Transcript 095 – Andy Fling on Monetizing MakingMusicFun.net (Part 1)
Transcript for 095 – Andy Fling on Monetizing MakingMusicFun.net (Part 1)
[00:00:00] Andrea: Hey, it’s Andrea with Music Studio Startup, the podcast about the business of teaching music. Learn from the startup stories of music teachers who are doing incredible things with their studios. Be inspired by creating musicians who are branching out and thriving as entrepreneurs. Be empowered by the insights of experts who will help you grow your own studio.
Let’s get started.
Today’s podcast is part one of a two-part interview with the founder of a website that’ll be familiar to a lot of music teachers. That website is makingmusicfun.net. This website is full of sheet music, theory worksheets, music lesson plans, and video lessons. In our conversation, founder, Andy Fling takes us back to the very beginning of Making Music Fun and talks about how he monetized it from day one and how his monetization strategy has changed over the years as the internet and social media have evolved, and competitors have entered the scene.
Andy is super transparent with his numbers, and I think you’re going to find it really interesting. Without further ado, here’s my conversation with Andy..
Hi, Andy. Welcome to the podcast. Thank you for being here today.
[00:01:20] AndyFling: You’re welcome. Glad to be here.
[00:01:20] Andrea: Can you introduce yourself and tell us what you do?
[00:01:24] AndyFling: Sure. My name’s Andy Fling. I run Making Music Fun, which is an elementary resource site for teachers and for students.
[00:01:33] Andrea: And if any piano teacher or music teacher has looked for a PDF of Jingle Bells at Christmas time, they have come across your website.
[00:01:43] AndyFling: Yeah. I was really curious. It’s funny when people come to me and say, one of my students went on a mission trip to Bangladesh. And they got there and this person showed them a book of a ton of printouts; all of them mine. So it’s always fun to hear stories like that.
[00:02:02] Andrea: Yeah. My students have definitely come home with many sheets of music from your website, and I’m sure a lot of other teachers listening to have made use of it. So take us back to the beginning.
Tell us where did the idea come from and when did you start.
[00:02:16] AndyFling: I, in addition to Making Music Fun, I teach piano lessons, which even to this day of my studio is a lot smaller and I’m focusing more on the site these days. But I like to do that because it keeps me connected with students and seeing how they react with the sheet music.
A lot of my students test drive my arrangements these days. So the first idea came from a student. There was a homeschooler and he was not getting the general music experience from schools. So I was left to supplement that. And so he would probably get a little music theory it’s when, way back now, but he would get a little bit of music theory from me and he would get sheet music and stuff like that from the books that I was using.
But there was a hole in the music theory experience. He was missing that experience. And I found a couple of things, but I really wasn’t satisfied with them. So the very first thing that I pursued creating was a couple of games. And since then the games have been reformatted from going from flash into HTML or something like that so Google was happy with it and they’ll still show it and stuff like that. But that was the beginning, and I even had to navigate that course because the first guy I talked to was $9,000 to create three, five games or something like that. I’m like my budget wasn’t there. And then I just advertise on Craigslist and somebody from Phoenix popped up, which is my neighborhood.
So she built my first flash games, and they looked terrible because, um, my design skills were not, not great back then. And then I’ve taken six years of art classes since then, so things are looking better. So it was the games, and then I noticed that people loved the We Sing series, but you couldn’t find lead sheets for those songs online.
And there’s some on the site, but things have moved in a different direction since then. But there’s quite a few lead sheets that you can get for sick kids songs. And so that was the beginning.
[00:04:12] Andrea: Okay. So it started you going with the digital games even more than the sheet music.
[00:04:18] AndyFling: Yeah, that was the thing. Cause I wanted a fun way to teach music theory. Kids love video games and video games were very different back then. And even my games are a quirky to play these days because you’re using your spacebar and you’re using your mouse and everybody’s used to poking things with their fingers. And I had one I sent it off to one teacher that I used to go to church with. She was like puzzled of how to work things. I’m like, well, your desktop computer.
[00:04:45] Andrea: And what year was this that you first had the idea?
[00:04:47] AndyFling: 2007. And then in that year, December of 2007, I launched the site on December 1 and then the first year was crazy great. When I got to the end of the first year, that month I started with no traffic, 60,000 people visited the site in December of the next.
[00:05:07] Andrea: Wow!
[00:05:08] AndyFling: Yeah. It was great.
[00:05:10] Andrea: And what do you think, did you have any analytics or anything that you could tell what was drawing people into the site?
