Synthesia Music Store

Archived development update discussion from past versions
Archived development updates.
Nicholas
Posts: 12471

Post by Nicholas »

Music Store: synthesiagame.com/store

Soft Launch
I'm pretty sure everything is ready to go. But, much like development previews, I'm going to let the forum crew mess with it a little before I mention it on the front page of the site.

You'll notice it's a very(!) simple site. There are only a few pages in total, but there are some neat details on each. (This whole experience was a tremendous update to my web development skill set on basically all fronts.) The site targets modern browsers with JavaScript enabled.

Song Bundles: Most songs include more than one arrangement: a version with the vocals/melody included in the piano part and a second version with the original piano part intact. Both are included for one price.

Full Arrangements: Any song in the store that originally featured instruments beyond piano will have them. Percussion is delicious. Every time my music guy delivers a finished product, I can't wait to play it and hear the beat. That is what all the MIDI songs in all the videos and other sites are always missing. :D

Aggressive pricing: For two versions of a song, $2.99 feels really solid for boutique content. That these are all brand new arrangements written from scratch, it's sort of an experiment to see if the store will even break even, hehe. I wanted to push even harder to have everything be at your typical iTunes price points, but that wouldn't have left much headroom for things like sales. And the margins would have been so slim after payment processor fees and mechanical licensing, there would have been little incentive for third-parties to provide quality content after I open the platform up.

U.S. Only: Again, the store is unfortunately limited to the United States only for now. (Other limitations include: no song previews. :? )

Coming Soon
There are a few non-launch features I'm still working on (order history, gift cards, scoreboard tie-in, etc.) I'll probably mention something in this topic whenever I add something.

You'll also notice there are only 15 songs. That felt like a nice number for launch. Though there is a considerable backlog and one of the store's features is periodic, automatic releasing of new songs. That will be set up to unveil a new song each week after the full launch.

Right now the content on the store is biased pretty heavily toward typical American pop fare. Certainly there are a few older tracks in the backlog that will be popping up soon, but this seemed like a safe way to get started. Once I get a feel for sales numbers and how much sense it makes to hand-craft content that might not be as popular, I'm excited to start exploring things that might be a little more niche. (Something already in the backlog: a 5-song bundle of piano arrangements of classic videogame music.) The licensing story gets a little trickier, but I have been surprised by how much is able to be used from games, anime, and the sort.

You already have $3
Users with a desktop Learning Pack key get a free $3 store credit automatically. Your Learning Pack "short code" can be used in the promotion box during checkout as a $3 gift card. (That will get you anywhere from 1 to 3 songs.) If you don't know your short code (or got the Learning Pack before there was such a thing) use the retrieval page to learn it.

As a special bonus to forum regulars: if you (already!) have more than 50 posts, respond in this topic before Sept-15 and I'll PM you a promo code for another $10. (That's post count from this moment. Don't go spamming the board. :lol: )

Use with Synthesia 8.6
One unannounced feature in 8.6 is that metadata for all the launch songs has been pre-loaded (like the G Major songs). You'll find all the usual stuff: hand parts, titles, library grouping, finger hints, along with the new "named bookmarks" added in 8.6.

The official 8.6 release just went up, so go and download it!

Feedback, feedback, feedback...
As always, let me know your general impressions, confusions, suggestions, ideas, or if you spot anything out of the ordinary. There is a ton of new work here that no one has laid eyes on outside of myself. I'm positive there are still rough edges. I hope all of you will be patient and help me find some of them! :D

I'm also interested in passing along any feedback you have about the quality of the songs to my music guy. This project has been literal years in the making so it's very exciting to finally show others. Please let me know what you think!
User avatar
jimhenry
Posts: 1821

Post by jimhenry »

Nice start for something that I hope will become huge.

The lack of song previews is a pretty big shortcoming. Is that a technical issue or do you feel there is a legal obstacle? I am pretty confident that 30 seconds for the purpose of selling the song is an accepted fair use.

