Make Learning How to Play Piano Fun and Easy for Everyone.
Chris Vance is the CEO and Founder of Playground Sessions.
Playground Sessions is a passionate group of musicians who believe that, with the help of technology, can share the joy of playing music with the world. Their team is dedicated to building a product that's dynamic, easy to use, and fun. And with their innovative technology and musical expertise, they hope to get you practicing and playing as effortlessly as possible.
Learn more about how Playground Sessions can teach you how to play piano by listening to this episode of The Thoughtful Entrepreneur above and don’t forget to subscribe on Apple Podcasts – Stitcher – Spotify –Google Play –Castbox – TuneIn – RSS.
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Welcome to The Thoughtful Entrepreneur Show. I'm Josh Elledge, founder and CEO of UpMyInfluence.com. We turn entrepreneurs into media celebrities, grow their authority, and help them build partnerships with top influencers. We believe that every person has a unique message that can positively impact the world. stick around to the end of the show, where I'll reveal how you can be our next guest on one of the fastest growing daily inspiration podcasts on the planet in 15 to 20 minutes. Let's go.
With us right now we've got Chris Vance. Chris, you are the CEO and Founder of Playground Sessions. And, you know, for someone who doesn't know what Playground Sessions is, I'm going to have you go on the web right now and check this out. Very, very cool. You are at playgroundsessions.com and I could say that you help people play the piano. Yeah, no, but I'm sure you have a much better tagline or mission statement than I do.
Well, yeah, we'll take that and may help people, you know, we're definitely transforming the future in the way people are, you know, learning how to play music. We began with the piano, and we'll look to expand the guitar and other instruments. But yeah, I mean, help people's great, you know, we're trying to solve a problem nine out of 10 instruments today, right or purchased or and under the bed or in the closet within 30 days, which is crazy, right? And nine out of 10 people raise their hand and say, I would love to do this. So you know, there's a big problem out there that we're working hard to solve and certainly getting a lot of traction. So I
see that Harry Connick Jr. is on here. Quincy Jones is involved. How do you how do you get connected with legends like that?
Well, we got lucky, you know, Quincy Jones actually reached out to us you know, Quincy, what? Yeah, the music man himself. That was that was that was quite quite a moment in time. I have fond memories of That day and telling all the musicians on the team that Quincy Jones one Gosh, no, Quincy Quincy believes, you know, in the power of music, as you would imagine. He likes to talk about the last two things on Earth. They're going to be water and music. And he was familiar with, like Rosetta Stone and these language learning programs. And unlike unlike some people, you know, Quincy strongly believes that the universal language is music. So he wanted to know, where's the Rosetta Stone, you know, for music and, and somebody on his team had had read about the startup company out in New York City Playground Sessions and Q said he'd love to meet with the team and, and everything kind of went from there. And then and then Quincy reached out to Harry Connick, uh, the former CEO of Guitar Center, who's friends with Keith Urban's manager reached out to Harry Connick, so we were able to get to Harry Connick, which has been which has just been an awesome partnership as well.
Alright, so there's someone that I'm sure is listening to us. That that says, oh, okay, that's why he's successful. He's just lucky. But it takes more than luck to get Quincy Jones attention. You really have to have a polished brand, a polished product, because I'm sure he probably looked at other apps. And he did his own due diligence before he picked up the call takes a lot of groundwork to establish your authority, which will gain the confidence and lead to opportunities Am I kind of it does that kind of I mean, that's, that's my, you know, kind of study that opinion on the subject is how does that match with your experience of all that went down?