[00:05:17] AndyFling: No, Pinterest, that was not there. I don’t think I started at Facebook by then. There wasn’t Instagram, there wasn’t Twitter. It was mostly just whatever I was doing. And, and I had reservations about using Craigslist and other, because it looks a little tacky, but it was traffic and Craigslist has a lot of traffic.
And so I posted things on Craigslist. One day I was recounting to somebody and I’m like, I spent all day trying to get traffic to this site. And then I popped on my Google AdSense account and saw this is eight hours of work. And I saw I’d made $5 that day. A little bit disappointing. And I had talked to another pastor the other day that I was coaching on how to, um, manage his podcast and get more traffic to his site.
And so he was at the point where, gosh, is anybody listening? Does anybody care? And you sure do you feel that way in the beginning, but somebody does care. If you see any one person on your site, maybe they cared. If you see in 10 people in the site, somebody sticking around. So just keep it up and try to do your best.
One of the tips that I saw on a site that tells you about cameras and microphones and all this stuff that you need for YouTube, they say just try to improve what you’re doing by 1% every time you post another video. And then a little bit, like a hundred posts of that, then you’re a hundred percent better. I’m sure you guys can do the math, but there you go. And so that’s why this kind of resonated with me and kind of sticks with me.
[00:06:51] Andrea: So were you posting like the resources you were creating? You were sharing those on Craigslist?
[00:06:56] AndyFling: Sometimes I like everybody wants to play for release. So that was probably one of the things that I was posting or I was like, are you taking piano lessons? We have resources and everything was free back then because Google AdSense was doing great for me. So here’s one of the numbers you talked about in the pre-interview I was making at one time making $400 a day from AdSense. And one day was even $500. Since then people started using ad blockers and so it’s more difficult to do business. So we have ads still. I mean, there’s a lot of free stuff, but we’ve also had to support it with paid resources. Oh, here’s my secret recipe. This I don’t think I’ve seen nobody ever do this. Maybe I’m missing it, but WordPress. Oh my gosh. So I did not only have just one WordPress blog.
I had multiple WordPress blogs and they were all sort of anonymous, WordPress blogs. I would just share stuff. And the crazy great thing about WordPress is that you can see our information there, but you don’t get the PDF. You have to click the link. The link drove traffic to my site.
[00:08:08] Andrea: So you had multiple blogs that you were anonymously writing on?
[00:08:11] AndyFling: Yeah. I have the piano student blog. I have the .Bluebird blog, Bluebird music lessons for kids. And since then I’ve started more .There’s many of them and it’s difficult to maintain. And the other one had another bent to it, The Songs We Sing. So it’s kids songs like nursery rhymes and kids songs. And then I have two freebie blogs for when I have freebies to share. So there are a mix of my stuff and if you want an ice cream cone for your birthday, there might be something for 31 flavors on there, whatever.
[00:08:42] Andrea: Okay. Yeah, that’s really interesting strategy.
[00:08:46] AndyFling: It actually was. It has been one of my best, very best. When you look at the top 10 ways to get traffic to my site, they’re still up there.
[00:08:54] Andrea: Cause they’re referrals and all those back links are really strengthened it also. Okay. Wow. You’re talking about 2007 and that was a really different era in online marketing because all these social media platforms didn’t exist. Facebook was around, MySpace, I guess.
But yeah. Wow. Okay. And Craigslist, you know, that, I think has a different connotation today than it had in 2007, because I definitely used Craigslist in 2010 to hire teachers. Right. And it was very reputable And I actually remember hearing something in the early days of Craigslist that, although it was not a fancy website, it tended to have a higher educated user group because in order to access it, you had to have a computer and internet at home. And thinking back to 2005 or even earlier, you know, that was like a higher, higher income level generally to actually have internet.
[00:09:50] AndyFling: People are navigating away from that site, choosing Instagram and stuff like that. And, and there’s certainly junky stuff on there. And the advantage that I had way back when was that I could paste links in everything that I created. And now they don’t let you do that. You can still put the URL, but it’s so much easier to get somebody to click. You can still post in the community. I think. Then maybe you get bumped out of you get your post deleted because somebody is not happy about your item being there. If it works, it works and keep on doing it, but I don’t do it anymore. Cause it seems a little tacky to be advertising that way.
[00:10:26] Andrea: All right. So at the beginning you said you were using Google AdSense. And for anyone who doesn’t know, that’s like putting ads Google generates on your website.
[00:10:34] AndyFling: Front ad words. Yeah. And that was really effective. I guess one thing that for anybody that’s listening, that’s trying to get their business going.
