Last Tuesday I had the opportunity to chat with Keven Spargo, founder of K-Sounds, who developed a business 12+ years ago when he recognized that the piano sounds on keyboards were quite limited. He began to sample piano sounds and thus was born a passion for sampling and the birth of a business.
Below is a record of our conversation that details the origins of K-Sounds, how Keven has marketed his business pre and post digital media and what’s next for the business.
Bring me back to the early 2000’s. Tell me more about the origins of K-Sounds and help myself and our readers understand a bit more about the problem that you set out to resolve.
I’ve played keyboard synthesizers since I was in middle school. Throughout my school years, I loved going to music stores and trying out all the latest greatest keyboards in search of the best, most realistic sounds – especially piano sounds. As a student, I owned some good gear with respectable piano sounds, but I was always eager to find even better sounds for the pop / rock styles I played. Most of my gear was pretty limited with respect to how much the piano sounds could be tweaked to my taste, so it was a revelation to get a full-on sampler in the year 2000.
Sampling simply means recording. With a sampler, you can record or load virtually any sound you want. If you don’t like the factory piano sounds, you can go find a piano, sample single notes from it, and use the samples as your own unique piano sound.
My first sampler had great piano sounds for classical or jazz, but I wanted a bright, punchy piano suitable for rock. I knew there were piano sample libraries formatted for my keyboard, so I ordered the one that folks were recommending on internet forums. When it arrived, though, I didn’t like it. It was even mellower than the factory piano. There was no way it could rock.
At the time, I was a college student studying piano performance. I couldn’t afford to keep buying sound libraries, so I decided to try my hand at sampling. A friend of mine worked in the psychoacoustics lab and had access to nice microphones and recording devices, so I made arrangements to borrow that equipment, booked the recital hall for a few hours, and recorded my own piano samples.
It was incredibly satisfying to play piano sounds I had made from scratch. I was hooked. I booked more sampling sessions and kept trying new approaches. Eventually, I made sounds I thought would be worth selling, so I decided on a business name, made a small website and started selling a CD-ROM of my piano samples.
When K-Sounds debuted in December, 2002 how did you first promote the brand and position yourself to musicians? How were you able to gain traction in those early days pre social media and pre digital marketing?
Fortunately, we did at least have forums back then, so I announced my new piano sample CD-ROM on the forum related to my keyboard. I participated in discussions and kept a link to my website in the signature line at the bottom of all my posts. Whenever it was relevant, I would talk about my products. Other times, I would contribute to general discussions, maintaining a presence with other musicians.
Once other keyboard players knew of my sounds, they began discussing them on their own. Word of mouth was very important, and it still is. Paid advertisements are great, but I believe the strongest advertisement is a satisfied customer recommending a product to their friends.
I tried banner ads a few times, but I didn’t find them terribly effective. I also submitted press releases to music industry news sites. That’s a helpful practice I still continue.
When did the business really take-off? You have been running this business for 12+ years now. At point did you say to yourself, ‘This business really has legs and I can make this passion my full-time gig.’ Was there a turning point where you knew the business would thrive?
I can’t put my finger on a specific point. The business has had a long, gradual build. Most of the time K-Sounds has been in business, it’s been a part-time venture in conjunction with other gigs. It certainly could be full time, but I appreciate the predictable income (and fun!) of playing piano professionally a few days per week. Combining that with the income growth potential of K-Sounds is a win-win to me.
[pullquote]I occasionally tell people I’m not getting rich working in the music industry, but it’s certainly worth doing. I get paid to do something I love! What more could I ask for?[/pullquote]
Forgive this elementary question. Can you explain to me what Korg, Yamaha, Kurzweil and Native Instruments formats are? I see that you provide quality sounds for these four formats.
Those are manufacturers of musical instruments and software. Most of those companies make many different kinds of keyboards. Some keyboards can load custom sounds, and some cannot. K-Sounds caters to professional level instruments that are capable of loading new sounds.
Offering sounds for a wide variety of keyboards is very time-consuming. Each keyboard model is a unique system that’s typically not compatible with other keyboard models. For example, if I create a piano sample library for the Kurzweil PC3K, that library will not load on the Yamaha Motif XF. I generally have to program the library from scratch for each keyboard I support.
You have a very active, engaging Facebook page now…with over 1,100 likes and a ton of engagement. How has Facebook helped you connect with your fans and your customers? How has this platform pushed your business forward?
Facebook has really increased awareness of my business, connecting me with people using the keyboards I support. I love that I can specifically define who will see my ads. For example, if I’m advertising a tonewheel organ sound library for the Korg Kronos, I can limit the ad impressions to only people who are interested in the Kronos. Combining that feature with the ability of customers to easily share my ad on their own walls is fantastic.
Have other platforms such as YouTube and Twitter been beneficial for your business as well?
Yes. YouTube is great free advertising. Keyboard players love watching videos and comparing sounds. I have occasionally paid to promote my YouTube videos, but even before I did that, YouTube brought in more business than the banner ad space I purchased several years ago.
My involvement with Twitter has been minimal so far, but I plan to experiment with marketing there in the near future.
What’s next for Keven and where do you see the next big growth areas for the business?
A few things come to mind: Obviously, continued sound development. I have projects in mind and in the works. Since most of my current sound libraries emulate real-world instruments – pianos, organs, guitars – I’m working some completely electronic sounds to diversify my product line.
Besides creating more sounds, I want to keep refining my marketing strategies. In addition to working more with Twitter, I have other ideas for boosting marketing effectiveness. I’ll just have to see how those play out.
I also plan to spend more time writing and producing my own music. I have a lot of song ideas I want to bring to life. My recordings will incorporate sounds available at ksounds.com, so the music I create for my own enjoyment will double as marketing material.