That's exactly right. I remember when I got the call from from quincies team and I was totally you know, Quincy wants to meet with you. I my expectation was I would get a walk in and sit down with the man himself and doesn't quite work like that, you know, through me what is making sure me with an agent and they were just kind of making sure you know, check Me Out checking their people out on the team really wanted to understand that understand the program before you know we got it from Quincy and only only just because Quincy is about as busy man is that as any individual So I think, you know it comes down to especially with Quincy we were show early on you know we just had a prototype built that Quincy kind of understood the importance of kind of using video game elements, right and technology to make make learning much more accessible. Again, he'll he'll talk about it and get more people playing, playing music. There'll be there'll be a you know, fewer wars in the world. So he he's really, you know, to extend themselves, but certainly you have to have a great product, and most importantly, a very strong team that he believes in and trust, right for his willingness to you know, put himself out there in a way that it did.
So explain how the program works and how it's different from maybe something I something else I might find. In the App Store, whatever,
I think I think you know, Playground has done a really good job focused on focusing on quality, right, in every aspect of the program. So, you know, back to what is it? What is the one one of the major issues that teachers have. And that's not being able to be with students for more than like, an hour a week. Okay, so you paid a lot of attention, what is good about teachers when you are with them during that during that hour, and a lot of that comes down to like the instant feedback you're getting. So one of the great powers of the technology platform is our interactive and instant feedback. So if you play a note, right, it's going to turn green, if it's wrong, it's red, you're going to get a score at the end of it, all of your scores are going to be visualized, you know, and easy to read charts over time and stuff like that. So you always know where you are. You always know where you're going. But the other thing is that we didn't want to use kind of like beef, be gotten salt forgotten songs, or like, you know, Twinkle twinkle little star, we wanted to make the learning really engaged and contextual. So like we have an iTunes like store right in the app. We arrange songs at all different levels. So if somebody starting off from day one they're interested in, in jazz, they can learn something from Duke Ellington, if they love Rhianna or if they love Mozart, Chris Martin or, or things like that. So it's really contextualized learning, we wanted people to start playing, and then allow the theory when their minds most open to it, to give it to them versus to teach them all the rules before they started to play.
Now, so Chris, if I'm an absolute noob, like, I can play you know, chopsticks I can play here we go around the mulberry bush. Those are like the two songs that I've got down. I've got those down cold. Yeah, but everything else like then, you know, it would actually be pretty nice to be able to play like, Can I is this Do I need to work with a piano teacher before a goof around with with Playground Sessions
or absolutely so although we of course embrace you know, piano teachers and the program could be used as a supplemental tool.
Playground Sessions was built, you know, for people who have never played or kind of played and been away for a long time. They can use it at home on their own. All they need is a you know, portable keyboard or digital piano tablet and we'll kind of walk them through one step at a time. You know, as you said Harry Connick Jr. So Harry Connick Jr. Right. This guy is amazing, supportive, fun, breaks the piano down. We also have David sides who is a great he's a YouTube star and is about as good of a teacher as you're going to find with Phil Anderson is another teacher of our so we have video on demand video content, great teachers that are going to be there, you know, you know, every step of the way with you. So it's definitely designed to be used at home and when you think about as an entrepreneur, here's, here's where people will call it luck, but it's not but it certainly comes in one of the hardest things to do as an entrepreneur is to get these trends Right. Right. Where is the world going right? And we definitely called it so when you think about self service learning, virtual learning at home learning, do it yourself learning. I mean, Pearson just came out with a big report that's showing now the 42% of people, when they're starting new jobs are self training, right? So we definitely have called it where people are looking to skill build, right? Do things for themselves better themselves at home, they don't always have the luxury, right or the money to find a private teacher. So I think that's, that's what makes us special. It's really a step by step guidance system that's going to get you playing with no additional help. If you don't have it. You know, so I'm looking through, you have a song library and so you've got over 1000 songs in here. And these are, these are all the popular songs that if you could play these songs, you would be very popular at a party.
So get this the Jurassic Park theme You've got Imagine John Lennon, Game of Thrones main theme. You've got songs from Moana, Willie Nelson. some odd, you know, a lot of other Disney songs here. Bohemian Rhapsody a lot of classic rock songs. Here's Frank Sinatra, Frozen. Yeah, no, no, it would be really cool to play some of these songs.
