I removed the ads from Selah Chords. As I developed Selah Chords, I knew I needed to try something new with the purchase strategy. Where Web Tools is a pro app for iPad, Selah Chords is targeted at a crowd with many free— albeit not great— options. So I baked in ads and a "Remove Ads" in-app purchase.
And it bombed. In a month and a half of availability, I have made 75 cents on ads and had just 2% of users pay to remove ads.
Here's the thing. You must annoy the shit out of your users to get them to see the value of removing ads. Think of any game you have played recently. You are mid-game and POPPPPP! A full-screen, full-volume, full-video ad. For 30 seconds you must wait to play again. And after the umpteenth time, you buy the in-app purchase to stop that shit.
That's called a "dark pattern" in the UX world. And I hate it. So I just had a simple ad at the bottom of the app. And it didn't annoy anyone. So why pay to remove it.
So I have removed the ads from Selah Chords.
Don't get me started on the small-government train here, but GDPR prevented me from launching in Europe. Why? Because the laws are unclear and very threatening for an indie shop. If I screw up even a little, I could be fined for potentially millions. So instead of trying and failing to follow a new law in Europe, I blocked Europe.
Selah Chords is now available for Europe! Because I removed ads. So now— as I have no server-side API use, no tracking, no privacy-invading anything— I don't have to worry about GDPR.
Free, but an IAP
Selah Chords is still free to download and use, but beyond the launch features— the best, most easy to use chord finder, with guitar, ukulele, mandolin, banjo, and dulcimer support— you will need to pay to unlock the full app. Right now, that means Custom Tunings. Next up is additional chords. And other features are in the pipeline.
If you wish to support further development, please buy the IAP for $5. That's a coffee.
You can turn a bunch of great ideas into a crappy product real fast by trying to do them all at once. You just can’t do everything you want to do and do it well.
Rework by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson
Half-assed products abound. Sometimes it’s simply a lack of quality. Often it’s something else.
When we think of a product, we usually think of it’s features. How many features? What features? Et cetera. If you haven’t built a product before, let’s do a quick thought experiment.
I tell you that you have two hours to clean the house. You have toddlers. That are home. And awake.
How much got done in that two hours?
Now I tell you that you have two hours to clean the kitchen. Same toddlers. Still awake.
How well did the kitchen get cleaned in each scenario? I bet the kitchen was a lot more clean in the second scenario.
Cut your ambition in half. You’re better off with a kick-ass half than a half-assed whole.
When we pare down our tasks, we do better at accomplishing them.
Same goes with product design. When I started building my chord finder app last year, the feature list was long. The competition had tuners, metronomes, and even song sheets. But those features never once hit my list. Because I couldn’t create a kick-ass chord finder if I was building a tuner. I’d end up with a half-assed chord finder. And a half-assed tuner.
But I did have other features on the list that didn’t ship with version 1.0. They didn’t ship with 1.1 either.
Most of your great ideas won’t seem all that great once you get some perspective, anyway. And if they truly are that fantastic, you can always do them later.
As you build, you will often get to a point that the product is complete. And sometimes it will surprise you. A feature you thought essential wasn’t. A feature you thought wasn’t essential was. If you prioritized your tasks well, you didn’t build the inessential features.
But the beauty is, you can always add them later.
Selah Chords will never have a tuner. That is a different product. Selah Chords is about chords. But coming to Selah Chords early this year is custom tunings, filtering, and more.
I build kick-ass half— not half-assed whole— products. Download Selah Chords today and see what a great, easy-to-use, hand-crafted chord finder can be.
Early this year I started playing with an app idea that became Selah Chords. I had a working prototype of the engine that would power it. I knew it could work. But what would differentiate it would be care for UI. Make it easy to do the things that needed to be easy. Instead of focusing on all the other tools that could be added— literally, the competition nearly includes the kitchen sink in their apps— I would focus on doing one thing really well.
A recently (at the time) published article from Michael Flarup had me encouraged to explore skeuomorphic design again, something I had been itching to do for years. To be honest, app design today is too bland. Most of us know that. It used to be full of texture and UI work, parts of the process that would take months. Each app had personality. Then iOS 7 happened. And all that work got thrown aside. Read that article.
