Everyone wants to be a star. One lip-synching video app that lets its users make their own music videos saw more than 10 million engagements during the first weekend of the Winter Olympics. But, what if you want to show off not just your dancing chops, but your swoon-worthy voice?
Enter Instrumental.ly, an Atlanta-based startup whose mobile-based library of mostly hip hop-focused instrumental tracks numbers about 50,000. The app lets users listen to instrumentals, record their voice rapping or singing (with voice filters that can make you sound like your favorite rapper!) and then make a music video over that track.
Co-founder and CEO Clarence Mitchell says the goal is to for the app to serve as a fully-mobile recording studio.
Mitchell is a product manager for Dell EMC working on enterprise mobile applications. But he’s also been selling and licensing instrumental music tracks since college, providing hip hop beats to those who needed them for albums, films, commercials, or YouTube videos.
“I’ve been responsible for selling beats to everyone from Dr. Dre to Coca-Cola, hundreds of different YouTube channels and the like,” says Mitchell.
The original idea for Instrumental.ly was just so he could put all of his clients on a mobile platform, but it quickly morphed into a broader vision. With three additional co-founders, the team has built out the platform to launch a beta and full release, recently went through an overhaul to boost the features, and won several pitch competitions to land some initial funding.
They also have been able to generate a solid influx of users using all organic methods of digital marketing — optimizing search within the app store, showcasing users’ music videos on Facebook and other social platforms, and allowing users to connect with friends. Since they launched they have seen over 150,000 downloads with monthly active user numbers hovering at about 15-20,000.
Mitchell explains how they intentionally chose their name based on search keywords, their next feature update (which includes augmented reality videos), and why they haven’t taken any investor capital.
Give us a quick overview of how the platform works and what the functionality is.
We have a database of roughly 40,000 to 50,000 instrumentals and counting. Anyone that’s a fan of hip hop instrumentals, R&B instrumentals, can come on the platform and listen to the library. You can then decide to do one of three things: one, you can just listen to them for your own consumption. You can record your vocals over those instrumentals, so you can use it as a practice studio where you can jump into the app, put your headphones in and record your voice over the instrumentals. We have a bunch of filters that you can lay over your voice and you can create your own demo or song.
Then, last but not least you can decide to shoot the video over them, where you are rapping or singing and you can be dancing, or cooking, whatever it is that you want to do.
What’s your timeline been so far? Major milestones?
We launched officially in November of 2016, but we recently did a major overhaul of the application to add those recording features that I mentioned last month. We immediately saw a huge bump in downloads and users on iTunes.
Since 2016 we’ve had over 150,000 downloads to-date. So far this year we’re roughly at around eight to nine thousand. We usually have 15-20,000 unique monthly users.
Prior to our update we were looking at 40 percent Day 1 next day retention rate and around 25 percent on day 30. Since the update those numbers shot up a little bit — now we are at roughly 60 percent day 1 activity and around 50 percent day 30.
What’s the revenue model here?
We’ve got a couple of different avenues we’re thinking about playing with. The first one is just banner ads and other advertisements. The second one is charging for additional features, a freemium model. For example, right now we’re noticing that a lot of our users are recording longer tracks; we might limit it to two minutes and say if you are recording four minutes or five minutes we’ll charge you. Another thing is a lot of users are using the vocal features and filters over their voice, like auto tune, reverb, and more, so that’s something else that we might charge for. We may even include visual filters.
We’re trying to find a way to do very small and seamless payments, no more than a dollar or two for our users, and find a way to find that happy medium.
Have you taken any outside funding? Do you plan on raising any?
Initially we thought about going the traditional route of building something and either trying to jump into an accelerator program or think about angel funding. We just got so much pushback from people that didn’t believe in our vision and in our ideas, so we decided to put our own time and money into it and get this far.
Now that we are growing and getting our own user base, eventually we may go back to that and start looking for funding again, but at this point in time we don’t really see a need. We were able to win a pitch competition [The National Black MBA Association Scale Up pitch competition] last year and that helped fund a lot of the cost for the application for about six months.
Our goal is to find product-market fit first. We can go out and try to get an angel, but if we take a $200,000 investment they’re going to try to give us a lowball valuation, say $2 million and taking 10 percent. Whereas I feel we can go another six months continuing to bootstrap and likely be able to convince somebody to give us a $6 million dollar valuation, changing that same $200,000 dollars to 4 or 5 percent equity. So our goal is to try to maximize and get as far as we can on our own, and make it a lot easier for potential investors to mitigate their risk as well.
Your user numbers are relatively high for a pretty new app. What did you do on the marketing or PR side?
Nothing that cost money. We focused on improving the product. We also built our company and our brand around what people are searching. We didn’t just come up with a name — we looked up keyword searches and what was being searched inside the app store. The number one thing that people were looking for were instrumentals; it was getting 600 and 700 searches inside the iOS app store a day, but there were no apps with the phrase “instrumental” in the name. We literally decided to call the app something that has the word instrumental in it and see if it could get downloads just by people searching it.
That’s been our entire strategy all along — to make the app user friendly for what people are already searching for.
We also have been building social engineering inside the application to help people to share it. We’ve been building in ‘feature a friend’ where you could feature a song with a friend and share it out on Facebook and Twitter, etc. All of our marketing has been 100 percent natural and organic within the application itself.
We’ve been able to build out an organic social media presence as well. We’ve been able to get around 80,000 followers on Facebook, and all we’re doing was taking the videos that users are making on our application and showing them to new users to push downloads.
Right now we’re focusing on figuring out our current customer and building something really, really cool for them. We wholeheartedly believe that as we continue to build a better product, the marketing will organically come as a result of people using our product.
What are your big goals for the company this year?
We have three major milestones that we’re pushing towards. One is we hope to get to a point where we become undeniable for a top accelerator program. More importantly, we plan to enter into more pitch competitions. We entered into two last year and won roughly around $15,000, and there’s a lot more competitions that we believe we have a shot at.
From a feature standpoint, our goal is to hopefully roll out a beta that we’ve been working on which includes AR technology on the video side. The AR functionality will allow our users to shoot video in different immersive environments, shoot a video where they’re dancing next to a computer-generated Drake or computer-generated bunny, things that we can play with. We have the capability and the technology built into our platform from the SDK standpoint, we just need some additional engineering to help us roll it out the right way.