August 23, 2007, 12:00 AM

Musicnotes.com hits a web design high note

When Musicnotes couldn’t find a third-party application to use for an interactive program that enables customers to purchase and download digital guitar lessons, company programmers took a “we can do it ourselves” approach.

Paul Demery

Managing Editor, B2B E-commerce

Online retailers can be masters of improvisation in designing their own advanced web site features and functions. When Musicnotes Inc. couldn’t find a third-party application to use as the foundation for an interactive program that enables customers to purchase and download digital guitar lessons, company programmers took a “we can do it ourselves” approach.

Using file compression technology, Musicnotes, a Madison, WI , online retailer of digital sheet music, created Guitar Guru, an advanced program that enables visitors to download music samples, see how the notes are played and then purchase the song along with an extended lesson. “When we developed the idea, there were no existing applications,” says Musicnotes co-founder and CEO Kathleen Marsh. “I am not sure I’d recommend our approach, but it has been worth it.” Musicnotes is No. 499 in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide.

To design and create Guitar Guru, Musicnotes hired a local programmer with extensive experience writing C ++ programming language. After developing the prototype for Guitar Guru on his own, John Dippong, now a full-time project manager with Musicnotes, had the challenge of writing the custom program needed to bring the application to life and designing a web browser interface that was compatible with various personal computer and Apple operating systems. Once the original base code was written and the preliminary design complete, Dippong then had to write more custom code to integrate the application with Musicnotes’ digital rights management software and back-end systems. It took six weeks for Dippong to build and integrate Guitar Guru with Musicnotes’ e-commerce platform and back-end management systems and another 10 days to complete the front-end work. All design work was handled internally.

On Musicnotes.com, the Guitar Guru page features a clean layout and straightforward navigation. Users can choose to access, pay for and then download guitar lessons according to their skill level. Guitar Guru displays the notes for each guitar tab in sequence. A read-out of the sequence is displayed for each section of the song. Shoppers can also access song samples from the Musicnotes.com library of 60,000 sheet music titles and play them on Guitar Guru at no charge.

Over time Musicnotes enhanced Guitar Guru with a virtual fret board that displays the proper fingerings in real time. An adjustable playback and tempo feature also enables students to take the lesson at their own pace. Musicnotes began implementing digital technology originally to drive the sale of hard copy sheet music. But downloads now represent more than 80% of sales, which reached $5.8 million in 2006. In the first half of 2007, Musicnotes.com increased its digital music business by 40% to more than 600,000 downloads. “At a time when the music industry is struggling to find new revenue streams our pay-for-content digital delivery model is coming into its own,” says Marsh.

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