The 100 Dollar Challenge

100 Doll HairsWhat would you do with a website that got 6500 visits a day?

I’ve been asking myself that question recently, wondering how I could translate my website’s traffic into income without compromising the integrity of the site, and have drawn a big fat blank.

So instead, I’ve decided to draw a big fat $100 bill out of my pocket, and offer it to the person with the best idea for improving my site. As an added incentive, I’ll offer 10% of any money I make from the idea in 2007.


1. The Change Must Improve the Site

The two main goals for my website are to help people to learn the guitar, and to advertise my services as a guitar teacher. Whatever I do to the website needs to support those goals.

Also, I don’t allow indiscriminate advertising on my website for ethical and aesthetic reasons. Most advertising is institutionalized lying. If I promote products I don’t believe in or am not familiar with, in a sense I’m lying to my readers. Plus, ads are an eyesore. I’m proud of the uncluttered format of my website, and I want to keep it that way.

However, if you have an amazing guitar- or music-related product you’d like to sell on my site, that’s a different story. Submit away!

2. The Change Must Be Relatively Easy

For example: Maybe when I retire I’ll pay my rent at the Home For Wrinkled Rockers by posting daily video guitar lessons for a monthly subscription, but right now, teaching face-to-face is what I love to do, and I don’t want to cut into that time.

3. The Change Can’t Awaken the Great Music Publisher’s Association

Like a fly in a dragon’s den, my little website has quietly distributed chords and tabs of copyrighted material under the nose of the music industry and its army of lawyers. I’d like to keep it that way. That means I won’t do things like make my chord charts into a book and sell it (unless some copyright genius knew how to make it legit). Another idea that won’t work: Becoming an affiliate of iTunes and linking each chord chart to its corresponding .mp3 in iTunes’ music store.

That’s it! Here’s how the contest will work:

There are two ways to submit an idea. One is to just post a comment on this blog entry (make sure you leave your email address). However, if you come up with an idea that you’d like to keep private until the contest is over, you can also email me at

Each idea will be reviewed by me. I’ll give feedback for ideas that show promise but need tweaking, so that you can resubmit your idea. Finalists will be reviewed by both me and Brady, the bass teacher for Heartwood Guitar Instruction. Brady’s three-year-old daughter Lena will be the tiebreaker, if necessary.

The contest ends on January 31st. Even if we don’t get any ideas good enough to implement, the person with the best idea will get the Ben Franklin.

Comments 31

  1. Rob – here’s an idea I’ve been toying with, but feel free to use it/tweak it…

    I’ve thought about webcamming my lessons. My first thought was to make the cam available for relatives that do not get to see their family regularly (i.e. out of town grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, parents at work, etc).

    But then I thought there may be value in doing this as an added advertising opportunity. If I am unable to draw potential customers in during our phone conversation, I could suggest they watch me teach online with the thought they would then commit to coming in. An added benefit here is that I force myself to always be on my A game since I don’t know who is watching. ๐Ÿ™‚

  2. Well, split the $100 with me and you’ve just made a quick $50! ๐Ÿ˜€

    I don’t have any ideas for you Rob, but I wanted to wish you luck and tell you not to give in to the advertising – stick to your guns!

    Nice site, btw!

  3. Ze Frank sells digital rubber duckies on his vblog. Seriously though, Ze has been archiving all of his inventions and clips in the hopes that he will indeed find a brillant way to make money without compromising the integrity of the website.

    So far, that’s my sole contribution: steal ideas from Ze Frank before he comes up with them himself. Sigh.

  4. Hello from Chicago. You’ve got a terrific site; one of my guitar teachers in Chicago told me about it.

    So, here’s an idea. You have a great line-up of songs, chords and tabs. All for free, which is a wonderful resource. You might consider offering for a small additional fee a recording for each. On the recording, you could talk about how to play the some, offer tips, play the song (or parts).

    Many times when I’m trying to learn a song, I download it on my iPod and put an earphone in one ear and listen to my guitar and me with the other ear. It works pretty good. But of course, I’m hearing the final recording without any tips about how to play it. That could be your unique additional offering.

    To summarize, keep the song/chord list out there for free, but offer (for those who want a bit more help) an optional recording for a small additional charge.

    Most of all, I want to thank and congratulate you on your work and the contribution you’re making well beyond the Seattle city limits!

  5. Hi Rob! Greetings from Chicago. You’ve got a terrific site; one of my guitar teachers in Chicago told me about it.

    So, here’s an idea. You have a great line-up of songs, chords and tabs. All for free, which is a wonderful resource. You might consider offering for a small additional fee a recording for each. On the recording, you could talk about how to play/approach the song, demonstrate the “groove”/strumming pattern/rhythm/feel of the song, offer tips, play the song (or parts).