Yeah. And well, you know, it's, it's I like hearing that, you know, my team is working really hard to arrange the songs and make sure they're there. It's appropriate level for everybody. But yeah, we have, we have great songs and you know, that that spanned all genres and what what's fun about, you know, learning to play an instrument is, you know, you talked about the two songs you knew, but I can see you had this big smile on your face because they're meaningful to you. Right. And I think another thing that distinguishes playground, from things other things on the market is we're super happy if somebody has just learned one song, and if they want to run with that song the rest of their lives because we know we've improved their lives, right? But we also want to give them the tools, we want to give them the ability, if they want to go beyond one song or two songs and learn how to read music, learn how to play by ear, learn how to do composition and stuff. So I think that that's one of the best things about playground is we don't want to devalue music. We're not too heavy on like the gaming elements, we use gaming elements, just as it helps you progress, right and have fun and stay engaged. But there's something special about music. When somebody looks at somebody who's playing an instrument, they're like, they just want to be that person. And I think there's nothing more powerful for brand than when somebody says, How did you learn how to do that? Right? And play is playground session. So it's still definitely about learning and giving the skills so you'll be able to go through that song library and, you know, jump into lots of different stuff, lots of different areas and genres.
So Chris, are you a coder or how did you put this all together?
Yeah, no, so definitely, definitely not a coder. Although I like cheese, the team that I'd like to kind of do some code review. No, I just you know, I came up as a, you know, marketing and business guy. I certainly have a love for brand building spent, you know, got my MBA, Kellogg spent several years at Procter and Gamble. And yeah, I just I view myself as a, you know, a regular consumer, right, that's fortunate enough to, you know, to been able to build his career and focus his career in a place where I can, you know, get into people's living rooms and try to make their lives better. Definitely on the marketing side and brand building side more so than on the tech development side.
Yeah, so and you also work with zag which is a I guess it's I see her a brand new invention company and looks like you're involved in key tequila, what what were some other either failures or successes that you had in product development prior to Playground Sessions?
Well, yeah, so so like, when I when I left Procter and Gamble, I was I was hired by BBH big global advertising company right? To run its brand invention division of a company called zag. So I had the greatest job in the world I was, you know, been able to bring my entrepreneurial spirit to a company where I can tap into great resources BBH recognize that their their greatest resource as an agency was its people. And they were they were really, you know, playing a gigantic role in the, in the brand building process for big companies from Levi's, to Audi to Google, right. So they wanted to know, and if they can build their own brand, so I was kind of hired, you know, to run that division and so I could basically launch any product that I felt like the world needed and I chose playground sessions, right that was kind of my lead horse but one of the one of the one of the failures, if you want to call it that is a company or an idea that we had to launch a video game for pets, right and where you can kind of like race against your dog and stuff like that. So that was a you know, there's a lot of for for pets and things like that and You know, when you go to work, or you leave for the weekend and your pets are at home, so it's like, not a good time for those pets. And we were trying to solve that problem. That was a bit ambitious, I think.
Yeah, yeah. So what are your main goals over the next 12 to 24 months for Playground Sessions?
