Hello! What's your background, and what are you working on?
Hi I'm Brock Luker and I'm an entrepreneur, executive producer, and run 808 Mafia Records in Los Angeles, CA. I've been working on Creator Arcade — a music education platform that allows aspiring music producers to learn and get feedback from the world's best DJ's, music producers, and engineers — with my co-founder Chris Murphy for the past 10 months.
Today we’re making around $7,500/month selling courses, personalized beat feedback, and sound packs.
What motivated you to get started with Creator Arcade?
In November of 2016, I was working as the VP of Product Development at ZEFR after they acquired my first startup, Engodo, in 2014. Engodo was a social analytics tool that was primarily used to help companies identify the right influencers for their ad campaigns. While building Engodo, I saw first-hand how influencers could be strategically utilized to launch companies and products, and I knew that the next time I built something I would find a way to get influencers involved.
The idea for Creator Arcade came while I was visiting Marshmello on tour in Atlanta. His manager Moe Shalizi is a close friend of mine and I would fly out to meet them for a few shows during his tour runs. We all went out for dinner prior to his show and Moe shows me a friend of his who became a “make-up” tutorial influencer and built a site where people could purchase her courses.
I jokingly made the comment that we should create a course where students could learn how to re-create Marshmello’s songs. Moe looked at me and said, “We really should…” and I said, “Well… okay. Let’s give it a shot.”
As I thought about what the business could become I drew a parallel between how I learned to program and how music is created. One of my favorite sites for programming tutorials is Code4Startup. They offer project-based video tutorials to teach you how to code. For example, you can learn Ruby on Rails and Postgres by building a lightweight version of Airbnb step-by-step. I’ve always learned best from doing/building something, so I took the Code4Startup up approach to making music tutorials.
In my opinion, it made sense to learn music by learning how to produce a song from the ground up. You’re not going to become a professional producer right out of the gate, but you will learn the tools, techniques and frameworks used by a talented DJ/producer like Marshmello and you can apply that into your own mixes. Plus, I thought it would be pretty cool to produce a song alongside your favorite artist.
What went into building the initial product?
Chris and I were both working full time at ZEFR, but because we were so stoked at the prospect of working with someone like Marshmello, we decided that we would sacrifice our nights and weekends to get an MVP up and running.
Initially, we started building the platform in Rails, but a friend named Kirk Ouimet encouraged us to build the backend using firebase because it was cheap (essentially free) and it would scale easily with what we wanted to build. Not to mention that Google makes building authentications extremely simple. We built the web app in React and we tinkered with the idea of building out our own video player, but we decided that it would be much easier to use a service like Wistia. Because we decided to use Wistia to host our videos, all we really needed to build was a glorified paywall.
As we saw it, the essentials we needed to get things up and running were:
- a way for users to create an account (Facebook Auth)
- a way for users to explore courses
- a way to collect credit card information (Stripe)
- automated emails
It became apparent that I needed to spend most of my time putting together the curriculum and shooting the content, so after I finished the initial designs, Chris took complete control of the coding. Building the curriculum was the most challenging part of building Creator Arcade. Marshmello had never taught a course before so I brought in a friend of mine named Andrew Law — who was a professionally trained engineer and worked under Rob Cavallo — to help mentor us on how to structure his course. Once we finalized the course curriculum we sat down for two days straight and recorded the classes using ScreenFlow. I spent the next couple weeks editing the videos until they we ready to go live.
How have you attracted users and grown Creator Arcade?
While we were still building out the curriculum, I put up a landing page that allowed potential users to submit their email addresses to be the first to know when we launched. After spamming my entire contact list and posting a link on the subreddit r/edmproduction, we managed to collect around 600 or so emails.
About a month before we finished all the production for the first two Marshmello classes, I did another post on reddit and asked people to check out the first ten videos that we did for the class for free in exchange for feedback. All they needed to do was sign up and I would give them access to the videos. Around 300 people signed up, all of which gave helpful feedback.
We knew that having Marshmello as our first artist was kind of a silver bullet and would create some serious traction once he posted it to his socials, so we decided to invest in a promo video that would capture his audience and hopefully drive them to the site to purchase classes.
On our official “launch” day I had Marshmello post on Product Hunt before launching the video. We got a staggering eight upvotes (lol). Later that day, we posted our promo video on his Facebook page and and we waited.
We made $4,165 on launch day.
We knew that we couldn’t ask Marshmello to keep spamming his audience so I decided that we would start running Facebook and Instagram ads for the video to keep the momentum going. Facebook ads are cool because you once you connect the Facebook Pixel to your site you can market to look-alike audiences. In the beginning, I wasn’t very familiar with Facebook Ads, but Facebook has some great documentation and they allow you to test a variety of ads all at once and choose the ones that create the most sales.
At the end of the day most of our sales come from direct/organic searches and watching our YouTube promo video, which has over 1.5M views. Roughly 80% of our traffic comes from YouTube.
What's your business model, and how have you grown your revenue?
Creator Arcade makes money in three different ways:
To date we have three courses available for purchase. Our video courses provide step-by-step instruction on how a song was created. We also include all the sounds, stem files, and project files with each course sold.
A platform of curated producers and engineers where anyone can submit their music to a producer of their choice and receive video feedback on their track, as well as tips and techniques on how to improve.
Three: Sound Packs
Royalty free sounds and samples curated by top DJ’s, producers, and engineers.
