EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: MATT HALPERN TAKES US BEHIND THE SCENES OF BANDHAPPY
Well, this is probably a first for MetalSucks: an interview exclusively about another website. But Bandhappy isn’t just any website; as we’ve been telling you for months (first by “Run MetalSucks For a Day” contest winner Justin Gosnell), Bandhappy is a new platform that offers students and teachers — many of whom are famous metal musicians — the opportunity to connect directly for one-on-one, personalized video lessons, and also provides a platform for setting up in-person lessons while on tour. It’s a really robust platform that brings all the different parts of the equationinto one convenient hub, and Bandhappy founder Matt Halpern — who also happens to be a teacher himself and the drummer for Periphery — recently took some time to chat with me about Bandhappy, what it took to get it going, what makes it unique, and what to expect from it now and in the future.
Where exactly are you right now in terms of the launch of Bandhappy?
Right now we are going to start slowly getting the initial bands, teachers and musicians that we’ve already reached out to registered and all set up on the site. Then we’re going to start slowly activating profiles. We’re not going to just throw everybody on all at once. What we’re seeing right now is that there is a shit ton of people that are headed this way that have already registered as teachers. We have thousands of requests for teachers at this point. We have hundreds of teachers who have expressed interest or are already on board. We’re really going to ramp this thing up somewhat slowly so that we can really gauge how many users that there are and make sure that there is enough supply and demand for our students and our teachers.
Yeah. What are some of the teachers that you have?
All the bands that are in that video, there’s at least one member if not more from each of those bands. There are musicians literally across all genres that we are recruiting for this. Well, really not recruiting, we’re kind of showing them what we are doing and it kind of filled itself. We don’t have any exclusive deals with anybody; we don’t want to. We simply feel like this is a tool that can be added to their toolbox, so to speak, so they can use it to either connect with their fans in a different way or supplement their income by teaching. In that regard, not only do I have the musicians that I know from the guys in the bands that you see in the video, each one of those musicians is sending the other guys [from their respective bands] and I’m getting hit up by managers and getting hit up by different companies that are basically saying “I have these artists” or “I’m in a band”. It’s from all over the place and from all sorts of genres at this point. I guess initially that video should kind of speak for itself for who is involved, but that’s not to say [exactly] who will be involved. There are a bunch of other great artists that are really outside the metal world. We’re pretty impressed that they are involved but I can’t say their names yet.
Sure. What exactly is the revenue model? Do students pay each teacher directly or does it go through Bandhappy and then Bandhappy takes a cut and then it goes onto the teachers?
Students pay whatever the rates are that the teachers want to charge. The teachers can set their own rates and set their own schedules. Once the student pays, it goes to Bandhappy and then we hold it until the lesson is completed and then we make our disbursements to our teachers. We take a small percentage of all the lessons that are taught.
So it’s going to be a live lesson. Are those lessons going to be archived so they can be watched for later use?
Yes. There are 2 types of lessons that we’re going to be offering on Bandhappy. One is live online video chat. On each of these video chats, for a small extra fee, students will be able to opt into recording those videos to store them on their profiles so they can practice with them later. That extra fee will be $2 to record it. So when the students go and buy the lessons, there is this little option that they can click and it says “would you like to purchase the recording”. Once they purchase it, it’ll be archived on their profiles and they can stream it right from there any time after the lesson for 90 days, to practice or show their friends or whatever they want to do.
[UPDATE: The recording function is not up yet, but is coming soon! -Ed.]
The other kinds of lessons are going to be the ones that a lot of the musicians are already doing, on-tour lessons. When I travel to New York or wherever we go in the world, I will teach at the venue in person to the students that come out locally to the shows. We’re going to manage all the bookings and communications for all those kinds of lessons and the payment as well. A student can pay for a lesson for a teacher coming into their hometown through the site and book their spot in that lesson, go to that venue at the meeting time that is discussed through Bandhappy, and then have the lesson in person.
Do you worry at all about people ripping the recording video out and getting it up on Youtube or wherever else?
