Music Company Gives Lessons Online

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Novice Internet firm Interactive Music Inc. is in early launch with a Web site that direct-sells interactive guitar and piano lessons, and the New York company plans to begin linking neophyte instrumentalists to offline music teachers next year.


After an initial free lesson, visitors to www.netmusicschool.com can pay $8.95 for a four-lesson set of tutorials. Buyers register by giving their name, credit card number and e-mail address, then choose a password that gives them access to lessons for twelve months. In effect, Interactive Music sells the same library of music lessons -- the same "product" -- over and over to different people.


"We can charge eight or nine bucks and we just keep reselling them," said company president/CEO Jan Renner. Interactive Music pays music teachers to design lessons, and company technicians then translate the lessons to a Web format using Flash technology. Users prompt a virtual hand that moves through the proper positions on the instrument, accompanied by the music itself. Flash technology, made by Macromedia Inc., San Francisco, is designed to allow complex site animation to flow over a normal modem connection.


Renner, who was part of the Turner Broadcasting team that launched the TNT and TBS networks, first considered setting up lessons on a cable channel until he realized the expense involved. (He plays guitar and piano.) Now the executive wants to build a music library on the Net.


"Ted Turner bought the MGM film library for one reason: So he can keep replaying the movies on his cable network. I think this evergreen content -- these guitar lessons -- are never going to go out of date," Renner said.


Selling access to a library of content is relatively untried in the e-commerce realm -- with the notable exception of pornography sites, which make plenty of money charging people for access to set content. Notably tardy at adopting the business approach are the big record companies, which for the most part are flailing about trying to decide how to cope with MP3 technology.


Net Music School soft-launched in early October. The company is working through technological glitches with the site -- loading the main page with Netscape Navigator, in particular, can be tricky. So far Interactive Music has accumulated traffic almost exclusively through deals with portals Excite and Yahoo. The firm bought the right to result-page banner ads when people look up about 50 words and phrases on the two search engines.


"They're keywords nobody was interested in: 'Piano lessons.' 'Guitar lessons.' 'Music teacher,'" Renner said.


The banners tout a free online music lesson. The number of sign-ups from the limited ad exposure is still low; about one percent of the visitors to Net Music School have bought lessons. Interactive Music plans print, television and radio ads in the first quarter of next year.


A second, linked site the company launched in November is building a database of real-world music teachers. The list of 5,000 teachers who have entered contact information, personal bios and other data at www.musicteacherfind.com can be searched by instrument or region. Registration is free for teachers now, and Interactive Music plans to steer prospective students to the site after they've advanced beyond the virtual teaching capabilities of Net Music School.


The company plans to begin charging instructors a $24.95 annual subscription fee for the service in about six months. But first the company has to build enough student prospects at Net Music School to prove to the teachers that the service is worth paying for. Renner admits he has no way of knowing how successful he'll be at getting the roughly 500,000 active US music instructors to pay.


Interactive Music ran print ads in music publications to get instructors to the database site, and the firm carried out an e-mail campaign to an undisclosed number of teachers. Renner also credited word-of-mouth beginning with teachers who wrote lessons for the company.
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