Imagine using your computer keyboard and mouse to write music and play the sounds of a piano, guitar or nearly a dozen or other instruments.
Now imagine doing that with eight to ten of your friends online as you play in a virtual band and everyone you know rates your performance.
Darin Cook can. And the CEO of Infinite Energy is betting enough other people will buy into the idea to create a profitable business.
Cook has started a new company called Infinite Music, which has developed software that combines elements of games like Guitar Hero with music instruction, composition and social networking to produce a hybrid musical experience that he believes will have wide appeal.
“There are so many neat possibilities,” Cook says. “You can learn to play music even if you’ve never had a lesson. You could use the program to create your own ringtones. You could take it into a game like Second Life and have a virtual band and get paid real money. It even has looping possibilities for DJs and musicians.”
How It Works
Cook believes the program, which is going by the working title of KnowNote , will have wide appeal because it opens up the world of music to anyone with a basic computer, a keyboard and mouse. To play a simple song, for example, you log onto the knownote.net website, choose one of the popular songs that are available and pick the instrument you want to play.
When the rhythm and harmony start, letters will scroll down the screen. Each letter represents a note. For example, a “W” might be a B-flat. As each letter reaches the bottom of the computer screen, you press the corresponding key to play it. When you do, your computer sounds the note assigned to that key.
Like Guitar Hero, a counter tracks whether you’re playing the right notes at the right time and gives you a score. But KnowNote is more than just a game.
The software also has tools that allow you to compose music and record your voice. And you can invite others into a virtual studio to play along or create their own tracks. That means KnowNote could be used by everyone from gamers to experienced musicians, says Kyle Redon, one of the programmers working on the project. “You can do serious composing,” he says. “We’re talking a real studio session, where people work collaboratively and interact but it’s all taking place in the ‘cloud.’”
Another distinctive feature of KnowNote is its social media components. Players can voice-chat while they’re playing and friends can follow a performance online, comment on it and rate the players.
“I think it’s really unique,” says software architect Jeb Beich, “It opens up the creation and enjoyment of music to a large audience, and unifies many music and social media ideas in ways nobody else has done before. This is ultra-cutting edge stuff.”
Years in the Making
The core concepts for KnowNote came from Cook, who plays several instruments. For three or four years he had been thinking about ways to make music accessible to people who had never learned to read sheet music or play an instrument. But he wanted his solution to be distinctive—and profitable.
“I had the idea to use typing on a keyboard to create music but it wasn’t compelling enough to invest in,” he says. “Then I had the idea to replace sheet music, which is archaic, with letters on a computer screen. That wasn’t compelling. What made it all compelling was adding the social aspect.”
Once the ideas gelled, Cook raised enough funding to support the project for two years. Actual programming started in February 2010 and KnowNote began beta testing in April.
While testing and program tweaks are going on, Cook says he is negotiating with the three major music companies to get rights to the top 20 songs from each year so he can develop a music library for KnowNote users to play.
Cook is still working on a financial model for the product but he says Infinite Music will probably offer the basic version of KnowNote for free then sell versions with more advanced features. He hopes it will be making a profit within six months of the official launch.
He has no preconceived ideas of how the program will evolve, saying users will help decide.
At the end of the day, what’s really important is helping more people enjoy music.
“There are a lot of closet guitar players who want to play real music but don’t know how,” Cook says. “This gives then a legitimate option.”
Infinite Music is looking for beta testers to try out KnowNote and provide feedback. If you’d like to become one, go to www.knownote.net and register for an account.