My biggest message is push past your fear. And that was my first fear. That, oh my gosh, Google big, big, big me tiny, but I just signed up and they said, yeah. And that tends to be the way things go. I mean, they’re in business and they want to make money. Same as me. So why not? And just put up a nice site that looks nice. They’ll probably look at it and say, Oh, groovy, thumbs up. And then they’ll approve you. And if it’s not groovy, do something and then try to play again.
[00:11:17] Andrea: And was that from day one? Did you have the Google AdSense?
[00:11:20] AndyFling: I did, but I don’t think you can get it right off anymore. Yeah. As soon as they launched the site, I had AdSense code on the side.
[00:11:27] Andrea: So your plan was to monetize the site from the beginning.
[00:11:31] AndyFling: Yeah. It was a business from the very beginning and, um, a lot of people, I don’t think realize that because they just see the ads on the site and they don’t realize why they’re there. They just come for the content. And the frustrating thing about AdSense is that people think I’m putting those ads on the site, but when you’re searching for something, if you’re searching for bikinis or something, like that, and then the ads started popping up for bikinis. They think that the bikini ads are the ads that I’m putting on the site, and that’s not true at all. They’re just tracking what you’re doing. So I get emails about that and saying how they’ll never refer my site to kids again. And I’m like I say, “I’m sorry. It’s just based on what you were looking at.” And then I try to block as many ads as I can for like gaming and whatever else. So it’s all very family-friendly and stuff I would want to look at too, or not look at is blocked.
[00:12:23] Andrea: And then you said, AdSense changed. So I guess at its peak, you said you were making up to $500 a day.
[00:12:31] AndyFling: I think that happened like twice, but between three and $400 was at the peak. But boy competition has come by storm and now I’m doing more paid products and I’m taking AdSense off of paid products, pledges. So people are not distracted. I don’t know how much I’m making right now. I haven’t checked recently, but might be 1500 to $2,000 a month from that, from the ads.
For a paid product, I haven’t looked at that recently either. I’ve been doing so many other things. I just, as long as the bills are getting paid, I know I’ve won. We watched the Marcus Limonus on this channel. He invests in businesses, like, know your numbers. And so I know some of my numbers. I know that Pinterest is doing great for me. I know the blogs are doing great. I recently invested in YouTube more. Every week something’s going up. And that YouTube traffic is now in my top 10 ways to get to the site.
[00:13:26] Andrea: Okay. I want to dig into all that. Talk about all the different ways you make money through the site now. So you’ve got the ads and then what else?
[00:13:34] AndyFling: Okay. Yeah, AdSense is a big piece of the puzzle. The paid products are a big piece of the puzzle. The most substantial product is a subscription-based product and subscription economy is the way things are going. If you can come up with a subscription product that gathers a few people one year and a few more people the next year, and those peoples last year’s people stick around.
It’s a goldmine and it’s the way Apple is going, it’s the way Microsoft largely runs. And they are a steam engine, like plowing down everything in sight. I’m like, oh my gosh. And their whole goal is to build subscriptions. So my product is, I have two products Making Music Fun Print, which has all the printable resources on the site. And more recently we added a piano academy where people can learn how to play the piano for $18 a month. And that includes all of the piano lessons and all the printable resources on the site.
[00:14:37] Andrea: Okay. And then in order to encourage people to go into. You could still get a ton of free content, a ton of free content, but to encourage people going to those other ones, you’ve some things are premium content now, right?
[00:14:51] AndyFling: Yeah. And to my discredit, it should not be. If you come onto my site and you look around and see all this free content, I was told that it’s not good to have that much free content because people like, oh my gosh, there’s so much stuff. Why would I ever pay for anything? But I moved some of the best content into paid. I still have a lot of free because I like people to be happy. And I like people coming to the site and my bills are getting paid, but if you’re just starting out or you’re in a couple of years into it, don’t do as much free content as me. Maybe do 10% of all that you have and make it really good junky stuff.
Even if it’s your best product, put your best foot forward and say, This is your promise to your customer, that just getting your freebie, that more great stuff is on the way. And I always call my paid products premium. So it’s like just a little bit better than the free stuff, but it’s not really, it’s all the best I can do.
Ads on YouTube. So I’m making like, A little over a hundred dollars every 28 days. That’s how YouTube tracks it. It’s not much, but it’s a start. And I’ve watched somebody that teaches about how to do YouTube. She was making like $32,000 and I think she was three years in. I like to do things that are about everything I’m Making Music Fun. So that’s a wide scope, wider scope than I really should be on YouTube. She’s very focused these days, just helping people be successful on YouTube. And for that she’s making like $32,000 per ads on AdSense through the AdSense program because YouTube is Google. And then she’s making money through paid products or maybe subscriptions or stuff.