It would be good to add your best guess on the difficulty level. Beginner, intermediate, or advanced should be sufficient.

I imagine you already have the addition of user reviews, ratings, and assessment of difficulty on your to do list.

To kick off song suggestions, Lady Gaga's "Poker Face," not because I particularly want to learn it but because she does a very good solo piano version of the song.
Jim Henry
Author of the Miditzer, a free virtual theatre pipe organ
http://www.Miditzer.org/
Raymond
Posts: 528

Post by Raymond »

Yes, a preview would be really nice.

In the search box, when you press Enter it 'resets' your search. (it's nice that you don't have to, but some people always do)
Should have little arrows so I know what the songs is sorted by. (maybe lightly change color as well.)

On a song, the 'Made Famous By' I first thought you used the 'Buy at Amazon'... to buy it. (needs a note so people know that iTunes/Amazon does not work in Synthesia.)
Moving 'Add to cart' on top of 'Made Famous by', or some where around the cart button, might help.

Normally there is an option in the cart to remove songs. (I don't know that you need it, but it does feel like it's missing)

On 'Song Store Suggestion' missing link to go back to store, like on other pages.

Checkout, would be nice if there was a option to use forum account. Then we could see that we already own that song.
Checkout does not remember email/check-boxes.


I currently have 492 posts! Almost 10 times! :D
Nicholas
Posts: 12471

Post by Nicholas »

Already lots of good feedback, thanks! Two gift cards sent!
jimhenry wrote:The lack of song previews is a pretty big shortcoming.
I agree. It is probably my least favorite concession from this whole process. Regarding fair use, I have heard otherwise from a handful of sources.

The compulsory license lets you sell a thing, period. When you start talking about previews, lots of crazy stuff gets brought up: public performance licenses (from ASCAP, BMI, etc.) and streaming mechanical licenses at one cent per preview(!), which would quickly obliterate all revenue.
jimhenry wrote:It would be good to add your best guess on the difficulty level. Beginner, intermediate, or advanced should be sufficient.
This is actually really important. Because our goal has been quality and accuracy for the arrangements (vs. ease of playing) some of the songs are very challenging. In extreme cases, we decided to do two arrangements at different difficulties. For example, Canon Fantasy's pair of arrangements isn't the piano/accomp split like most of the others. Instead it's an accomp/easy split, which worked well because there weren't any vocals in the first place. We're using Lee Galloway's version, which gets really exciting around the 2:25 mark and that seemed a little too intense for someone just looking for Canon in D. His is a really nice arrangement of that piece though. That's why we went in the licensed direction vs. using the original public domain source material.
jimhenry wrote:I imagine you already have the addition of user reviews, ratings, and assessment of difficulty on your to do list.
Actually, I decided near the outset that I wouldn't mind foregoing those. That is, assuming a curated difficulty is listed. There is an interesting question of what a user would be reviewing: the source material or this particular arrangement. If the source material, there are a million other better venues for that elsewhere. For the arrangement, well, if you like the original my goal is to keep the quality of the arrangements so high across the board that it would be a foregone conclusion that you'd like the arrangement too.

Though I suppose I might describe that as a lofty goal. We'll see if I can make it there. :lol:

In any event, I want to get a better feel for consumer behavior before I start going down the path of more features. In typical Synthesia fashion, "effort" is my most constrained resource here. Any time spent adding reviewing to the store is time not spent on things like MusicXML support. I have to always be careful I'm using my limited resource in the most effective way.
jimhenry wrote:To kick off song suggestions, Lady Gaga's "Poker Face," not because I particularly want to learn it but because she does a very good solo piano version of the song.
Oh, do you mean this version? Did you use the suggestion box feature at the bottom of the store page? hehe. Regarding that page, I'm considering streamlining the questionnaire a bit with something early on along the lines of "Is it available in the US version of iTunes?". A "yes" to that question basically answers all the rest.

