All I Want for Christmas…. is to Release my App- A musician’s tale from the trenches of tech development

What does it take to go from idea to app? What if your background is not in tech? We spoke to CJ Burton developer of the StagePlot Guru app, former Air Supply drummer, and CEO of Active Media Production Group. StagePlot Guru was released in December 2014 after two years of development, community building, and beta testing. In one week SPG has already been downloaded hundreds of times here and abroad, by stage managers, festival planners, musicians, audio engineers and others. We first discovered StagePlot Guru while researching Utah developed technologies for Explore Utah Science. You can read about several other great Utah developed apps here!

32ATPs: CJ, tell us about your background, you are a musician and you’ve toured all over the world with Air Supply.

Burton: Well, I am a professional musician by trade. Drummer to be exact. I’ve been a drummer and have been involved in music in some capacity since I was 5 years old. Most recently with the famous 80's Supergroup Air Supply (cue the love ballads). From 2009–20012 we traveled all over the world, from the Amazon jungle in Brazil to Israel and China. Like I said, I’ve been involved with music since I was 5, and wanted to be a drummer from my earliest memory. Music has taken me places I never dreamed possible. By 15, I was performing in night clubs around Salt Lake City, and in 2002 I performed over 22 shows for the Utah Winter Olympics.

As well as being a professional touring and recording musician and teacher, I am also the CEO of Active Media Production Group, which oversees and manages the production of musical albums. Active Media Production Group owns WebPro Music, a unique, experimental online music production platform. Entire songs and albums are produced completely online from custom made instrument tracks recorded by award winning session musicians. We add vocal compositing, editing, tuning, customized mixing options and high end studio production.

The StagePlot Guru for iPad app is the debut app from Active Media Production Group. We will be building our app portfolio in the coming year!

32ATPs: How did you get the idea for this app?

Burton: Prior to developing StagePlot Guru, I had always wanted to contribute to this incredible digital world of app making, ever since I downloaded my very first one. And even before that, long before in fact, I remember playing with a neighbor’s Apple computer when I was about 7 years of age, it was one of the first Apples to come out on the market. I was just blown away by the power of it. I find it incredibly fascinating that we can just simply go to a digital store and download tools at the press of a button, and suddenly our lives can potentially become easier.

But to answer the question….I needed to develop a stage plot for a band that I was playing in at the time, and I searched for an app, and couldn’t find a single stage plot app!! Well actually, there was one. But it looked like it was a high school class project or something. So, from that day forward, I knew this was something I had to develop. The entertainment world needed this tool. So I assembled the perfect team to help me with that task, and BOOM. The rest is history, as they say.

32ATPs: Tell us about making an app as a musician and what it was like to not have a background in technology or coding during the process, if a regular Jane like me has an idea, how can I go from idea to app?

Burton: In order to even begin thinking about making this app or delving into the world of app making, it was essential that I had the perfect team to help meet my vision. I am not a programmer, and I can barely draw a stick figure on a piece of paper, so I knew I needed to find the people that COULD, and then some. StagePlot Guru, is a VERY art intensive app, and it has a ton of little intricate details, that only an experienced programmer and artist could tackle. After contacting a dozen or so programmers, and sending out several emails and inquiries, the responses I was getting back from developers just weren’t sitting well with me. I met with developers from California, New York, and Colorado, none of which really understood what I was trying to accomplish. They just didn’t quite get it. And then suddenly it HIT ME. The lead developer I needed, Michael Crandall (EyebrowMan Interactive), literally lives 2 blocks from my house in my home town of Salt Lake City, Utah. And the lead artist, Shane Flox (Advaria), lives about a mile from me as well. I had known both the lead developer and the artist on a musical/professional level for years before they began working on SPG. They are ALSO musicians, and when I contacted them about the app, they immediately understood exactly what I was going for! It was really the perfect marriage of talents at the perfect time. So, I brought them on board as part of the Active Media Production Group team, and couldn’t have asked for a better, more powerful working relationship and chemistry. I think the app, really reflects the chemistry between all of us.

32ATPs: Can you tell us a bit about the process of working with the Apple App Store?

