Rich from Failory asked me to join him for an interview, here’s the final result ✌️. This interview was first published on Failory.
Chris is a music producer from The Netherlands who decided to get into the online marketing and digital products world, co-founding a website called Urban Masterclass which is all about selling beats. They have worked hard the SEO of the site, which has meant 62 students enrolling to their masterclass and generating $10,296.49 in revenue.
Hi Chris! What’s your background, and what are you currently working on?
Hey there! My name is Chris Schwartze and I’m a 25-year-old entrepreneur and music producer from Enschede, The Netherlands.
Like many others, in my early days, the internet struck a chord with me. In 2009 I stumbled upon music production because of this video from Ryan Leslie. The ability to create music from nothing to something in your bedroom fuelled my creativity.
Earlier in 2017, when we conducted research on his email list, we found out that 400+ of his artists repeatedly struggled with songwriting, mixing and recording. We both thought there was an opportunity because we couldn’t find anything online that solved these problems—without tying together all the pieces yourself.
Instead of coaching artists one by one, we decided to pack all our knowledge and expertise into an online masterclass. Depending on the masterclass, we offer one-off payments and payment plans. Once a student enrolls, he or she can log in and access the masterclass.
What’s your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
Back in 2008—when I was a 16-year old kid, with no sense of direction—I was looking for a study.
Music seemed like the most natural path but I wasn’t confident enough nor did I have the skills yet.
I decided to study web design. One of my teachers introduced me to HTML, CSS and eventually WordPress. I was sold.
Long story short, I failed that study twice (yes, twice) and called it quits after two years.
I felt miserable and my parents were disappointed… perhaps college wasn’t for me.
I decided to quit
I’ve always enjoyed working and getting my hands dirty. I got my first job when I was 13 years old, delivering a weekly paper where I made about $6 per 500 deliveries. Awful! But hey, I was young and it paid for gaming, clothes etc.
Anyhoo, I decided to quit school in 2010 and work in a restaurant whilst I figure out what I wanted to do with my life.
Between shifts, I had a lot of time to think and on the off-days I was making more music than ever before.
After years of no contact, I got back in touch with Robin in 2011 and it turned out he was producing the same style of music (and even selling it online).
The fact that he was actually making money online and that it was a side-business blew me away.
And this was my first proper introduction to online marketing and selling digital products.
Three years later, I took a leap of faith and auditioned for the Herman Brood Academy, a well-known music school in the Netherlands. I didn’t think I was good enough, but I got it in 😮!
During my second year at HBA, I couldn’t stop consuming content and thinking about marketing.
After I graduated the Herman Brood Academy in 2016 I started working full-time as a waiter. On the side, I did some web design at Heroic Academy—a course platform and blog for electronic music producers.
Eventually, that led me to join the Heroic Academy team full time and later on become Head of Marketing.
Budi Voogt and Tim van Doorne—the co-founders of Heroic—taught me a lot about online marketing, management, and transparency. And here’s where all the pieces came together.
Years later, and Robin and I were still talking every day. About our side projects, marketing ideas and so on.
As I said earlier, every time an artist joined Robin’s email list, he or she will get an automated survey. This allowed him to get a ton of data from artists. As you can see the majority struggled with mixing, recording, and songwriting.
The more we thought about it, the more sense it made to create a course for Hip-Hop and R&B artists and launch it on a new website. We were looking to partner up for a long time, and this was the perfect timing.
In the summer of 2017, project Urban Masterclass was born 🎉!
We wanted the name to be as self-explanatory and as flexible as possible. And cater to both artists and producers.
I guess I’ve always carried the entrepreneurial bug, but these life events made it crawl out of its cave. In December 2017, Heroic Academy and I parted ways because I wanted to grow Urban Masterclass and focus on freelancing.
How did you build Urban Masterclass?
We already decided we wanted to do a pre-order launch to get our first students. And that the masterclass should cover songwriting, recording, and mixing. The masterclass is called (from) Zero to Radio Ready and enrolment starts at $249.
Robin initially only created a fraction of all the course content. And I used a WordPress page builder to quickly design a pre-order landing page.
When validating a product, you have to be careful with your time in case your hypothesis doesn’t work out.
For the course platform we used Teachable and for the email, we used Robin’s existing ActiveCampaign account. Around October 2017, it was time to start the pre-order phase. Together, we wrote seven emails that were spread over one week. Included in the email automation, was a 30% pre-order discount that would disappear after the pre-order window was over. Nothing fancy.