Still, this particular request does bring up an interesting question. A huge competitive advantage of Synthesia's is the ability to include background tracks (I will repeat: percussion is delicious :D ) but often piano solo versions are more appropriate for learning. I wonder if there is some happy medium. Without song previews it is hard to communicate exactly what a user will be getting for their purchase. I wonder if a full track/part listing for each arrangement isn't the brute-force answer?
Raymond wrote:In the search box, when you press Enter it 'resets' your search.
Nice find. I'll try to fix that.
Raymond wrote:Should have little arrows so I know what the songs is sorted by. (maybe lightly change color as well.)
The technology I'm using to sort supports both of those. Let me see what I can do.
Raymond wrote:On a song, the 'Made Famous By' I first thought you used the 'Buy at Amazon'... to buy it.
So, here was another one of my concessions. Those links on the side are a trick! Album art isn't something you normally just get to use. On a case-by-case basis I would have to contact each publisher and obtain permission to use it in a commercial context, each of which would promptly respond with a "no thanks". By also advertising the original songs on the same page, I am able to tap into the Amazon Associates program agreement which lets me use product images in-situ. The only catch is that the images have to be links to Amazon's store.

I was hoping to evoke an "off to the side" effect with the "Made Famous By" boxes. Though from your impressions it sounds like I didn't quite make it there. Hmm. If this is something echoed by more users, I'll have to make it more explicit.
Raymond wrote:Normally there is an option in the cart to remove songs.
This was an interesting experiment that I wanted to try. When I first sat down to design the store experience, I wanted to strip out every single non-essential step. (You'll notice you don't have to create an account or any of that usual nonsense.)

Because the Add/Remove buttons right on the front page of the store work so fluidly, I started imagining that as the cart page itself. You even get the subtotal and everything. When you actually click the cart button you're already in the checkout stage. It felt like I was able to skip another step that way, which I liked. We'll see if it's too jarring for others as well. If it feels strange the way it did to you, I might have to add something in there anyway.
Raymond wrote:On 'Song Store Suggestion' missing link to go back to store, like on other pages.
The "Nevermind, take me back to the song list!" at the bottom of the page takes you back. Should that be a more uniform "Back to store" link? I wanted the "Nevermind" word to emphasize that you might be losing your suggestion progress if you click it.
Raymond wrote:Checkout, would be nice if there was a option to use forum account. Then we could see that we already own that song.
I actually wanted to solve this in-game. I'm hoping to get the song store listing included there eventually. It would intersperse your own collection with the contents of the store. So your list of purchased/unpurchased would be available there (without the need of an account). Clicking the "Buy" link next to an unpurchased song would launch the store website.
Raymond wrote:Checkout does not remember email/check-boxes.
Did you find yourself needing to return to the song list after partially filling out the checkout form? I imagined that form as a sort of point of no return where you'd only need to fill it out once. Though it would be easy enough to remember both choices regardless. I think I'll do that.
Raymond
Posts: 528

Post by Raymond »

