We’re thrilled to bring you our latest Q&A session with Chris Anderson, one of our co-founders.
Watch the video or read the transcript below as Chris shares his insights about Hooktheory’s journey. As always, feel free to submit your questions for upcoming videos by sending us an email at email@example.com
What are your different roles in the company, and how do you decide who does what?
This is a good question. If there was a spreadsheet of a particular problem, we could sort of determine who would tackle it first. For instance, Ryan is the person who deals with anything related to deep music theory stuff or voicing, instruments, all the performance stuff in Hookpad, and all the theory stuff in Hookpad. He also leads our machine learning, AI efforts for Magic Chord, and future stuff, that goes to Ryan.
Things that Dave tends to do are often the behind-the-scenes gluing of things together. He authored a lot of the content in the book, the actual written words.
With Hookpad, Dave did a ton of the code that deals with what happens when you interact with the score. When you change a note or move a chord, there’s so much code that goes on behind the scenes that Dave has dealt with. He has the full-stack capability to build a user interface feature in Hookpad or Chord Crush and connect it out to our API and build an endpoint there. Dave also handles a lot of our customer support and manages the team that does that as well.
Ryan manages our marketing lead, Jenna, who does all of our marketing, social media, and a lot of creative content.
I tend to view myself as the person who empathizes with the customer the most. I think a lot about the experience that people have using our products and how that ties into the design, the way they look and feel, and the interfaces.
Over the years, I’ve done a lot of website design and coding of it. I’ve also made a lot of the fundamental design decisions about how our products and services are organized from a code perspective. This includes our API, all of our web services, and the core architecture of our products. If there’s ever a question about what something should look like or what the experience should be like, I’m the one who would tackle that.
Those are roughly the guidelines for our different roles, but we all crisscross a lot of different things. We’re all engineers, and we’ve built everything ourselves. Hopefully, that gives you an answer.
At what point did you realize you had a marketable idea, and what were some doubts or struggles you had around launch?
Wow. So this is interesting. Well, a marketable idea — this is one of these things. It’s like, how do you know someone will pay you for something that you’ve created?
I guess I would say that I was sort of, in a way, I’ve said this publicly before that I almost feel like I was the first Hooktheory customer, even though I also helped create Hooktheory. I was sold on the possibility of what Hooktheory could enable for the hobby musician – this idea of getting this superpower of understanding how music really works, how chords go together and don’t go together, and how melody fits together with the chords. This vision, I started learning about it years before Hooktheory ever even existed, just from Ryan because he was one of my best friends.
And so, I still remember when Dave and Ryan first started working on the very, very early concept of the musical notation that is now our Hooktheory music notation with the rectangles and the colors. I was over at their house one night, and they were up in Ryan’s room working on it. At that moment, I thought I just immediately saw the connection between this information that Ryan had been teaching me for the past few years, not formally, but just casually, we’d hang out or whatever, and I’d have my guitar, and we’d talk about it. Then I saw these colors and these rectangles, and it was really crude at that point. I mean, it was like Dave drawing some rectangles in PowerPoint, and Dave is the worst with graphics of the three of us.
But I immediately was like, oh, if this looked like Guitar Hero, which this was like 2009 or 2008 or something, and it has Ryan’s brain and teaching behind it, this is going to stick. And so, I always believed very early on that if we could execute, that we’d really have something.
So, that was really, really early days. So, I think that answers that question.
Were there doubts or struggles around launch? Yeah, we’ve done everything probably kind of wrong in terms of how to launch a company. I mean, we didn’t have a launch plan or a marketing plan or a deadline or any PR or any of that.
I mean, we just bought the domain, and we started putting what we created, and Ryan talked about the class that we did and the very beginnings of what is now Hookpad. Back then, we called it DNA, as we had this idea that it was the building blocks of the song. So, we called it DNA – that was our internal name for everything.
And we had this thing called DNA Live, which was our internal tool for building the examples, which we now call TheoryTabs. But we put that online, and it was in Flash and was pretty janky. But people found it and started using it, and so there was no real launch, so there weren’t that many doubts.