Here’s subscriptions again, goldmine, I make money from lessons, but that’s sort of aside from Making Music Fun. But that’s pretty much everything for it’s paid subscriptions, paid products that are sold separately is individual, or as a group, sometimes I do bundles and then I do the ads.
That’s, that’s pretty much how Making Music Fun kind of goes.
[00:16:59] Andrea: do you start offering the paid products?
[00:17:02] AndyFling: I was at a student site and I noticed these ad blockers going up. And it was just his thing. I didn’t really know what was going on, why was nothing at the top of my page instead of an ad, but then think more of them started to pop up.
And then I was seeing like 15% of my income drop and then it was time to make a change. And I wrote this really sensitive newsletter to my subscribers saying, I can see people dislike the ads and really want to move toward. They’re not interested in seeing the ads. And so we need to make a switch to having some paid resources, to kind of keep things going. I hope you understand. And the one lady wrote back and said, how well-written that was. So I guess I had some confirmation that I wasn’t going to drive people away. And my newsletter subscribers stayed like they were. I guess I, I communicated well enough that they said, yep, has to be done. There’s just no trading. With a magazine you get ads and you get content nobody’s coming along and clipping the ads out with their scissors before you get the magazine. But they were clipping the ads out with these ad blockers. So something had to be done.
[00:18:14] Andrea: And how many years in was that?
[00:18:16] AndyFling: It’s probably been four years since I’ve done it. So I’ve had to do some math.
[00:18:23] Andrea: Yeah. 10 years or something.
[00:18:24] AndyFling: About 10 years in and things were going dramatically well, but the hard thing that happened, I guess we’ll jump into another question and your question. So how’s it going today? Okay. Here we go. Things are more difficult in business. I talked to a business gal a couple of years ago.
It was easy. Like I mentioned, in the beginning, I went from zero traffic to 60,000 people, and then it escalated and escalated and escalated. By 2013, I had an average of 450,000 people. Remember how I measured in December? Cause that was one year passed in December of 2013. For 700,000 people visited the site and that one month in that one single month and in the months prior, I have a very cyclical business cause kids are out of school in December, but throughout most of the year, it’s like 450,000 in that month, 700,000 and then competition, ouch. Teachers Pay Teachers came up sometime around that time and all of a sudden teachers could create something, a PDF click, a couple buttons. And they were in business. It was so easy. And now there’s like a couple thousand people on that site. And they’re not all competing against me, but there’s a lot. And my traffic started to dive and it was just not a gradual decline. It was like going from 450,000 and then sliding every single year.
And I got to a low point in the summer was like 89,000. So something had to be done. I tried many things. I tried rebuilding the site because Google had decided that we’re going to not show your site as much unless it’s optimized so everybody can look at your website on a telephone or on an iPad. I’m like, I never thought I’d have to fit on a two by three screen, but these are the days. And so I tried everything I could. I rebuilt the site to optimize it. And so Google was made happy by having this responsive site. And then I hired an SEO company. And if you try to do that be really, really careful. Like check things out, ask what they’re doing because a lot of SEO companies are not very credible.
They will do what they need to do to get performance for you and that doesn’t always include good things in the long run. And I tried hiring somebody on Fiverr one time and he was doing the wrong kind of things. So I just shut that gig down. And then I hired one guy really early on, like in my first year to do things. And he was actually hiding websites that he would link to. You know that discussions about the dark web, as much as I would understand it, he was actually hiding his websites on the dark side. Google could not find those sites, but he was linking to my sites from them, and because he had really good page rank, it was within a week my Canon in D sheet music was like on the first page of Google. Dramatic results, which is the first part of my tremendous success because Canon and D stayed as my number one resource for like a really long time and drove a crazy amount of traffic. But it was not the way to do it. And fortunately, Google didn’t discount me from having that guy linked to my site, but as soon as I found out what he was doing, I shut that down. And I was fortunate to hire an SEO company that really did good things. I got them to tell me what to do, and then I implemented things so I knew what was happening. You know, if they said, put this title on your page if you’re editing from backend stuff from the code source, that’s called the title tag and then the meta-description, they’d write me a meta-description that would be include the key words and include a call to action to get people to click from the blue link on Google and visit the site. All those things were great things. They’d get me to make the subtitles and also clued the keywords that were good for my site. They did more research on keywords and then make sure those keywords were everywhere on the site. That made a difference.