I think, you know, we're about to roll out a new tech platform called, you know, playground 3.0, which is, which is great. It's been a lot of, you know, hard work over the last 18, basically, two years, it's going to allow us to be on on phones on Android, it's going to really just open up so many more digital tools that are now available. It's one of the great things about technology is things continue to continue to evolve. So a lot of things you're kind of programming from scratch. Other times you're looking at what's been what's out there and open source and or just how the standards have changed and, you know, on browsers and things like that. So we're excited about that. We're really looking forward to do more and more, with Harry Connick Jr. In terms of just gaining awareness of the product, he's done a wonderful job now a teaching lessons, you know, from the first lessons how to break the piano down to more stuff in terms of improvisation, and and skills. But I think over the next 12 to 18 months, your focus remains, you know, on on the on the user experience, what are we hearing? In terms of the new content? We're putting out? What are we hearing, in terms of the new platform, I think if you, if you stay focused, right on the user experience, I think you're going to put yourself in a good position to continue to build your brand. And
so just so the pricing on Playground Sessions, I'm on the pricing page. And of course, this can always change depending on when you're listening to this, but it's as inexpensive as 10 bucks a month. And, you know, I'm kind of going through what's included. So you've got a music theory Bootcamp, where you've got hours of video tutorials, got hundreds of interactive lessons, rookie intermediate advanced levels. And then I think what's really cool Of course, this is as you would imagine, is very heavily gamified. Right?
It's game if I wouldn't, I wouldn't use the word.
Unlock stuff. Yeah.
Right. Yeah. Yeah, I always, yeah, that that definitely falls within the world of gamification. But yeah, you can also unlock horses. So like, as you're progressing, right, you're, you've kind of built some certain skill so that we're give you you know, a whole new course maybe it's working on practicing with both hands or playing, you know, some chords and some things like that. So, yeah, I guess there, you know, the team, the team keeps surprising, even me in terms of, you know, what we're able to do to keep people coming back and retaining the coffee, getting them to progress.
And what's your favorite song to play at this point? Gosh, you play. If you didn't play the piano, Chris, this would be a little embarrassing. So I was making an assumption there.
No, no, it's a good it's a great assumption and something I believe strongly and i think i think the when you look at a lot of what entrepreneurs do, because it's such hard work, right? Yeah. It takes a lot, um, is I have a passion You know, I I always wanted to play the piano I'm one of these people that that had tried and failed and and so I now I went I was kind of like playground sessions first user. I mean when we first showed the prototype to Quincy Jones my my whole music team is like you can't sit down Quincy Jones you can't play I'm like, that's what this is all about. I was laughing and stuff like that. I think that's kind of what sold them on us. And now you know, I have a you know, grand piano in my apartment I play every single day and I just can't imagine my life without it. So I've certainly have learned and progressed and it's a huge part of my life. And in fact, I I you know, I play all different types of songs. But my favorite thing to do now is just to kind of sit down and improvise and just get out you know, of my mind or heart You know, that day and it's not necessarily always in the in the context of a song that somebody may recognize. But most people at this point, especially my, my friends and team will know when it's me on the piano, that's the cool thing about instruments, right? You do develop your own voice,
and so you're busy. I'm busy. You know, I You know, most people that are listening to this program again, we're we're all out there doing our thing. And our schedules are maxed out. Howdy, how do you do you schedule yourself time? Or how do you make that commitment to, to learn?
Yeah, so you know what, you know, we now do live lessons, which is cool. And I was kind of tuned in this past Saturday to one of our live lessons. And so it's funny you asked that question. And I think, you know, Phil Anderson, who was doing the live lessons from our team was talking about, you know, the importance of kind of planning, you know, your practice, right, even if it's 20 minutes, and having a neat environment and stuff like that. So, I think I think, you know, for us it, it just comes down. It's amazing. If you even just play, you know, five minutes a day, 10 minutes a day or 20 minutes every other day, if you if you sit down and play and enjoy what you're doing. You're going to you're going to progress. You know, I'm very fortunate, you know that my passion for the piano ties into my everyday job. I don't play in the office, right? Don't do that, you know, I try to lead and be a good team member and stuff like that. But when I'm home, my piano probably, you know, I would say 15 to 30 minutes a day yet some fun. Yeah,
that's great. Great. Well, Chris Vance, I want to thank you so much for joining us. You are a co founder, tech entrepreneur, brand creator brand marketer. Most importantly, you are the Founder and CEO of Playground Sessions on the web at playgroundsessions.com. Chris, thank you so much for joining us. Thanks, Josh. I appreciate it, man.
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