Nicholas wrote:... I was hoping to evoke an "off to the side" effect with the "Made Famous By" boxes. Though from your impressions it sounds like I didn't quite make it there. ...
I think mostly it is the placement of the 'Add to cart'. Most of the time it's on the right.
Nicholas wrote:This was an interesting experiment that I wanted to try. When I first sat down to design the store experience, I wanted to strip out every single non-essential step. (You'll notice you don't have to create an account or any of that usual nonsense... When you actually click the cart button you're already in the checkout stage. It felt like I was able to skip another step that way, which I liked.
I like how 'simple' the whole process is. it just kind of felt like it was missing.
Nicholas wrote:The "Nevermind, take me back to the song list!" at the bottom of the page takes you back. Should that be a more uniform "Back to store" link? I wanted the "Nevermind" word to emphasize that you might be losing your suggestion progress if you click it.
Ya, I saw that. It just seems like back('Songs list'/'Music store') should be in a consistent place. I think of it like a close button on windows. You always know where it is, you don't have to go searching for it.
Nicholas wrote:I actually wanted to solve this in-game. I'm hoping to get the song store listing included there eventually. It would intersperse your own collection with the contents of the store. So your list of purchased/unpurchased would be available there (without the need of an account). Clicking the "Buy" link next to an unpurchased song would launch the store website.
I like the idea of it in-game.
But then once you are on the store website you may want to buy some other songs.(since your there already) So you go to the store main page, and you can't see what ones you own.
Nicholas wrote:Did you find yourself needing to return to the song list after partially filling out the checkout form? I imagined that form as a sort of point of no return where you'd only need to fill it out once. Though it would be easy enough to remember both choices regardless. I think I'll do that.
The problem is, changing whats in your cart. You have to go back to add/remove a song(s) witch resets it.

Maybe you could rename the cart button to 'Checkout'. Like the cart page is already called. Then have the main page be the cart.
BUT.. that will only work with a few songs on the store. Once you have 100s of songs, you are not going to be able to see them all to know if it's in your cart or not. (until you go to checkout)
revilo2
Posts: 115

Post by revilo2 »

Is there fingering on every song ?
Raymond
Posts: 528

Post by Raymond »

Yes I believe so. (ones I tried do.)
User avatar
jimhenry
Posts: 1821

Post by jimhenry »

Nicholas wrote:
jimhenry wrote:The lack of song previews is a pretty big shortcoming.
I agree. It is probably my least favorite concession from this whole process. Regarding fair use, I have heard otherwise from a handful of sources.
Props for your legal research. I am surprised, and I am not surprised. Another example of copyright law going in a counterproductive direction based on the efforts of the copyright cartels.
Nicholas wrote:
jimhenry wrote:To kick off song suggestions, Lady Gaga's "Poker Face," not because I particularly want to learn it but because she does a very good solo piano version of the song.
Oh, do you mean this version?
I think I was thinking of a similar video shot in a British radio station session. Love what Lady Gaga did with her right foot! (Not asking for Synthesia foot hints though.) Anyone who thinks Lady Gaga is not a genuinely talented musician needs to see one of her solo efforts. However, viewing it again, I can see the whole performance hinges on the vocal, so not a good suggestion for the Synthesia song store.
Jim Henry
Author of the Miditzer, a free virtual theatre pipe organ
http://www.Miditzer.org/
Nicholas
Posts: 12471

Post by Nicholas »

revilo2 wrote:Is there fingering on every song?
Yes. (And split hands, section names, etc.)
jimhenry wrote:Love what Lady Gaga did with her right foot! (Not asking for Synthesia foot hints though.)
I had noticed that. I can picture that conversation with my music guy. It would be funny to see him add a bunch of mashed keys in a background track. It would also be funny to see user's reactions from people that hadn't seen the video. :lol:
davel
Posts: 19

Post by davel »

I am not sure why you did not provide the song name and artist on the list. Once the list grows with multiple copies of the artist this will be annoying.

Dave
User avatar
jimhenry
Posts: 1821

Post by jimhenry »

It might be a good idea to find a few PD titles that can be included as free downloads from the store to demonstrate the quality of the MIDI files since previews are a problem. "House of the Rising Sun" comes to mind as a still popular song that is PD. I'm sure there are many more possibilities if we think a bit. Here's a site that presents a number of "popular" PD songs--for example, while it is unlikely most people have ever heard of them, there are some really good blues songs with piano accompaniment: http://publicdomain4u.com/ . And here is a site that sells books listing PD materials--for example "Rockin' Robin" is PD according to one of their books: http://www.thepublicdomainsite.com/book ... er_renewed .
Jim Henry
Author of the Miditzer, a free virtual theatre pipe organ
http://www.Miditzer.org/
proxima
Posts: 9

Post by proxima »

Very nice!