    Many times when I’m trying to learn a song, I download it on my iPod and put an earphone in one ear and listen to my guitar and me with the other ear. It works pretty well. But of course, I’m hearing the final recording without any tips about how to play the song. That could be your unique additional offering.

    To summarize, keep the song/chord list out there for free, but offer (for those who want a bit more help) an optional recording for a small additional charge. I believe this idea would meet all of your criteria: would improve the site, would be pretty easy and inexpensive to do, and I don’t think music publishers would come after you since the recording would be, in effect, a lesson related specifically to that song. Also, you could add these recordings a little at a time… as you have time (or maybe even use some recordings from your classes).

    Most of all, I want to thank and congratulate you on your work and the contribution you’re making well beyond the Seattle city limits!

  6. Rob – easiest answer – Google Adwords. That’s my idea. Just little ones at the bottom of the page.

    I hope I’m allowed to submit more than one idea.

    Second idea – Amazon affiliate links to great guitar teaching books. You get some percentage of book sales via links clicked-through on your webpage. You’re a big fan of certain books (Blues you Can Use), why not get a little cut of the action? Its perfectly legit, and you control the books you review and link through to. Plus, by supporting Amazon, you’re supporting a local Seattle establishment (Amazon)… and you’re also supporting the authors you like so much by helping them promote their books. Its also super-easy to be setup as an affiliate.

  7. If you don’t want to advertise, probably the best way to make money out of the site is to divide content into free stuff and paid for stuff.

    Make the free stuff a good representation of the paid stuff. Make the paid stuff worth paying for.

  8. Right, so you totally don’t have time for this, but in an alternate universe, simple but elegant enameled bracelets with your super-patented micro-tabbing (extra $$ for specially commissioned songs placed on one bracelet) would be cool. Of course, you’d have to split the proceeds with the person who actually makes the jewelry, and this is a guitar website after all, but I think I get avante-garde fashion points here.

  9. I’d give you $4.37 to figure out, tab, and publish this song that stumped me. I’d still like to play it.

    Start an auction service.

    Users submit their request for new tabs.

    Each week, the highest bidder gets the tab of his/her/their choice published by you.

    Tabs by request.

    Maybe start the price range for a desired tab at $.99 but add a charge for extraordinary difficulty, rush work, anything that merits more payment.

    Ideally, you’ll figure out whatever you have to to fulfill the desire of your highest paying customer, but if you need more time to figure things out, just offer a list to choose from for things you already know.

    Best of luck.

  10. Another idea for you Rob – this one came to me in a dream.

    You could write a simple e-Book about “getting started with the guitar” or “taking your basic guitar to the next level”, that could be about what’s next once people master the basics from your site (or your in-person teachings). It would take some time to write it up, but the shorter it is, the less you charge for it. For instance, if you write a really good one you could charge $19.95 or whatever you want. Even $10 if you get 10 people to buy it that’s 100 bones you didnt have yesterday.

    Offer people to buy the e-book at the bottom of each page, or on your tabs, and who knows. Then post some reviews from your customers who loved the book, and that will encourage people to buy it.

    Creating an ebook is simple (as I understand it), and I could even help you get around the technical side of it if you needed a hand.

    Do a search for “Rockabilly guitar” on google, and you’ll see a guy who’s published an ebook about rockabilly that people appear to be buying (I’ve even thought about buying this myself).

    Another idea for your e-book is to target it at people thinking about becoming a guitar teacher.. I know you have lots of advice there, and its kinda a niche market. Something to consider…

  11. Well the first thing you could do is cut down on teaching time by getting people to convert their guitars to have less things to press:

    Semi-seriously; using the Democracy video player, I was intrigued by the channels that did language lessons but put off by the fact that I was ‘too late’ for the start of their courses. From your point of view, the same thing applies: online courses bring advertising but decreasing audience as time goes on. A solution is to create a feed of instruction videos that cycles around – theres four feeds, each gives a 5 minute lesson a day for 4 weeks (web tv isn’t like cable: 5 mins is enough), so you can *always* start the course on a Saturday (say). Later you can introduce parts 2,3, 4 the same way; but either part 1 (I’m new here) or part 2 (I don’t like to admit I’m new here) will always be the ratings winner.

    The money, as ever, is in ads: you intersperse ads or pieces to camera about how great Pinnochio’s Strings are (or whatever). For this kind of content, repetition is better than originality: people can recommend friends to learn here months after they originally saw the show.

