opportunities, although the app itself will likely remain free. Options being considered are offering music education services, selling sheet music, and possibly adding premium features. Sandler says, “People are actively spending money on music education. It’s just a matter of funneling it through our platform.”

Anyone who has ever met a true musician can attest that it’s in their blood and often gets prioritized over most other things. This makes for a loyal customer to any company that can simplify and make more enjoyable the pursuit of their passion.

BETA: Pando readers who are also musicians are invited to join the private beta. To do so, email concierge at chromatik dot com and include a link to a personal performance (individual or group). Sandler promises to bump you up the rollout list even if you’re not so gifted. :)

JOBS: The company is also hiring, with a specific interest in JavaScript talent. Those who are interested can email jobs at chromatik dot com.

[Image Source Inkity]