When we launched we only had two courses from Marshmello. In order to drive traffic to the site, we decided to spend $5K on a promo video that we could distribute on his Facebook, Instagram, and Youtube. The courses weren’t finished yet, so we decided to bundle the courses and pre-sell them once the video dropped. We made a huge mistake by pricing the bundle too cheap, and even though the pre-sale was a success, in hindsight I would have doubled our pre-sale revenue if we would have doubled the price of the bundle.
What are your goals for the future?
One of the coolest things about working on Creator Arcade is getting an intimate look at how artists develop their music. Once you’ve learned the basic structure of a song, the process is not as complicated as one would think. Many of our users feel intimidated to start music production, but we built our courses in such a way that we’ve made the process approachable even to novices.
We want to continue to pump out more classes, and the goal is to have enough content by January of 2019 to start charging a subscription model. We have a few artists lined up that are interested in creating a new course every month, which would be a huge step in the right direction for us.
The other feature that we built is the beat feedback platform, which enables students who want feedback on their mixes to send them to top DJ/producers and engineers and get video feedback about their tracks, how they can improve, and receive tips and tricks on creating different sounds. The feature brought in revenue as soon as it was released and we’re extremely excited about having Slushii be a part of this initiative. Here's an example of one of the videos from producer Max Lord of 808 Mafia that we put on our YouTube channel:
We're also extremely excited about our 1-for-1 program, which provides music education courses and resources to underprivileged schools and communities. We’d love it if you would nominate a school!
The biggest roadblock is going to be production. We have found a workaround for this that saves us a ton of money, though. If you have 10K subscribers on Youtube, then Youtube lets you use their space in Los Angeles and all their equipment free of charge, as long as the content being used is distributed on the channel it was shot for. This is a great thing for us because we can keep creating promo videos for free and distribute those promo videos on the artists’ channels. It’s a small hack, but it will save us tens of thousands of dollars in the coming months.
We’ve also begun building a private Facebook group for those who purchase courses. They will have access to the artists who create classes and will be able to ask them questions and get cool stuff like autographed merchandise and equipment.
Finally, the podcast is something that we’re extremely excited about. We will focus on the creative process behind some of your favorite songs and artists. We’ve found that most of our sales come from organic searches, so it’s up to us to continue to build the brand and get the name out there.
What are the biggest challenges you've faced and the obstacles you've overcome? If you had to start over, what would you do differently?
We still make a lot of mistakes, however the one mistake that sticks out most is that I didn’t have a music production background before we started building out the course curriculum. Trying to market to a user base that you don’t quite understand because you can’t properly empathize with their motivations is a bonehead move. Eventually, I started to reach out to users who purchased our courses and asked them if they would jump on a call with me so I could learn about why the bought the course, what we did well in the courses, and, most importantly, what we did poorly and how we could improve.
I drastically underestimated the amount of time, planning, and preparation that would go into production. What I thought would take weeks took months and I was extremely naive in that aspect. Now we understand that production for one course is going to take two to three months and there is going to be another two to three months of business development to finalize all the artist agreements. The key here is to keep momentum. For someone reason, everyone in the music industry says yes because they don't want to be left out, but once they say yes they lag on making deals so that they can shop around to other folks.
The other obstacle that we have to overcome is getting the rights to the songs. As of today, all our artists are independent artists, so getting their approval wasn’t very difficult. But as we expand to other genres it will definitely become a pain and we will have to figure out some sort of revenue sharing plan for the major labels, similar to the cut that we currently give to the artists.
There is definitely a lot that I would do over. If I could start again, I would be more conscientious of keeping an endgame in mind and thinking strategically about how to get there. When we launched Creator Arcade, we didn’t really have a gameplan or know what to expect from it or where things would go. We just put in the world and did our best to iterate accordingly.
I also would have reached out to more users and built a community of “trusted-learners” that could give us valuable and consistent feedback on our approach to creating courses. Along the same vein, I would have made the courses shorter and more digestible, and would have tried to create a recurring subscription model right off the bat. We weren’t as patient as we should have been and I think that has hurt us a little bit.
Have you found anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
I was extremely fortunate to have the relationships I had with our first artists, because they weren’t concerned with making money as much as they were excited to see if it would actually work.
We launched our courses right as Marshmello became super mainstream with his song Wolves with Selena Gomez and Silence with Khalid. Marshmello became a top 5 artist on Spotify worldwide. We never could have predicted that. We got super lucky and it drove a ton of traffic and sales for us.
What's your advice for indie hackers who are just starting out
This may seem obvious but don’t start a business in a space that you don’t have experience. You will spend too much trying to understand what the market wants/needs. Ideally, you have a pain point that you want to solve and you have a detailed strategy in place to solve that problem.
Even after a little success, everything is harder before it becomes easier. The hope is that your business functions as a growth mechanism for your life in general. You have to have tough skin to start a business and you have to be a little masochistic in many ways, and the process definitely can and should inspire some personal growth.
It’s my belief that life is a function of momentum and once you get that momentum you feel like you can barrel through any obstacle that stands in your way. Fight to create momentum with your business and keep it going.
A few of my favorite books on business that I found extremely helpful were:
- Shoe Dog by Phil Knight
- Masters of Doom by David Kushner
- Poor Charlie’s Almanac by Peter D. Kaufman and Ed Wexler
- Military Strategy Classics of Ancient China by Shawn Connors
Where can we go to learn more?
If you have any questions please ask in the comments. Thanks for the opportunity to be a part of Indie Hackers!
—, Co-Founder of Creator Arcade
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