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‘Wildchords’ Leaves no Guitar Player Left Behind

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With SXSW coming up in a few weeks, I decided to reach out to the music tech finalists and I was able to connect with the Ovelin Co-Founder Christop Thur. Ovelin is a Finland based start-up that specializes in music education games and they have created an extremely popular I-Pad app game called WildChords.

Wildchords really excites me because I think the “gamification of music” will create the biggest growth sector in music technology for the next five years. In addition, their goal is to make learning how to play instruments fun unlike practicing in the living room of a stranger’s house. I wish they were around a few years ago when I was learning to play the acoustic.

Kelland:I had a chance to check out WildChords and it looks like a really cool game. What inspired you guys to develop a learning game?
Chris:Both me and my co-founder Mikko are guitar dropouts that felt like we were missing out on a great hobby. The offerings on the market did not seem to focus on the real issue with instrument learning which, in our opinion, is the MOTIVATION to practice. So since no-one was making an actual fun game to learn to play the guitar, we decided to make one ourselves. And as the idea resonated well with people in the user tests, we decided to quit our day jobs and do this full-time. So far it has been a great experience, and yes, we are now also learning to play the guitar with our own game!

Kelland:What was the development process like for you? How long did it take from concept to launch?
Chris:We played the first prototype of WildChords in January 2011 or so, which had been developed by some students in an open innovation environment called Demola. Two of those students we hired right after the project to continue the work, and we launched the game in November of the same year. There was still a lot of work on the technological side and content creation area, but we had an extremely successful launch (over 100 thousand downloads in one month for iPad only). Now we are excited about the positive feedback and all the great ideas we get on a daily basis from users and the media.

Kelland:I noticed in the about section of your website it states that 85% of people who are learning how to play an instrument quit before they are reasonably good. What elements or features are present in WildChords that make people to want to continue learning?
Chris:I think for us it is really about motivating the users. So we use game like features, and make it much easier to approach. For example, you cannot just select any level you want to play but you have to “earn” your way to the higher levels. So users do not fall into the trap of selecting a song that is actually way too difficult for them at their current stage. Better players can jump entire packages though, so they find their skill level without playing through all the beginner levels. Another way we try to engage people is by using a more practical approach. Each exercise is only 1-2 mins long, so you can play some levels during the commercial breaks while you watch TV, or whenever you have a few minutes. Often times the sessions will last much longer, but the likelihood of actually picking up the guitar for “just 2 mins” is of course much higher than dedicating an hour to practicing. Most importantly, the game is extremely fun to play. A lot of people who have no desire to learn how to play the guitar, play WildChords for the same reason they play Angry Birds: because it is a fun activity.

Kelland: Why did you decide to use I-Pad as the Platform?
Chris:The iPad was for us a good device to start, as the screen is big enough, it’s mobile, and we don’t have to deal with multiple microphone / speaker combinations to test our idea. Of course we want to bring WildChords on any device that is powerful enough, and has a microphone (Android, Windows Mobile, but also the good old PC)

Kelland:Is WildChords available for IPhones or will it be available in the near future?
Chris:I can already play WildChords on my iPhone, but other users still have to wait a bit, as we are also including new gameplay modes to that version. Working on it hard though.

Kelland:I know that Ovelin is based in Finland, but I wanted to know what are your plans in terms of marketing. Are you focusing on the European market first like Spotify or are you going global from the jump?
Chris:Well, the app is available in all app stores around the globe, and we have some interesting markets emerging too. In terms of marketing, the US is of course extremely interesting for us, as we also want to include well-known songs from popular artists. Also, I think US based musicians might be interested in supporting us teaching the kids how to play music.

Kelland:What are some of the biggest obstacles that you are currently facing?
Chris:I would not call them obstacles, but rather challenges and that’s what entrepreneurship is all about (and what I like about it). So the biggest challenges currently for me are hiring, saying no to great ideas and finding well-known musicians to partner with. We are currently looking for game developers, game designers, and some musician / music teachers that are experienced in-game design and could help us translate music learning exercises into fun gameplay modes. I think we have a great company and team and we are working on something extremely rewarding. So we try to find people who would fit our team, but are also extremely good at what they are doing. We are also interested in working closely with more musicians and guitar players. The other challenge is for us to say no to many of the great ideas we get, as we simply don’t have the capacity yet to accommodate all those cool ideas we would like to implement.

Kelland:In a perfect world situation where would you like to see Ovelin at in five years?
Chris:We want to change the way people learn to play a music instrument with our games. Our goal is to lower the drop out rate of instrument learners from 85% to 0% and we want to inspire more people to actually start playing a instrument. It is a great hobby that you can share with others, and we think that it enriches the lives of many people. So our goal really is to make the world a more musical place.

CEO, Writer, Rapper, Internet Marketer, Innovator and author of The Social Music Revolution Revealed.