I explored a number of paper, notebook, and other interface metaphors for Selah, trying to find a voice that could work. And in the end, I could not find a voice there. And the reason was because I wanted to rely on the screen, not the physical world’s physics.
I had one major interaction that needed to be nailed, in my opinion. Finding a chord. Seems easy, I know. But everyone makes the easy hard, for some reason.
This is a great app. I honestly use it quite a bit, as it supports chords that Selah Chords does not support. But finding a chord in Guitar Gravitas sucks. First, the root note selector is a slider. Second, the selected state is a dotted, 1px tall underline. This thing is horrible.
Then there is the scroll direction change in finding a chord. This app uses multiple panels that all scroll independently. This is not an iOS convention and instantly feels off. Mind you, on iPad, this is better because of the screen size.
The biggest reason that I use this app regularly, as opposed to others, is because of the chord charts. It shows me tons of voicings without the trouble that other apps make of that.
One of the most popular guitar apps, as it is a tuner— a pretty good one— that also provides other tools. Personally, if you want a good tuner, get Fine Tuner, but that is a different topic. The chord library tool is what we are focusing on here. Once again, sliding lists for root and chord, but made worse by the scroll for voicing. Guitar Tuna only provides a handful of voicings— standard movable shapes, essentially. But to see them, you have to flick one-by-one through them.
I do not use this app much. Mostly because the interface is less than ideal.
Another popular guitar app. Tuner? Check. Metronome? Check. Scales? Yup. And chords. That root note selector is better. All on one screen. No scrolling. But now to select a chord, you have to find it in a scrolling collection view— rows and columns— and expand it.
Wait, don’t tap— damn. It just played the chord. You wanted to see more voicings, didn’t you. Yeah, tap that small expand icon. And now, when the collection would have made since, you get this scrolling list of voicings and a guitar neck that takes up two-thirds of the screen.
Finding my Voice
As I looked to solve this one interaction, Jared Sinclair shipped ’Sodes. And boy. While not skeuomorphic, while super minimalist, it wasn’t boring. It wasn’t bland. Subtle gradients, sparse, well-thought our content layout design. The content was king, not the interface. But even without the interface being king, it didn’t get so far outta the way that you were confused. Buttons had borders. They looked like buttons.
So instead of making beautiful, meticulous textures, I started storyboarding animations. The first test of what I deemed gooey animation was built.
Instead of sharps getting their note name repeated, the sharp extended the preceding note button. The construction under the hood is fun, taking accessibility into consideration with an accessibilityLabel of the full name (“C#”).
And then the sliding selection. Clear selection state was important. At this point I was using Guitar Gravitas and that was my biggest grievance. Animating this allows for a fun, hand-crafted interaction, while not getting in your way. This is done by making the animation quick and informative.
The chord selector is brief. I didn’t need to support a hundred chords. Why? Because the most common chords can be summed down to a handful. I’m not looking to build the only chord finder you use, just your favorite.
Is Skeuomorphic Dead, Then?
I hope not. What I know is that it wasn’t right for Selah Chords. Which surprised me at first. I wanted it to be right. It might be for your app.
Banjo support is coming. Selah Chords started with guitar, ukulele, mandolin, and dulcimer. I am adding banjo. Also copying or dragging voicings out of Selah Chords is coming. And favorite voicings. And who knows what else.
Over the last year I have been learning both ukulele and mandolin, after 20 years of playing guitar. As I tweeted over the weekend, I bought a ukulele and looked for a chord app. I had a couple for guitar, but none of them supported ukulele. I found out pretty quickly that most of the apps suffered from similar issues. They were hard to use— bad UX/UI—, lacked iOS esthetic, and didn't have the features I needed most where they needed to be.
Now so much of that is subjective. Yes. True. When I am looking for a chord voicing, I am looking for where I can play it. The most popular apps show a single voicing at a time.
Take this app from The Ukulele Teacher. Are there other voicings? I will guess that the 1/32 up top indicates that there are. But how do I get to them. Swipe right to left? Nope. Maybe that next arrow in the bottom right? Crap! Now it's playing an audio clip of the voicing. Swipe up? There it is! But no scroll indicators, just a change of the fretted notes and the "1/32" changed to "2/32".