The pre-order did roughly $2000 in sales and we ended up with 12 students. That was enough validation for us!
In the weeks after that, Robin focused on finishing the course, while keeping our early students engaged in the process.
Here’s what the first version of the course looked like in Teachable.
I shifted my attention to designing our homepage, and a new sales page. Also, setting up different tools like BigPicture for tracking our marketing efforts.
Remember that we were limited in our time because Robin had to work on his main business, and I was mostly occupied by freelance clients.
Luckily, the early pre-orders gave us a bit of runway to pay for the tools and our time.
Which were your marketing strategies to grow your business?
We officially launched our first masterclass Zero to Radio Ready at the start of 2018 with a brand new sales page.
Our initial marketing strategy was to funnel users through Robin’s existing website with ads on his site and to promote the masterclass in his email funnels. Those users would hit the sales page and that would trigger retargeting ads on Facebook.
This strategy kinda worked as the audience that came from Robin’s site were not complete cold and were somewhat familiar with his face.
Long story short. We tried a lot of different things and none of them took off. Our biggest roadblock was that we couldn’t find a way to get more students. Most Hip-Hop and R&B artists don’t necessarily have a place online where they like to hang out. And we didn’t have cash in hand for paid acquisition.
Here are some the other things we tried for Zero to Radio Ready:
- Some artists voiced that the pricing was too high. So we started playing with pricing, but not until we charged below $50 did we see a bit of an increase.
- We tested a monthly subscription plan of $10 but that resulted in a lot of tire kickers. People who’d join, absorb the content and immediately cancel their plan again.
- We added 30-day money back guarantee which backfired and our refund rate increased.
- I cold emailed YouTube channels that sell beats and asked if they wanted to be an affiliate. I managed to get a lot of producers on-board as it’s a logical up-sell to their audience. But the traffic barely converted.
- We wrote several blog posts for artists. But came to a conclusion that artists don’t Google their struggles as much.
- We tried an evergreen email funnel with a discount that will expire.
- Plus much more, trust me.
Beyond these issues, we were still paying $99/month for Teachable. And that was something my brain couldn’t handle. So I decided to create the course platform myself in WordPress from scratch.
For the WordPress geeks out there 🤓…
I ditched the page builder and 3rd party theme and decided to use WooCommerce and WooCommerce memberships to handle the transactions and content restriction.
I’m using advanced custom fields and two custom post types course/lesson that work together.
What were the biggest challenges you faced and obstacles you overcame?
We tried a lot but never really saw the traction. Of course, we managed to get in a few new students, but we couldn’t find a scaleable marketing channel. It was frustrating because our pre-order did well. Most of the students that converted on the pre-order where Robin’s loyal customers from years ago (so that was a bit of a “red flag”). We knew that we needed to build stronger relationships with artists and change their beliefs about investing in online courses if we wanted to be truly successful.
In the summer of 2018, Robin and I were out for dinner and we talked about the state of Zero to Radio Ready and how to continue (don’t worry, he was laughing about the size of the chicken on my plate).
We were frustrated and we both thought it was time for a pivot.
A new idea was born
We both fancied the idea of building a masterclass for producers. I mean, why not? Robin was already successful selling his music online and I’ve sold music online too for a brief moment. Why not teach others how to do it?
And as you probably know, with a new idea comes a ton of motivation.
We launched a massive guide in May 2018 that would teach producers how to sell beats online.
When we created the guide, we researched several keywords with KWFinder. We knew we didn’t need to add a ton of keywords because most of the time when you write an in-depth piece, you cover a lot of that ground automatically.
In terms of building backlinks, Robin had already built relationships with a few companies. We named a few of these companies in our guide, so naturally, they were more inclined to link to it.
Another thing I made sure of is that the article loaded within < 2 seconds. As you might know, page speed is an important ranking factor. I also made sure our on-page SEO was error-free, using a tool like WebSite Auditor.
After a few weeks, it started climbing in the search results. It was a winner, and we almost instantly saw it pay off and it started to rank #1 on Google.
Again, we felt we were on to something, but this time on a whole other level.
The comments on the guide started pouring in. Meanwhile, our Facebook group for producers grew to 1500 members in a short amount of time. We also collected more than 2500 emails in that same period.
Shortly after, Native Instruments (a giant in the music industry) picked up our article and wrote about it on their blog.
I know, these are all vanity metrics. But it definitely gave us a lot of confidence and we realized that we needed to build a product ASAP.