Two questions:

1.) What happened to the video game music that used to be distributed with Synthesia? I haven't seen it in a few versions in the Mac version, and I'm starting to think I last noticed them on a PC.

2.) I'd be curious about how the licensing process went for you and what obstacles you overcame - perhaps a forum post (maybe I missed one?). In any case, it's a great resource to be able to obtain music well-designed for Synthesia and which handles royalties properly. Thanks!
kiwi
Synthesia Donor
Posts: 1178

Post by kiwi »

quote from Nicholas:
Full Arrangements: Any song in the store that originally featured instruments beyond piano will have them. Percussion is delicious. Every time my music guy delivers a finished product, I can't wait to play it and hear the beat. That is what all the MIDI songs in all the videos and other sites are always missing. :D

I always think it when i come to youtube and often bad tracks aren't muted and instruments not fit well...
I always think too : hey why i not make a tuto this song is really good to learn! But for copyright reason i can't...
dannac
Posts: 75

Post by dannac »

Nicholas ... thanks for the Music Store ... and of course the gift card idea.
Nicholas
Posts: 12471

Post by Nicholas »

davel wrote:I am not sure why you did not provide the song name and artist on the list. Once the list grows with multiple copies of the artist this will be annoying.
I don't think I understand what you mean. Do you mean on the store page or inside Synthesia? Where isn't the song name shown?
jimhenry wrote:It might be a good idea to find a few PD titles that can be included as free downloads...
This is a really good idea. I suspect there will eventually be a store section in the FAQ that describes why we can't have nice things. That would be another good place to list these sorts of "free samples".

I just grabbed that book. It's a little pricey for what is effectively free information, but 50's and 60's music is probably better than 20's in terms of creating a representative sample of the other arrangements in the store... and I don't have the time to do the research myself. When it arrives, I'll see if there is anything suitable in there with a strong piano part.
proxima wrote:What happened to the video game music that used to be distributed with Synthesia?
I removed it from the distribution years ago. When I learned that what I'd been considering a "legal gray area" really just meant the songs were being used illegally, it was an easy decision to remove them. I'm actually really excited to be able to bring that sort of music back in a completely-licensed capacity. (My original reason for creating Synthesia was to learn how to play my favorite videogame music!)
proxima wrote:I'd be curious about how the licensing process went for you and what obstacles you overcame - perhaps a forum post (maybe I missed one?).
I could see doing something like that when I had a little free time some day. Though I'm not sure I'd consider myself an authority on the subject. During all my research I had a pretty laser-focused view of how things applied very specifically to Synthesia. It would take a tremendous effort to give a good general overview on the topic. For example: this $240 book takes 1800 pages to give that overview. :lol: I used that particular tome as the foundation of most of my research. Each time I learned something there, I was pleasantly surprised to find most other legal sites online agreeing with it.

The incredibly short version of the story for Synthesia: use Limelight for mechanical licenses that can be used in the United States only with no additional features like song previews. Including anything in the game itself is strictly forbidden. Using album art requires the workaround I mentioned above.
User avatar
jimhenry
Posts: 1821

Post by jimhenry »

Nicholas wrote:It's a little pricey for what is effectively free information, but 50's and 60's music is probably better than 20's in terms of creating a representative sample of the other arrangements in the store... and I don't have the time to do the research myself. When it arrives, I'll see if there is anything suitable in there with a strong piano part.
Hope it proves to be worth the price. I must admit, I'd have no idea where to start looking for "recent" songs that had failed to renew their copyrights and were thus PD. If you manage to find a few good songs and give away 10,000 copies, then the book is effectively a penny per download "license", which is a pretty good deal for complete songs that you can use as advertisements.
Jim Henry
Author of the Miditzer, a free virtual theatre pipe organ
http://www.Miditzer.org/
Nicholas
Posts: 12471

Post by Nicholas »

10,000 is probably pretty conservative. I track around 3k downloads of the desktop app each day. If they're being given away for free and they're songs that people recognize, I could imagine close to that number being sent out each day, too. Assuming the book includes even a single good find, it (and the MIDI arranging cost) will easily pay for itself a dozen times over in the store-related confidence the free content will instill in users.