Burton: Sure. There are definitely a lot of hoops to jump through when you are first releasing an app. It seems like the process is different even now then it was just one year ago. There are different sets of criteria for independent developers, versus company developers. Where Active Media Production Group is a company, fortunately we had a lot of things set up previously to entering the world of app making. One thing a company must obtain is a Dun and Bradstreet number. It takes time to get approved for that number. So I would recommend building time into the process to take care of those details. Apple also does an independent investigation on the company to make sure that you are who you say you are. That is one thing that I really appreciate about Apple, but can be tricky if you are a beginning developer trying to get your app into the app store. Also, there are developer fees that must be taken into consideration. I can’t remember the exact number, but I think it’s $99 a year just to have your app in their store. Not to mention Apple’s cut, which totals one third of all daily revenues. Apps that are sold in the App Store also go through a long process of quality control and approval, once the app has been submitted. They will reject it on the basis of bugs or technical glitches. The functionality needs to be there before it gets approved. All features need to work, and the app needs to do exactly what you claim it does. You KNOW when you purchase an app that it has been rigorously vetted by Apple and all of the bugs have been worked out. We also had a bit of a release date snag. We were planning a Christmas day release, and little did we know that iTunes Connect (the back-end platform which controls all app releases) closes down for the holidays. So, after doing the marketing for a Christmas release, we had to release one week earlier than we had hoped. Christmas, you could say, came early this year!

32ATPs: Ok, let’s review the apps features, what exactly does SPG do?

Burton: SPG is a mobile, efficient, and customizable stage plot design program that gives production staff, musicians, and other behind-the-scenes technical staff, the ability to see at a glance, exactly how instrumentation, amps, lights, platforms, and other “props” should be organized on stage. Here are some details;

Stage Plot Design

SPG features an intuitive user interface that allows you to build a stage from the ground up using the iPad touch screen and grabbing and placing the icons for everything from audio equipment to instruments and accessories exactly where they should be located on stage. The graphics are easy to read and the editing toolbar is collapsible to maximize the workspace on the iPad. The pro version allows you to save over 100 different stage plots to PDF or image files for printing and sharing with your team. All plots are backed up on iCloud!

Customization

Customize your stage plots by adding your company’s logo, adding equipment lists and notes, and specific contact or stage manager information. Technical input lists can be assigned for every prop, over 100 of which are included in the pro-version. You can customize the dimensions of every platform in the side editor bar. In addition you can turn the dimensional readouts “off” in the settings of the app.

PropShop

If you need extensive props and prop sets the StagePlot Guru store has hundreds of additional props to choose from. The Active Media Production Group artists are constantly adding new props, and if you don’t see everything you need, you can make a request for the prop to be added by email at StagePlotGuru@gmail.com.

Guru Box

The Guru Box is your personal space where all your prop purchases are stored. It is located on the top bar of the editing screen, and the top, bottom and side bars are all collapsible to maximize your workspace.

32ATPs: Because this app was created by a music industry insider and not a corporation, what added benefits do you think it provides your clients?

Burton: So many apps are created from a place where money is the sole driver of the vision. I think this app is coming from a place of honesty, and the revenue generated hopefully is just the bi-product of the quality of the app, which by the way, most of which will be put right back into the development to help make the app even better. This is all independently funded, but in a way, I see it as an app that is funded by everyone that buys into it. The users, just by buying the app, are basically donating to the betterment of it, and will know that their money is going right back in to it! Also, as a musician, and someone who would genuinely use this app, I think what we have developed is a really useful tool, not only for musicians, but for event planners, stage managers, club owners, audio engineers, even hotels and anyone that really needs to organize and plan a stage. Having been in the business for so long, I have seen all sides of the business, and I can only help but think, this strengthens what we have to offer. Something else to keep in mind, SPG isn’t only for the music world. Business planners can also use this for their events, so it just offers another way to use SPG.

We have continuously developed SPG with direct feedback from the user community, which practically guarantees a satisfying user experience. For example, we recently added the option to get the dimensions and measurements in metric for our non-USA clients, this suggestion came directly from one of our beta testers!

32ATPs: Tell us about the business model. How did you choose the “Freemium” model and why?

Burton: A limited version of the app is free, but the rich features the professional version of StagePlot Guru provides, for only $4.99, really elevates the experience for professionals. We wanted the app to be free for everyday people as a useful tool. But for professionals, we wanted to provide a complete experience with lots of storage and extra features. However, even with the Free version, the user can store up to 100 stage plots, which would be adequate for anybody!

32ATPs: Tell us about your vision for the community you are building through SPG.

Burton: We have been building the user community for over one year through social media, with users sharing their stage plots, advice, thoughts, and connecting with potential musicians and gigs on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter (#stageplotguru). We are just starting to explore the options for including an integrated social experience in SPG, but eventually, we will have a platform that connects everyone in the business from musicians to event planners, all through the app. I don’t want to give too much away right now, but it will be something that will create an environment that people in the entertainment world can connect with on a daily basis. Stay tuned!!!

32ATPs: Thank you for walking us through app development and we are looking forward to future versions of SPG!!

Burton: Thank YOU. We will definitely keep you updated on future developments!

    Dr. Carol Lynn Curchoe

    Written by

    Founder of 32ATPs, Scientist. Teacher. Consultant. Advisor. Author.

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