The Music Store Apple Forgot About

Last January Apple released iLife ’09, the latest addition to its highly regarded multimedia suite that ships with every new Mac. At the time, much of the media attention went to iPhoto and iMovie, which introduced impressive facial recognition and video stabilization respectively. But me? I was captivated by the GarageBand Lesson Store, a virtual marketplace built into Apple’s music authoring program. The store features song lessons taught by the artists who wrote them, including established musicians like Sting and John Fogerty. Combined with an extremely polished platform for delivering the lessons, I thought that Apple’s Lesson Store might be the company’s next revolution in digital music.

Was I a little overenthusasitc? Probably. But I’ve toyed around with quite a few of the learning programs and videos out there, and the GarageBand lessons have serious potential. And with lessons going for $5 a pop, even if Apple only saw a tiny fraction of the sales it sees on its other stores (as would probably be the case), it could still drive substantial revenue from lesson purchases alone.

Perhaps even more important, at least from Apple’s perspective: a robust lesson store would serve as a perfect marketing vehicle for driving more Mac sales. Imagine a commercial with John Mayer or Eric Clapton wailing away on their guitars for thirty seconds. Close with them saying, “You want to play like me? I’ll show you. Only on Mac”. Sure, most people would never actually get around to playing through too many lessons (after all, learning how to play an instrument takes some hard work), but the knowledge that they could work through those lessons would be enough to drive even more computer sales.

Unfortunately, Apple hasn’t really done much with the Lesson Store since its debut in January. At launch, it featured 18 ‘basic lessons’ (nine each for guitar and piano), along with ten ‘artist lessons’ which feature accomplished musicians showing how to play their songs. It was a decent selection to begin with, but it was hardly comprehensive. But it had potential: Apple surely had the clout to attract more major artists, and we were bound to see frequent updates, right?

Not quite. Since January there has been exactly one update, which introduced a whopping three new artist lessons, bringing the grand total to 13. Given how varied musical tastes are, I’d be surprised if any one person was interested in more than four of them. So much for that idea.

Aside from releasing more artist lessons, Apple would do well to release a tool that let independent artists and teachers build lessons on the GarageBand platform. Apple could take a cut of each lesson sale as it does on the App Store, and users would get a much broader array of material. Now, I’m well aware there are quite a few music lessons stores scattered across the web, including NowPlayIt and iVideoSongs, which offer high quality video lessons, some of which feature the artists themselves. But for every quality site there are countless spammy sites, and it can be hard to tell the good ones from the bad at first glance – not to mention the fact that many fledging musicians don’t know these sites exist in the first place. A unified storefront from Apple, complete with user reviews, could be a boon for teachers and students alike.

So come on, Apple. Let the music play.