Now I want to switch to a D minor. How do I do it? Tap the C major "title" up top? No. The music note at the bottom?
Not the easiest thing to use. And to be hidden away behind an ambiguous button when it is an action I am going to use the most? Not good.
I have been playing guitar for 20 years and never learned basic music theory. I didn't know how chords were formed, just where they were. Sure, I knew that they were multiple notes being played, but I never cared or concerned myself with which notes aside from my root was being played.
So I started there. How is a C major chord formed? Well, it's based on the C major scale. I didn't know my scales. Or how they were formed. Guess I would start there.
A scale starts with the root note and then takes a certain number of whole and half steps between notes back around. A major scale, for instance goes 1, 1, 0.5, 1, 1, 1, 0.5. That C major scale? C, D, E, F, G, A, B, C.
So back to that C major chord. How is that chord formed? A chord is formed on intervals of a scale. The major chord is using the I, III, and V intervals of major scale. Roman numerals for some reason. There is likely a wiki page for that explanation, if you are interested. So we start at I, which is our C, go to III, our E, and end on V, our G.
To the programmer reading this, you might have noticed that this is math. I certainly did. And math I can do. I love math.
So I Built an App
Looking through the App Store for an app that scratched my itch made me sad. As a UX/UI engineer, I decided that if this was just math, I could design a better looking/working app and build a chord finder that didn't suck. But first I needed an engine. Take that math and turn it into an algorithm. An algorithm that I could hand a set of strings and tell it to find the C major voicings— different ways to play it across the neck of my ukulele.
This was, surprisingly, done on an iPad. I opened Swift Playgrounds and built the first prototype of the algo there. Even had it doing basic drawing of the chord chart.
The algo was straight-forward. Use the above math to find the notes of the requested chord, find all the notes on the set of strings given, then find all possible combinations of those notes on those strings. From there start narrowing it down to actual, playable chords.
It worked, so I started the design process.
Defining the App
What's in and what's out. So I had a powerful algorithm. I could give it 4 strings, and it'd find the voicings of a specific chord. I could give it 5 strings. Six strings. Seven. Ooo. I decided I wanted to support multiple instruments, obviously guitar and ukulele being the top of that list. But as I built the first working prototype app and had it running on my phone, I switched to mandolin strings and went to Guitar Center to play around. See how well it worked and if I could pick up another new instrument. And it was a success. One that went onto me buying a mandolin too.
The app was to stay simple. Prize simplicity, be willing to hold back functionality that other apps may have. No scales, no arpeggios, lots of noes.
So what was required?
A beautiful, clean interface. Easily scroll through a list of chord voicings. Big enough that you could read them comfortably, but small enough that you could see many at once.
A simple mechanic to switching between chords. That above ukulele app made it very difficult to switch chords. Others do as well. I wanted none of that. So my app would have two bars. Segmented controls. Easily switch between root notes and chords.
Multiple instruments/tunings and easy switching between them. This would be in a drop down. I wanted this to be quick to access, but you wouldn't be switching instruments as often as you switched chords, so a drop down was logical.
Removing Features and Narrowing in on Version One
I wanted banjo support in version one. And the ability to mark a voicing as a favorite. And support for adding custom tunings. But shipping is more important. I shifted from feature building to spit-shine mode in October, realizing that I had a perfectly usable app.
I always remind myself of 37signals's Rework book. Do I want a half-assed whole product or a kick-ass half product? I can ship a dozen features with bugs and no polish or ship a half-dozen features with delight and polish galore.
So I Spent My Year on an App
Like most programmers that decide to pick up a new hobby, instead of learning and mastering ukulele this year, I learned basic music theory, built, and launched an app.
Selah Chords has shipped. And the initial reviews are that it is beautiful, intuitive, easy-to-use, and extremely useful.
And coming soon, banjo and favorite voicings. And after that, custom tunings.
I’ve been writing for much of my life. I can go back to posts that I wrote years ago and hear my voice, my convictions, my emotions. I can see the evolution of that over time. Improve upon it. See where I’ve changed.
Over the last few weeks, I’ve been playing my guitar again. I’ve been wanting to play with Yousician on iOS and always pushed it off. So I grabbed my guitar and started practicing with Yousician. I have an iRig, so plugging into my iPad Pro was easy. No waking the kid that way.