We haven’t made it easy for that to happen. We only allow streaming of the video, so there’s no downloads. If they wanted to do that, they’d have to do some sort of streamcast themselves of that video, which as you know, when you do a streamcast of a recording or of a video, the quality is not good. At the same time, all the videos are watermarked with our logo on it. The teachers, the way that I see it and the way that they feel about it, it’s free promotion for them. If it does get out there, someone is going to look at that and go “holy shit, you got to have that one on one experience with this teacher? Man, I want that”. It’s a way, if it does happen, to promote the site, to promote the teacher, show that they’re a good teacher and hopefully encourage others to take that same lesson and have that same kind of experience. That’s my thought on it.
Yeah, that’s awesome. I definitely agree with that as far as branding Bandhappy and inspiring people to sign up. It is a selling point – the personal aspect of it. How do you differentiate yourself from Jamplay and the other services that do a similar kind of thing?
The first thing is we aren’t controlling what lessons get broadcast. We’re not some site that has the whole schedule that we determine monthly or weekly. We are literally a marketplace for musicians to come and really run their own businesses through. The type of business that they run is obviously educational, but artists can tell you anything from their primary instruments or secondary instruments to things that they have experienced in the music business. It is completely up to them to get creative with it.
That’s one big difference: we give them the tools to broadcast live to their fans one person at a time at any time. It is truly a personal live lesson. The scheduling isn’t done by us. It is done by the teacher and the student directly. There is interaction from the get go of these two people talking to one another and creating this unique lesson experience.
The other thing that we do [differently] is we simply offer all the tools that they need to book these things for in-person lessons too. It’s not just about being online and showing some broadcast or having downloadable videos. We don’t even have on-demand videos on the site at this point; a lot of these other websites have pre-recorded videos and they don’t necessarily have the right artists that are on there, the right musicians that the people want. We have something that we’re trying to create here, a community where the users tell us who they want to learn from and what they want to learn and how they want their lessons to be. We make it as user friendly and direct as we can for what they want. It’s really about that human connection and that live experience that truly is personal.
The on-tour lessons are group lessons. If I’m offering a lesson in New York City at the Gramercy, on the website you would see the name of the lesson, tied to a price, and 5 students can purchase that same lesson like they would seats in a classroom or some online tutorial class. The way that it works is that 5 people come and get to share that same experience for one hour with their teacher. You can’t schedule those things through any other website this way. You can’t book an online lesson, communicate back and forth, get paid or send payment and then also have a video chat lesson all in one spot as easy to use and user friendly as ours. There’s nothing out there that is like that.
I wanted to ask about the revenue model, and going back to our conversation a year ago. I’m sure you have quite a bit of money invested in this connected to the bandwidth costs, the development costs, and you hired a pretty high powered PR firm (I’m sure they’re not cheap)… What needs to happen for you to be profitable?
Right. We just need users. That’s really it. We need students and teachers using the site. We really based our model around a non-advertising based model. We actually have a model that will actually enable us to bring in revenue simply based off the lessons. That’s not to say that we’re not going to go off and have very appropriate advertising on the site and sponsorships and things like that because we absolutely will be looking for those and working within that world as well. It is going to be very appropriate to what’s going on. It’s going to be very noninvasive. Our business model works if it’s just about the lessons alone. We have certain numbers that we need to reach, of course. We’ve raised money and built out all our projections and model based on teachers and students interacting through our platform.
Can you be a little bit more specific about what those numbers are or at least ballpark?
I really can’t. That’s stuff I rather not get into if that’s okay.
Come on, Matt! [Laughs]
No, I can’t do it. We’re going for some other rounds here, so I really can’t divulge that information to the public at this point.
Okay, fair enough. How do you plan on balancing the workload? I’m sure you knew it was going to be a lot of work but maybe you didn’t know specifically in which ways. How do you plan to balance all of this with your life as a touring and recording musician?
The beauty is that I have a very supportive band that truly understands what I’m doing, and they’re 100% behind me and how much work I put into this. In that regard, they make it very easy for me. What jobs that I need to do for the band, they allow me to do and allow me to work on what I need to work on without always being there. We’re such a well-oiled machine in terms of how we work internally with each other that that really isn’t a worry for me. It’s really nice to have something off my plate. At the same time, I was prepared at the beginning when we all went into this knowing how much work this was going to be. The people that I’m working with are very experienced and some of them have launched and done really well with businesses. They know how much work it takes. I was well prepared.