For sake of brevity, I’ll skip the tiny unimportant details. But we pre-launched a new masterclass in December 2018 called the Constant Conversion Strategy. It’s a step-by-step framework that shows you how to grow a wildly profitable online beat selling business.
The pricing ranges from $149 to $499 and we followed a similar 7-day pre-order launch as we did with our Zero to Radio Ready masterclass (we also promoted it in our Facebook Group).
This time, the odds where in our favor and a whopping 62 students enrolled within a week resulting in $10,296.49 of revenue. As of writing this, we’re on track to finish the masterclass and open it up for the everyone. I finally felt what SaaS companies feel when they successfully pivot their product 🤓
In the coming months, we’ll put our focus on improving this product and work closely with our students. One thing I’d love to do is create a few in-depth case studies from students. Right now, all of our content is top of the funnel, and the case studies would be great middle of the funnel content.
Another thing I’d like to get in to is A/B testing. So much opportunity, I’m excited!
Which are your greatest disadvantages?
Our biggest disadvantage was probably time. We both needed to work on our own business to pay the bills. And we wanted to bootstrap Urban Masterclass. So we had to be very strict about certain decisions and say no to some opportunities. There were times where Robin or I could only spend one hour a week.
One of my personal disadvantages is that I’m not a developer. I can read code, and I’m pretty good at CSS but that’s about it. So it was a lot of trial and error to build our own WordPress theme from scratch. But in the end, it was well worth it because now we have our own API and we’re in total control of the design 💪.
During the process of building & growing Urban Masterclass, which were the worst mistakes you committed?
Before launching Zero to Radio Ready, we should’ve conducted more interviews with customers and prospects. This would’ve helped us in tremendously with positioning and copywriting.
Another mistake is that we didn’t give Zero to Radio Ready all we got in terms of marketing. We could’ve pushed it further, and maybe traction was around the corner. But as months passed, we were less and less motivated.
My own mistake is probably buying a tool we didn’t need. It cost us around $800 but we ended up not using it and used a free product instead that did the job much better (if you read this Robin, I’m sorry).
If you had the chance to do things differently, what would you do?
if we could start over, we probably would’ve focused on producers right from the start. Producers are kinda like developers, they actively learn and try to find solutions to their problems. No disrespect to artists, I’m sure there are some that do this too—but it’s hard to find them and provide them your solution.
Another thing I probably wouldn’t offer again is 30-day no questions money-back guarantee. We had quite a few of our customers abuse this. A while ago, we switched to a 14-day money-back guarantee.
But if we believe you have purchased the course/product, downloaded or been through all the material and then just ask for a refund, chances are we’ll say no.
I wrote quite extensively about this in our knowledge base and I enjoy being as transparent as possible. Actually, a lot of our students praise us for being transparent and honest.
Apart from mistakes, what are other sources for learning you would recommend for entrepreneurs who are just starting?
Certainly! Although I have to admit, when it comes to web design, it’s all trial and error. I never followed a proper coding course (I probably should). But here’s a list of stuff that I enjoy and that helped me on my journey.
Websites I spend time on;
Here’s our software stack and tools I generally like to use:
- Google Data Studio: Easily visualize all of your data.
- Drip: Marketing Automation for Ecommerce
- BigPicture: Collect user data with one simple interface, enrich it, and send it to all your tools.
- Google Analytics: Measure web traffic and advertising ROI
- Metorik: Powerful Reports for WooCommerce
- Amplitude: Product Analytics for Web and Mobile
- Notion: All-in-one workspace for your notes, tasks, wikis etc.
- Trello: Project management
- Sketch: Photoshop alternative
- Slack: Team Chat
- Bedrock: WordPress Boilerplate
- Tonik: WordPress Starter Theme
I’ve been listening to podcasts as long as I can remember. Before it was hipster.
- How I Built This
- Invisible Office Hours
- StartUp Podcast
- The Nod
- Without Fail
I love reading and listening. Al though I need to push myself to do it more.
- The Subtle Art Of Not Giving A Fuck
- Unfu*k Yourself: Get out of your head and into your life.
- The Millionaire Fastlane
- How to Win Friends & Influence People
- Rich Dad, Poor Dad
- Ego is the Enemy
- The Obstacle is the Way
- Atomic Habits
Where can we go to learn more?
If you made it this far, thank you for reading. And thank you Rich for the opportunity to share my story and hopefully inspire others 🙌