So this week, I purchased Capo and started playing along with some of my favorite songs. That app is amazing, but a story for another time. The night before last, as I played for three hours, I decided to hit record in GarageBand. After a song, I listened to my guitar. No voice, no drums, just my guitar. And I saw all my amateur weakness. So last night I focused on improving just one thing. And I hit record.
From the lack of my persistency we’re less than half as close as I want to be. How often is this the state of our faith? Adam4d, one of my favorite web comics, published a comic called I’m a terrible Christian the other day. It hit home.
Sometimes I worry that I’m a complete failure.
And then it hits me.
I am a complete failure.
I’m a terrible Christian.
But Jesus is perfect.
And by faith I belong to Him.
So I keep trying my best.
And even though I worry that my best is terrible,
He credits me with His perfection.
And covers my failures with grace.
And that’s the whole point.
Mercy me. The Gospel is amazing because— unlike other religions that require people to aspire to godliness— Christ requires nothing but surrender. You cannot do anything to get closer to God but follow Him. He’ll handle the rest.
To look back and think that
This baby would one day save me
In the hope that what You did
That You were born so I might live
To look back and think that
This baby would one day save me
You were born so I might live. This is easily one of my favorite Christmas songs and one of my favorite Relient K songs. This baby, flesh and bone, would one day save me.
And I, I celebrate the day
That You were born to die
So I could one day pray for You to save my life
As the hustle and bustle dies down, and a new year begins, as Saint Nick’s presence is no longer at every shopping center, will we forget this Child in a manger? In another 365 days will you say, “From the lack of my persistency we’re less than half as close as I want to be?”
As our daughter was about to celebrate her first Christmas a couple years ago, I wrote:
We all remember when we grew too old for fairy tales. When we started to recognize the line between truth and fiction. For some it came naturally, for others it came as a stab that wounded us for some time. As children, our imagination is one of our greatest gifts. A gift that needs to be nurtured and taught.
C.S. Lewis believed that there was an in between period. Between recognizing that line and embracing that line. But, as he wrote in his dedication for Chronicles of Narnia, “someday you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again.”
As I grow up, I grow to understand that we are meant to have children while we are young, as our imaginations mature, to reel us back in and prevent the childlike faith inside us from dying.
Sometimes it feels like growing up kills all the mystery of being young, but with a daughter, I see the twinkle in her eye as she creates complex stories for her dolls and stuffed toys. “Thank you!” says the elephant to Donald Duck. “You’re welcome,” says Donald.
But when I hold you close I know,
The truth in every story told,
And anything is possible,
I believe just like a kid on Christmas morning.
I had heard this song before, but this year it struck a chord I hadn’t heard before. Hadn’t truly heard, that is. Charlotte is busy with her imagination, and tears come when I stop her to go to bed, or to leave the house. Certain toys must come with us.
Tonight, as Christmas Eve comes to a close, I pray:
And as I lay me down to sleep,
And pray the Lord my soul to keep,
When I wake it’s you I see,
And I feel just like a kid on Christmas morning.
Christmastime is a time for music, for family, for friends, and for reflection. Much to my coworkers’ dismay, I decorated my desk the first week of November, having already been listening to Christmas music for a couple months. Christmas music is some of my favorite. But, as many of my friends know, I lean towards the religious Christmas music, not the Frosty’s and Rudolph’s.
So over the next three days, I want to share three songs that have been playing the most over the last few months. Songs of reflection, praise, and love for a God that came to be with us.
Love, what have you done?
Sent out your Son into the dark.
How could you let go?
Didn’t you know it would break your heart?
As we focus on the Child at Christmas, we sometimes forget the surrounding story. Reflecting on this sacrifice of an all-knowing, sovereign God is just as important this time of year as it is at Easter.
As Chad Bird put’s it:
None of the Gospels mention this unwelcome visitor to Bethlehem, but the Apocalypse does. John paints a seven-headed, ten-horned red dragon onto the peaceful Christmas canvas. You can read all about it in Revelation 12.
It’s the nativity story we don’t talk about. A dragon trying to eat our Lord.