6 years had passed since the last major redesign of how to play piano site, so George, Mike, Rob, Michelle, and myself designed and built this sexy website you're looking at now. WordPress is gone, and now it's a custom coded site. We've made it a more useful way to learn from my YouTube courses with snappy search results and more resources. Seeing howtoplaypiano get this new redesign makes me so thrilled for what the future holds.
George and I knew we wanted to take Piano Planet to the next level, so we founded a company called EmpowerED Group Inc, because the mission we feel passionately about is helping others to be empowered in their own lives through education. We want to empower people with passion to be able to play the piano and let it enrich their lives.
We got level 1 finished, the app coded and it was approved by Apple to hit the iOS store! What an incredible feeling! Finally, I felt that familiar feeling when I used to publish YouTube videos. I was hooked, and hungry for more. In the next few months we spent hundreds of hours polishing bugs, planning/filming/editing another 1.5 hours of video footage and launched level 2 later that year.
Because of the fond memories I had of the community form I had years before, I thought setting up a discord server for Piano Planet would be a nice way to build a warm and friendly community for anyone learning piano to get help and support. For 6 months the server was basically dead with maybe 2-5 users, and then suddenly it started to grow in December, and by May we had 600+ members. We even had 3 incredible Mods who volunteered their time to help spread the love in the community. The community spirit was back again and I loved it!
The next huge turning point was meeting George. He reached out for help with a piano learning app he was making in his spare time. But right from the beginning we clicked so well, and had alignment on what we wanted to build. After a few months of getting to know each, we decided to join forces and build Piano Planet together as partners. The toughest part about the beginning was that we had so many ideas of where to take things that it took longer than we wanted to nail down a direction and push forward. But eventually things started coming together, progress started to accumulate, and Piano Planet came to life!
Unfortunately, I can't go into detail, but things with the tech company broke down and after things didn't work out, I ended up back at square one. This was a low point for me because I felt all the years trying to build an interactive Academy hadn't produced anything useful. I was too ashamed to make a video, because I felt like I had failed.
Taehoon and I worked together on learning gadgets to be used in my academy for close to a year. I learned a lot about designing software and working with a developer. It was such a positive experience and we made stuff I was extremely excited to put to use.
I was invited to speak about my Academy project at a music summit. It was wild, I'd never spoke in front of so many important people before, and because of that, my mouth had never been so dry in my life. I was absolutely terrified, but somehow it went really well. I found out from someone a couple days later that, my talk got quoted in Forbes by their journalist. The whole thing felt surreal. (PS, something else memorable was that Jack Conte was in the same group as me and he did his talk on Patreon literally right after I was done. His speech was powerful and he was such a cool dude. Is amazing to see how much success he's had since, so it was really cool to be so close to that history and see something first hand.)
I was planning to leverage the platform of this company, and expand so I rebuilt my site for a 3rd time with the help of a designer I hired named Alex.
I was eventually approached by an edtech company in silicon valley, I partnered with them and published my first course using their platform.
After finishing the final video in the music theory series, it was a huge joy and felt like a massive accomplishment - in just a year of production, I spent around 2,000 hours to finish the course. I was exhausted and decided to take “another little break like last time”. However, what was different this time was that, just making new videos didn’t feel like it would be enough. I started planning a whole academy, but I quickly realized I didn’t have the skills to pull it off. Like before I tried to do it all on my own, so I began studying things like, videography, photography, business, accounting, lean startup, project management, finance, and a lot of other related topics. It became a rabbit hole and I spent too long learning, and not enough time building. That’s when most people on YouTube think of me going dark, but I remained active in the background.
After a few months off, I had set my next goal to not just helping pianists but also people with music theory. This time I took what I learned from the piano videos and also included homework, so that people had a bit more direction of what to do with the content they consumed. I also planned out exams, so people could actually assess themselves. Those exams turned out to be a lot more work than I imagined, but seeing how many people they helped, it was worth it.
I was planning a comeback after a few months off, so I decided to rebuild the site using wordpress, so I could manage it myself easier. I launched the new website over a week and then readied myself to begin building a music theory course.
At this point I was feeling burnt out from making piano videos. I wanted to take a break and regroup on what I would do next.
After Google bought YouTube, they experimented with a “partner program”, at first they invited just a dozen or so of the top YouTubers. I think I was like 78th or something on YouTube at the time, so I wasn’t invited, but a few months later they opened it to public applications. I immediately applied, you had to write a long essay on your passion for YouTube, what you did, and why you should be picked as a partner, then they would review and make a decision. I got a reply back that I was accepted, but was going to be grouped with a “first public wave” of other creators. Once the wait was over, I had to go through a long process to verify my identity and banking information. Finally after 2 years of making videos, my first payment from Google was….$0.08. Next month it was something like $1.12. These days, you can post your first video, get monetized right away. So amazing to think back and see how things have changed.
This was an exciting time, I remember vividly hitting record with my brand new camcorder, at the time most people were still using physical DV tapes to record on, and this was the first consumer camcorder that recorded onto an actual SD card! (This was probably because the bitrate of SD cards was so low, it couldn’t support video until just then.) This was another huge turning point for me as well, as this series has been the most popular on my channel and has been viewed by millions of people.
I had originally been shooting all my videos with a cheap point and shoot 3 megapixel camera recording in like 240i. I knew my first videos needed to be reshot in better quality, so I decided to end this series where it was and restart with new camera equipment. At this time, YouTube wasn’t paying ad revenue to anyone because it didn’t exist yet. Nevertheless, I bought about $2,000 worth of gear out of my own pocket, just because I knew the videos needed to be better for people.
Launched my first self-hosted website, and had it designed by the YouTuber 'Tutvid' Nathan Dodson. It was so beautiful, and of course, as was fashionable at the time, we used flash.
Having the videos out there on YouTube was wonderful, but I wanted to create a place people could gather and discuss piano in more detail, a place where people wouldn’t be learning piano in front of only a video player. This is really where the video series turned into a community of people from around the world. This forum ended up becoming one of the most active piano forums on the internet until it got overrun by bots and not knowing how to protect the forum, I ended up closing it down several years later. However the memories of forming friendships with the community are some of my most cherished. It was a really great time while it lasted.
The first how to play piano tutorial! Obviously, this is what started it all. So how did I decide to start? One night while I was by myself, and it struck me how lucky I had been that my parents supported and sacrificed to pay about $20,000 for my piano lessons. After a few minutes, I thought that there were people out there who had a passion to learn piano, who wanted to play so badly, but didn’t have the opportunity that I was lucky to receive. Suddenly, it hit me that I can pass on my knowledge to others so they can pursue their passion in music and live a happier life. I knew I wasn’t the world’s best piano teacher, but if I could at least help 1 or 2 people get started with learning piano, that would be worth it. I spent the next year and a half posting videos to help people learn the fundamental concepts of piano for free.
I saw a few hilarious cat videos, watched Smosh’s pokemon lip sync video, and I wanted more - so I signed up for a YouTube account, not knowing that I would end up making my own videos.
While being a camp leader at a YMCA summer camp, a mother asked me to teach her daughter piano, and I began teaching piano for the first time. I remember feeling so excited and also nervous to teach my very first student. It went super well and through word of mouth I ended up teaching about 50 weekly in person students within a couple years.
I started piano lessons at 5 years old, and loved it from the beginning. I liked showing off to my classmates by playing my scales and triads while sitting backwards.