The good thing is that I’m not doing this all by myself. My workload is spread out, and I have help with it. With what I’m doing, I can do it anywhere. I have an iPhone, I have a computer and the whole website is based off of live video chat where location doesn’t matter — for any meetings that I have to go to or any work that I have to do, I can do it pretty much from anywhere. When we’re on the tour bus in Europe for this Dream Theater tour, it’s going to be busy as hell because we’ll be launched and be out there. At the same time, I’m going to be able to work on it because I have that much time during the day. You guys know how band schedules are especially if you are not doing the driving yourself or doing the transportation yourself. There is a lot of time to wake up and have a schedule and be responsible and do the work.
To be honest, we just want to make sure that our users are happy. Of course we do have specific goals and specific numbers, but it’s really about creating this marketplace and building the marketplace. One of the things that we really want to do and need to do is . . . this system is amazing. It seriously doesn’t compare to anything that’s out there. I have a couple of tricks up my sleeve and we all have some things that we want to incorporate into the site that are really going to take it to the next level from what it is now. It’s just going to blow away everybody.
Our goal is to really do it the right way. I can’t really say without getting into numbers what we’re looking to do, but what I can say is that based off what we’ve seen so far it’s going to be really good. The goal is to just take this thing as far as it can possibly go. Everybody who is working on the team has the same goals in mind; that the users come first. Our focus is to give the teachers a tool that is truly useful for them, and for them to actually take ownership of and start using it on a daily basis and give all the students and the fans of music and everybody that is involved a place that they know that they can come to if they want to take music lessons – not just with musicians and bands. This site should be the one stop for any kind of music lessons whether you are a parent and have a younger child or you’re a musician in a band or you’re a teacher that works in a school and you want to give lessons to other people outside of your area. Bandhappy should be the place.
That’s awesome, dude. I’m stoked for it personally. You’ve really vetted everything out properly and have all your bases covered and everything has been thought of. I don’t see why it wouldn’t be successful.
Thanks. I hope so. It’s been a fun process so far, and I’ve learned a shit ton from it. That’s been really cool too. I’ve grown up a bit in this process.
Unlike all those other Periphery guys that you’ve seen in our recent studio updates.
[Laughs] That’s funny.
One more thing: We have this really awesome student tutorial video that we’re going to put out prior to turning on the students and activating them so that they can learn how to use the site before they even get there. We want our users to be educated on how the site works, to see how user friendly it is and to know (when they get there) what to do in every scenario.
This is important: one of the things that the students have to realize is that you’re not dealing with some downloadable thing that can be downloaded by a million people. You’re not dealing with a robot. You’re dealing with human beings that have lives and have busy schedules and are in bands or work at certain times. The students need to realize that they have to be patient. They’re not going to have a bunch of monkeys that they can take lessons from at any time and these same monkeys are in bands that they like. They have to realize that there is going to be a lot of demand, that there is going to be scheduling that has to come into place for these artists to where they can actually sit down and have the time to do this. There is plenty of time, but I want the users to understand that there’s going to be so many musicians on the site that they’re really going to have their pick and they will always be able to find someone to learn from. But they have to be patient and have to respect their teachers’ schedules. That’s why we’re putting out that student tutorial to not only show them how to use the site, but to really set the expectations for these specific people. Does that make sense?
Totally. Hopefully it’s not just something like an instruction manual where you open the box and throw it away. Hopefully kids actually watch it.
No, no. I think they will. It’s a really amazingly done video. It’s not like any kind of tutorial I’ve ever seen. It’s not like a screen cast video where I’m like “okay, you click the screen and do this”. It’s like a video game. It’s like a cartoon or something like that. It’s really good. I was just in a meeting with my board of directors and they’re all more business-savvy older guys. To have their attention on this video for about 8 or 10 minutes, they watched it from start to finish and were like “wow, I couldn’t keep my eyes off it”. I want to push that people watch this and I want to push that it’s entertaining and that there is funny stuff in there. I think that if people watch it from start to finish, they’ll have a chuckle throughout it. It’s pretty cool.
I appreciate you taking the time doing the interview.
Cool, anytime. Thank you for taking the time too. Good luck with the next couple of weeks of work that’s ahead of you.
Thanks, dude. Take it easy.