He Built the Netflix for Music Creation
Covid-19 has sparked a renaissance people wanting to make music, says Output CEO Gregg Lehrman.
In this ongoing series, we are sharing advice, tips and insights from real entrepreneurs who are out there doing business battle on a daily basis. (Answers have been edited and condensed for clarity.)
Why do you think the desire to create and record music grown so much during Covid?
We’re seeing people choose to be more creative with their time spent at home. If I look at my own family for example, my wife took up baking, my father painting and my mother bird-watching. Listening to music has been a really important outlet for people during COVID, and they’re starting to realize that making music delivers that same experience while also offering a creative release. The average entry-level customer of our core platform ARCADE typically has experience playing an instrument, even if they’ve played for just a few months. And considering that half of all households have at least one person who played an instrument, the opportunity for growth is tremendous.
What was your approach to developing this platform?
Software that helps you create (ie: music, video, photography, writing, etc.) can usually be broken into two buckets: applications that help people work faster and applications that inspire people to be more creative. Either can be successful, but if you want a guaranteed home-run you need both. That was our goal with ARCADE.
When I started Output, I had been writing music professionally for 12 years. It was pretty obvious to me what tools would facilitate my process. The takeaway - it helps when you are the customer and know your environment inside out. Once you get going, it’s crucial to surround yourself with a team that likes to tackle challenges and is excited to build something truly original. It’s not easy and it takes a lot of back and forth to get a product feeling right. So don’t be afraid to listen and refine.
Also, I prefer to stay scrappy and take on the mindset of a hacker. Think about how you can pull off your idea with the limitations and resources in front of you instead of the business plan and fundraising pitch. I know that’s impossible for some types of companies, but for most, it’s a good way to test market fit and weed out features that you don’t have the money to build. It forces you to make hard decisions and they are usually the right ones.
You talked your way into Hans Zimmer’s office as an assistant. What is the lesson there and how is running a tech start-up similar to being a composer?
I talked my way into Hans’ office twice, actually. The first time was during college when I lied my way into Zimmer’s company Remote Control and pretended I had a meeting with Jeff Rona — a composer in residence who authored The Reel World. The second time, I was able to convince the Remote Contol secretary that Zimmer was expecting my resume to be delivered right to his team so she walked it in for me. As it turned out, the following morning I was working directly for Zimmer. Later on, I also worked for Rona.
If you want something, go get it. Nothing will just come to you and no one will feel bad for not responding — successful people realized along the way that rejections weren’t personal. These gatekeepers can be key to getting your business off the ground — whether they are investors, endorsers or employees at relevant companies.
It is, however, a double whammy — they are not only busy but inundated with requests. Make sure you stand out. If you get your five minutes, be prepared with your elevator pitch. Show the value you’ll bring to them. Keep it simple, clear, and concise.
How do you see the music creation trend changing the music industry?
I believe more people will become artists than ever before. We’ve seen first-hand what happens when people realize that music-making is clicks away. We built our core platform ARCADE for professionals, but because it was so intuitive, word got out to hobbyists that they’d have the same success rate. Over 50% of sessions on ARCADE result in the writing of a new track and the average user locks a song in within fifteen minutes — and this is as true for hobbyists as it is for pros. While most of it won’t end up on Spotify, I think companies like Distrokid and Soundcloud will help a good amount of it see an audience.
I think we’ll also see more collaboration happening virtually. It’s becoming so easy for people to work on individual elements and share them with one another and companies like Soundbetter and Jacktrip are making this easier by the day. I also anticipate more concerts experienced virtually. I’ve seen some of the technology and it’s pretty amazing.
In addition, I think musicians will form a deeper appreciation for the music they consume. Diving into the creation process will unlock a clearer understanding of what went into the music that they love and might even push them to appreciate genres and songs that are unexpected. It certainly did when I started writing music.
You became a SaaS company in the last two years. How did you make that transition?
We wanted to go SaaS so we could create an application that lives and breathes with new content every single day. SaaS is harder to both get off the ground and maintain, so as an entrepreneur with an existing business, you maintain your perpetual offering (we have) and build your SaaS the right way, patiently. We think of ARCADE as the Netflix for music creation and it just made more sense to charge monthly all at once. It enables people to come and go as they want and if they cancel, still keep access to the music they’ve made. We’ve seen 300% growth in the last year, so it’s a clear indication that people like the shift in business model and frequency of new content. We’ve got so much more to come.
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