We'll see. Still a great idea either way, hehe.
User avatar
jimhenry
Posts: 1821

Post by jimhenry »

OK, if you come up with a good free song based on my suggestion, I'll be expecting a complimentary copy. :lol:
Jim Henry
Author of the Miditzer, a free virtual theatre pipe organ
http://www.Miditzer.org/
proxima
Posts: 9

Post by proxima »

I removed it from the distribution years ago. When I learned that what I'd been considering a "legal gray area" really just meant the songs were being used illegally, it was an easy decision to remove them. I'm actually really excited to be able to bring that sort of music back in a completely-licensed capacity. (My original reason for creating Synthesia was to learn how to play my favorite videogame music!)
I look forward to seeing some of this music on the store. I already bought a few songs and will happily buy more.
The incredibly short version of the story for Synthesia: use Limelight for mechanical licenses that can be used in the United States only with no additional features like song previews. Including anything in the game itself is strictly forbidden. Using album art requires the workaround I mentioned above.
Ah, I've read about them. It sounds like a pretty nice service, and I hadn't thought of MIDI music as a "cover".
User avatar
jimhenry
Posts: 1821

Post by jimhenry »

proxima wrote:I hadn't thought of MIDI music as a "cover".
"Cover" for the purpose of U.S. compulsory licensing means sort of as already recorded by the original artist. That probably is stretching it a bit when you are talking about only the instrumental part, but as long as it is close enough to the original to not be considered an actual rearrangement of the song, it is a cover for licensing purposes.

The bigger problem for MIDI files was that music publishers didn't want to consider them as sound recordings. The U.S. Registrar of Copyrights stepped in and said that she thought that MIDI files were like piano rolls (was she looking at Synthesia? ;) ) and that it was already settled that piano rolls were sound recordings for the purpose of compulsory licenses and MIDI files should be too. Her pronouncements don't have the weight of law but they are highly persuasive if a case was ever to be taken to court. I can't imagine the music publishers wanting to try to persuade a judge that he should make a ruling that he knows more about copyrights than the U.S. Registrar of Copyrights. Besides, the compulsory licensing revenues aren't that bad. They are about 1/3 more than what large users are able to negotiate and it provides a system where small users can get licenses and pay royalties without much effort required by the publishers.

The history of compulsory licenses is sort of interesting because it is a product of an era where covers were a much more important part of the music industry. Up until about the mid-60s popular songs were not as closely identified with a single artist as they are today. A great deal of the popular music was written by composers and lyricists who worked for the music publishers who then found an artist to make the original recording. If the song was at all good, other artists would release covers shortly thereafter. It was not at all uncommon to be able to walk into a record store and have your choice of several different versions of a current song by different artists. For example, you would have your choice of "Tutti Frutti" by Little Richard or Pat Boone. (Look for examples of covers by Pat Boone to see just how watered down some covers were. :o ) If you want to study the history of pop music and the origins of rock and roll, covers play a big part in it. And compulsory licensing under U.S. copyright law plays a big part in the widespread availability of cover versions. If the U.S. lawmakers hadn't decided that it would be a bad thing to allow music publishers to control who could record a song after the publishers authorized the first recording, popular music would not have evolved the way it did. The ease of licensing cover versions contributed to widespread cross-pollination of musical genres and musical audiences. Of course, some of the most significant covers were done without licenses, but that is an entirely different matter. (Look for any number of points of view on Led Zepplin's covers and their licensing or lack thereof.)
Jim Henry
Author of the Miditzer, a free virtual theatre pipe organ
http://www.Miditzer.org/
Locked