I always felt it would take years and years for this to be a slow growth thing, and that is kind of how it’s played out. So, next question.
Great job with Hooktheory 1 and 2. Is there a Book 3 on the horizon?
There’s not a book 3 on the horizon right now.
We actually, over the past two years or so, have been experimenting with more of an interactive version of the first book. Dave worked on this for a while. It sort of hit a dead end. But some of the technology we built for that ended up getting repurposed into Chord Crush.
So, in Chord Crush, our ear training app, this idea of being able to drag a chord into a progression that’s missing chords, and you could fill it in, that interface got created for this other thing, and then we put it in Chord Crush. So, maybe there’s a book 3, but I don’t know.
I think it would be different; as far as theory concepts, I think we’ve really done what we wanted to do all the way through book 2 because we do some pretty advanced stuff there.
So, any other educational book-type of thing would probably be more of a richer, interactive experience of learning and creating as you go.
Will there be an app for Chord Crush?
Yes, there will be an app for Chord Crush.
Chord Crush was always built with the intention of being an app. However, all of our products are initially built using web technology, and we later package them as apps. That’s going to happen soon, and it’s really close on our roadmap.
We had to get some things working, such as in-app purchasing and other features that we’ve already rolled out in other products. For example, our books will now have some of those capabilities. So, that’s on the six-month horizon.
What is the process of going through the feature suggestions on the forum, and how do you evaluate what to implement?
In a perfect world, we would take every suggestion and compile them into a document. Then, we would decide which ones we think are the most important to execute and prioritize those. We used to do that, but these days, we’ve reached a point where we spend most of our time executing on the things we’re excited about working on. These tend to be more visionary, such as developing new products or adding big core capabilities to existing ones that we had in mind. We also fix any significant bugs or issues with Hookpad.
We do hear all the feature suggestions, and many of them end up making it into our products. However, we recognize that we’re not the best at maintaining a public list of the suggestions that we have on our roadmap versus the ones that we don’t. This is something we’re trying to improve upon, and it’s valuable feedback for us to receive.
It seems like there are a lot of small enhancements with huge value that don’t even have comments from developers or administrators.
I admit that this is probably the case, and it’s an area where we need to improve.
To the person who wrote this question, if there are certain things that you feel we’ve missed, please be vocal and let us know.
The next question is about Hooktheory Classroom. This is our education product for teachers. Typically, middle school and high school teachers, as well as some colleges, use it. It’s a layer that allows them to integrate all of our Hooktheory products into a classroom environment.
I am hoping to use the Hooktheory Classroom next year for my high school theory class and have a few questions. I like to assign projects for my students that begin with a prompt or template that I post on Google Classroom with a link to a website. Can this be done in Classroom?
That’s reasonable. Whoever asked this should reach out to support at Hooktheory, and we can try to have a longer discussion about this. I don’t know if you’re trying to get a permalink to an assignment in Hooktheory Classroom from Google Classroom or exactly what you’re trying to do.
Is there a forum specifically for teachers on music theory?
As far as we know, there isn’t one.
If you could give one songwriting tip, what would it be?
This is a good question. My songwriting tip is to try not to rely on just four chords that are all four beats long, which is the classic pattern in today’s pop music. Instead, consider changing chords more frequently. For example, if you listen to most Beatles songs or songs from different decades, you’ll notice they change chords quite often, typically every two beats or even less.
It’s fun to experiment with fast melodies accompanied by slow-changing chords or chords that change more quickly with slower, rollercoaster-like melodies where each note can last a little longer.
Additionally, consider starting verses or choruses, not on the home base chord. I often really love doing this. The four and six chords are good ones to start with. Sometimes, you can even start with the five chord as the first chord when you’re in a major key.
Although some might advise against it, starting with the five chord gives you access to the other chords, and you’ll find that you end up being in what’s technically called a different mode. But who cares? It allows you to explore sonically a little differently than you might, and you can start from a different spot.