Early Adopter: Rock Prodigy Wants You to Be a Real-Life Guitar Hero

Published on April 15, 2011
by Drake Martinet

Nothing makes you feel like a rock-and-roll god more than shredding on Activision’s Guitar Hero or Electronic Arts’ Rock Band–except, of course, for actually becoming one.

Rock Prodigy, from the angel-funded and cumbersomely named The Way of H, is an app for Apple’s iOS that replaces plastic videogame guitars with the real thing and helps players earn skill and musicianship, rather than just points.

Co-founders Tyson Butler and Harold Lee designed the game/teaching tool to mimic the interface of a Guitar Hero style game, with scrolling notes atop a digital fretboard.

Instead of tapping buttons and strumming a plastic flipper, Rock Prodigy lets you sit in front of your iPhone or iPad and play real notes on your own six-string. The notes are then detected by the iPad or iPhone. When you hit the right note, you earn points and the song goes on.

“We want to provide people an easier and more rewarding way to get into music and advance more quickly. We want to put positive, rewarding, game-like elements on top of real music education,” Lee said.

Ease of music education seems pretty close to Lee’s heart. He dropped out of two different music schools before finishing a musicology degree.

If you’ve spent any time with Rock Band, Rock Prodigy’s business model will also seem familiar.

The app is free, but songs cost $1.99 each. For twice the going rate on iTunes, users hear the master recordings of popular songs–the start-up licensed the masters, so they can separate the recorded tracks and silence the guitar part when notes are missed–and get the flowing sheet music composed for each song at four difficulty levels.

“At the beginner level, you are only playing one out of every twenty or thirty notes,” Lee explained. “We have music majors who are essentially writing simple guitar arrangements for each of these songs, at the different levels.”

Butler, who plays the part of CFO to Lee’s CEO, explained that the biggest issue for them initially was licensing the music.

“We had really ambitious goals early on, but there was a long time when we had only successfully licensed one song.” he said.

Users would have probably gotten pretty tired of playing nothing but Boston’s “More Than a Feeling,” over and over.

Their catalog is a little more fleshed out these days, which Butler partially attributes to guidance from two of their angel investors–Rob Cavallo, chairman of Warner Bros. Records, and prominent entertainment lawyer Charles Ortner.

Rock Prodigy’s second act will be to expand the app’s offerings to serve other instruments, but Lee really summed up the grand mission well.

“We feel this has the potential to be the new sheet music,” he said. “That’s what we really believe.”

If you believe in miracles, watch me fail at playing Boston’s “More Than a Feeling,” in fact, at the end of the video interview and jam session with Lee:

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