Purchasing music equipment often entails going to a physical music shop and actually trying a few options before you buy. Of course, not everyone has easy access to a brick and mortar music supply shop, so a lot of equipment winds up being sold online. Guitarists can easily find new and used effects pedals, for example, on the usual ecommerce and auction sites, but they’re often forced to rely on (frequently shoddy) YouTube videos or customer reviews if they want to get an idea of how that pedal performs when hooked up to axe and amp.
“Unfortunately, text doesn’t produce a sound,” Keech Nakamura, founder and CEO of SoundForge, tells Tech in Asia. Nakamura, a pianist and guitar player since high school, created a site for musicians to not only virtually test guitar pedals, but has integrated an ecommerce platform that will recommend the best price for buying said pedal new or used.
Guitar pedals are only the beginning, as the 27-year-old Japanese entrepreneur plans to create similar services for a variety of musical instruments and equipment. “I want to contribute to music creation by providing our users with better access to music equipment,” Nakamura says.
Nakamura, a recent graduate of Tokyo-based startup incubator Movida Japan’s fifth batch, lists three reasons that inspired him to create SoungForge and the guitar pedal spin-off PedalForge:
“First of all, people aren’t trying equipment enough,” he says. “The number of physical music stores is decreasing in Japan and the ones that remain have difficulty keeping items in stock. Interactions with the clerks can be troublesome, and many Japanese feel self-conscious about trying equipment in public.”
Second, Nakamura points out the inconsistency of online videos that demonstrate specific instruments and accessories. The recording environment, as well the recording quality, often varies – not to mention differences in each musician’s playing style and ability. The third reason, he says, is difficulty in understanding reviews – again, due in large part to variations in style and ability level.
Why start with guitar pedals?
Nakamura said the choice to start with guitar pedals was an easy one. He cites a survey by Yamaha that puts guitar and guitar equipment sales above all other instruments – 16 percent of the total 10 billion yen (US$98.5 million) global market for new and used instruments and gear. Nakamura also claims that, in Japan, 40 percent of music equipment purchases are made online – a figure that he says is higher than in the US and Europe.
Nakamura points to the success of Reverb.com as encouragement for the ecommerce side of his site. The US-based online musical equipment marketplace earned US$3 million last year and is projected to rake in US$14-20 million by the end of 2014. However, he wants to build a stronger user interface for actually sampling the gear before a user clicks “purchase.”
So far, PedalForge has virtually integrated 60 effect units. Nakamura hopes to add 20 a month. The site has partnered with some of the biggest names in the business, including Boss, Roland, and Korg. They also have a deal with Moridaira, a Japanese importer that specializes in guitar gear. A professional recording engineer spends about two and a half hours in a local recording studio capturing samples of each pedal.
Once a pedal is added to the system, PedalForge users can virtually adjust the settings knobs. They can choose from at least five playing styles (arpeggio, two backing, three solo) and tweak the sound based on whether their guitar has a single pickup or double humbucker. Amp effects (distortion, filter, volume) can also be changed. There are more technical categories that can be tweaked than this absolute beginner guitarist can explain, and each pedal is conveniently given searchable tags that include the names of any famous rock gods that are known for using it.
Going back to the ecommerce side, PedalForge offers an incredibly in-depth product review system. Technical categories abound and reviewers must provide background information on their years of experience and playing level.
Starting a revolution
SoundForge received 5 million yen (US$49,000) in early stage funding from Movida and is currently in talks with three undisclosed investors. Nakamura hopes to close out a series A funding by the end of the year. PedalForge is set to beta launch in English, Japanese, and French by the end of this month and the CEO has set a user acquisition goal of 2 million for the first year. If PedalForge is successful, Nakamura says he will move on to drums, pianos, and keyboards next.
As for monetization, Nakamura says the site will receive a two percent commission from its online retail partners, which include Ebay, Amazon, Rakuten, Yahoo, and Valuecommerce. He will also include ads at some point in the future.
“I want to start a revolution when it comes to choosing and purchasing music equipment,” Nakamura says. “SoundForge will provide the biggest database of music equipment in the world.”