And since those dreary years of about two, two and a half years ago, things are on the mend and better things are coming.
[00:22:53] Andrea: Thanks for sharing that about the SEO companies, because I have felt that your pain with that, where it’s really hard to find reputable SEO companies.
[00:23:02] AndyFling: Yeah. I would say, do get the ideas from them and then do your work yourself. So you see exactly what’s happening. Okay. Next question.
[00:23:09] Andrea: Yeah. Was there something that tipped you off that made you suspicious about the previous companies? Like any red flags?
[00:23:16] AndyFling: Yeah. The first guy I hired, he was like, “I’ll do this work. Just pay me $1. If you’re not impressed, then we won’t continue.” But then I read one of his emails and it said something like, we keep this private, that the sites that we’re linking to private. I looked at my Google analytics and these sites that are linking to me and driving traffic are not showing up in Google analytics.
I’m not sure how he did that. And then Google tells you not to link from link farms, which are like largely no content, but a ton of resources. And back then, the only way to get links was to agree with somebody else that you would link to them and they would link to you. That’s not really the greatest link because it’s just a mutual agreement and Google sees that back and forth.
And then people started to do sort of some kind of round robin things. Say, we’ll link to this one, linked to A, and we’ll link to B and B to C, and C we’ll link to D but then D links back to A. Google probably sees that too. They’re lots smarter than us. Just, just read up on what you should be doing and take notes from what I already said. I know a ton about SEO. I’d ha I’ve had to, because if you don’t, you’re sunk right away because you have to be on the first page. Unless you’re on the first page, somehow some way, you have a one or 2% chance of being found for that resource.
[00:24:43] Andrea: So who else is on your team? You’ve got you.
[00:24:46] AndyFling: Yeah. And I have a family that I started teaching his son saxophone lessons, and then I found out he worked at one of the hosting companies that I also host my site through. And so he’s been my developer ever since then. And I hire other people when he doesn’t have time.
But, he’s one of the very best that I’ve ever worked with and one of the smartest guys I’ve ever known, I mean, I have to say almost nothing to, I mean, I get it. Okay. I’m getting to work on it. And it’s crazy how intelligent he is. His wife is exceptionally smart too. She helps me too. So he does the developer stuff.
And then when COVID hit, she just did not want to work at the library anymore. And it was kind of a side, low paid job. And so I said, if you want to bail, I’ll give you a job. You’ll have something to put on your resume when you go back. I’m really hoping she doesn’t go back. She goes, she’s like incredible.
She’s a technical writer, but she helps me edit things. And so I just blast through things and there’s all kinds of mistakes. I’m like, I just blast through. Colleen, can you check that? So I don’t, I don’t even do a double-take sometimes to get things done. Cause it’s like epically good. And we’ve been creating Popsicle stick pop-up videos to teach kids about composers.
And she helps me write the, uh, edit the scripts. So they’re like they make sense. And sometimes I don’t see how people might react to this thing or interpret things. And she helps me see those things. So epically talent and epically useful. I’m in, like, if you’re, if you’re thinking I can just do it by myself or I’ll, I’ll use Grammarly, Grammarly, doesn’t see how you might irritate somebody or, or how it doesn’t make sense. They’ll just fix the words. And if you pay for the big package, maybe you’ll get your sentences down a little bit . It’s worth it to have an editor. It’s worth it to find a good developer. I hire people all the time when Dave’s not available. I look on Upwork. Oh, and a voiceover gal that I originally found on Fiverr. She voices, my characters. I hire out to Upwork. I have two part-timers, Dave and Colleen, that help me write the things that makes sense of my site and, and make everything work.
[00:27:18] Andrea: I’m doing it again: the podcast cliffhanger. I’m making you wait a week to hear the rest of this talk with Andy. It’ll be worth it. Before I go, I wanted to talk about the Studio Launch Grant Competition. This grant is designed to help a new or new-ish teacher launch their studio. Prizes include a cash business grant, a scholarship to Business Building 101 and a host of products and services that make managing your studio easier and more delightful.
We’ve already got some amazing sponsors lined up that I’ll be telling you about. Soon if you’re a teacher or know a teacher who has been in business for three years or fewer, you might be eligible. Go to musicstudiostartup.com/grant to get all the details. Potential sponsors can also check out that link for more info.
I’ll post a link to that page. And all the resources mentioned in this episode at musicstudiostartup.com/episode095. That’s all for today. Thanks for listening. I’ll be back next time.