Capo: An excellent music app held back by a changing industry

By Nathaniel Mott , written on October 7, 2013

From The News Desk

One Christmas, my parents bought me a Fender-made starter kit that featured an electric guitar, an amp, and a pair of headphones that I never could get to work properly. It went unused for a while before countless hours playing "Guitar Hero" and "Rock Band" -- on expert difficulty, mind -- convinced me that I could become a real guitar player.

There were a few problems. The first was that I couldn't read music, no matter how many times I tried to understand exactly what all those squiggly lines represent. The second was that there was no one to teach me, so I spent most of my time playing random chords and searching the Web for anything -- instructive videos, tab-based breakdowns of my favorite songs -- that might help. My ascent to rock-and-roll godhood sputtered out before it even began.

My desire to learn continues, though. That's why Capo, a Mac app that promises to automatically create easy-to-read instructions for any song on a computer, caught my interest. Capo is meant to help you learn your favorite songs by making it easy to slow them down, change the way they sound, and reduce a singer's dominance of a track. It's easy to use, simple but not sparse, and is certainly better than just strumming along and hoping for the best.

The only problem with Capo's drag-and-drop interface is that many people might not have anything to drag and drop. Music services like Rdio and Spotify have made it cheaper and easier to rent songs instead of buying albums. As they continue to grow and other companies like Apple and Google introduce similar services, fewer and fewer people will have songs saved to their computers.

Solving that problem is as simple as buying songs instead of streaming them, but that introduces a problem of its own: people are cheap. Capo costs $30 on its own -- far more than many other applications, especially those available for smartphones -- and requiring users to pay 99 cents every time they want to learn a new song might quickly limit the app's audience. (That people are willing to spend hundreds of dollars on an instrument they can't play but might not be willing to spend $40 to learn their favorite songs is a problem for the philosophers, economists, and psychologists.)

Capo isn't the only music-focused app to face this problem. Djay, a music-making app for the iPhone, iPad, and Mac, also requires that users purchase the songs they wish to play or modify within the app. Its creators say that they expect streaming services to eventually introduce technologies that allow them to access their vast music libraries -- until then people can either purchase a few songs or go without Djay.

No one ever said that becoming a rockstar -- or just someone who can play their favorite song without peeling paint from the walls -- would be free. As Bret Michael once so wisely sang, "Every rose has its thorn..."