I have been thinking about the similarities between writing the great American novel and building the next great app. Think about it—the work often occurs after hours. In most cases the writing—whether code or literature—is not the creator’s day job. It’s an amateur’s world, where raw ideas and native style can potentially weigh more than education or even ability. Income is dependent upon a low-cost product widely distributed. Your ten dollar novel is bought by thousands of readers or libraries. Your ninety-nine cent app is downloaded by thousands of users. There’s the possibility of a a movie house buying the rights to produce your novel. There’s the possibility of an established tech firm buying out your app.
A writer writes because he needs to share his story. The narrative is often as much for him as it is for his audience. In terms of economics, he’s supplying his own demand, and at the same time hoping that others have the same demands. I believe the same is true for app creation.
That’s why I’m building an app that I have descriptively titled, “LDS Hymn Chords.” You can probably guess what its purpose and function is, but if not, well, let me tell you.
I can play the piano. Kind of. I was trained from a young age, but got distracted somewhere in high school (as so many do). I can play a lot of pieces, but I need to practice them a long time and play them fairly regularly to feel comfortable playing for others. My sight reading is…no bueno. This wouldn’t be such a problem, except that the opportunity to play the piano crops up fairly frequently in church. The LDS hymnal is very straightforward, but I never got to the point where I could open the book and play what I saw. For that reason, I’ve always kept a couple dozen songs up my sleeve, just in case I was asked to play. The dialog goes like this:
Bishop: Hey Brother Taylor, would you play for opening exercises today?
Me: Oh! Sure. How about [insert sleeved hymn]?
Bishop: Sounds great. Thanks.
And that’s it. I play the hymn really well, occasionally with some small flourishes, and really enjoy myself. There’s another dialog, though, that doesn’t flow quite as smoothly:
Bishop: Hey Brother Taylor, would you play [insert non-sleeved hymn] for opening exercises?
Me: Uh…I actually don’t know that one…
Bishop: Okay, well how about [insert another non-sleeved hymn]?
Me: Sorry, not that one either.
Bishop: Hmm…well what can you play?
Me: [sigh] How about [insert sleeved hymn that I hope I didn’t play last week]?
Bishop: Okay. Thanks.
See what I mean? Not as comfortable. Thing is, there’s a way around this that I could pull off, if only I had a certain resource. I can read chords very well. Give me the chords to a hymn and I’ll comp my way through it like a jazz pianist (only more reverent). Unfortunately, while the Children’s Songbook includes chord markings, the hymnal does not. I need a chorded hymnal at my disposal for on-the-fly accompanying requests.
Enter my app.
My app will have PDFs of all the hymns in the hymnbook (which are freely available for download at music.lds.org), altered to include chord markings. Like this:
That’s it. Almost.
The app will have a user experience very similar to the LDS Music app, sorting the hymn by number, title, author, composer, topic, etc. Additionally, it will allow the user to create “favorites” or lists for easy access. If I’m feeling particularly ambitious, I may try to figure out how to add an autoscroll function.
I don’t plan on getting rich off this. I figure I could sell it for $.99 until I cover my creation costs, then revert it to a free app. If Deseret Book or someone wants to buy it—great. I’d also like to open the chords up to the public—solicit their feedback on the chord progressions I’ve selected. I can transcribe them myself, but maybe someone else can do a better job, you know?
So there you have it. Now I just need to learn how to program and do all the work. Easy.