    As for the $100, you can keep your yankee dollar, they’re not worth much over here ๐Ÿ˜‰

  12. Well robster,
    I suggest you make a couple jam cd’s for people to solo and practice with. You could have popular chord progressions and interesting styles on the cd’s and you could also demonstrate the scales you can use to solo on them either on the cd or in a booklet separate from it. You can come out with a different cd every couple months or every year or something and sell them on your website here. If you wanted to sell them for more, you could make it a dvd with visual demonstrations.
    Happy Quanza

  13. Rob-
    I think you should have a section on your site that allows guitar students a place to find a local guitar teacher. You can make the teachers pay to promote their services.

    So easy to do.

  14. Consider adding a PayPal button and a little line that says, “if you found this information helpful, I’d appreciate a completely voluntary donation.”

    The ebook idea above is excellent, too. Stick to the Guitar Teacher niche. Perhaps publish your actual lessons, how you go about writing songs for the guitar, etc. You could also collect via PayPal for these.

    Someone recommended “webcamming” your lessons. Better: get a real video camera and put your lessons on YouTube or Google Video for free. Drive even more traffic to your site with them, but be sure to offer something for sale when they get here.

    Create an email newsletter to keep people coming back by reminding them weekly in their inbox. Be sure to have something they can buy when they come back.

    Sell information about how you got 200,000+ visitors/month to your site. People eat that up. “How I got 200,000 visitors/month to my blog. $5.”

    Show people how to blog, how to track statistics, how to write guitar-focused articles.

    Have a professional put your one of your workshops on DVD and sell them for $40 from your site.

    Sell t-shirts (or other crap) with your logo and URL on

    Set up subdomains for other guitar teachers for a nominal monthly fee, loosely affiliated to you. Perhaps teaching your “method” in another geographic location. Or entirely online.

    Sell your jam tracks as mp3s.

  15. Well, I think adwords are fine on a blog, as is a donation button. Those are blog norms–not that I’d encourage you to show that stuff on your business web site.

    Aside from the walking-around money to be generated by adwords and donations, the thing to think about is how your site is already making money, and how it’s feeding your real sweet spot: teaching guitar. In a nutshell, focus on converting site visitors into students.

    How do you do that? Think about what your site visitors need to know to become students. Stuff like cost of lessons, sure, and other logistics like availability of lessons that fit their schedules (publish a calendar)–but more importantly, think about communicating the experience of the lessons and the benefits of taking lessons. Playing x chords is sort of interesting, but rocking the coffee shop, the campfire, the Sunset is golden. Find ways to get people stoked. Build up your waiting list. Charge more.

    Good luck! You rule!

  16. I completely agree with the suggestion of paying for you to figure out tabs/chords for songs not available on the web. I listen to a lot of local Canadian singer songwriters and because they are not well known, it is next to impossible to find their tabs online. You would also be able to expand your song list for teaching too because there is great stuff that is only heard locally.
    Good luck!

  17. hey,
    ive got a good idea.
    First, think of something you know that someone REALLY needs to know in order to play the guitar. but something not everyone would know. Then, charge other people to get the information. It will be helpful to them and to you too!

    good luck!:-)

  18. I think the best idea, and one that would benefit everyone was first suggested by SM_in_Asheville and seconded by folks like rochelle chisholm…Tabs for Hire. Across musical genres, if some pop-country or “alternative” band hits a #1 song on the charts, the tab and chords will be posted within three business days. I listen to Guy Clark and Todd Snider…Can’t find much of that out there. You seem to be extremely talented with eclectic and varied musical tastes. Use that to draw people in.

  19. I’m an old guy. I just bought my first guitar. I’m suffering on the “F” chord, and barre chords I can get 4 out of 6 strings to ring…on a good day, 5. I read about muting strings with your pick hand, but I’d love to see it being done.
    Also, I live about as far from Seattle as possible and still be in the US.

    Anyway, I’m up for the long distance teaching via web cam. As an occasional thing when I hit bumps in the self study road, and \or need encouragement. I’m reading through the Berklee Book one for guitar, (up to about page 40) and there are things you just can’t get from a written page.

    Then the next step is playing with others. Clone the jam group idea, and facilitate networking for those interested. I would currently be embarassed to be playing next to some teenager that was blowing me away, but then maybe some humble pie is the breakfast of future champions.

    The last idea is to give pages\web space to your students, so they can post performances and\or link to YOuTube vids of their playing. I have a bunch of song ideas that I would love to collaborate with someone on, perhaps the web can be a scratch pad for some of that……like, if you are familiar with the Chopin Prelude in E-Minor for Piano, I think that melody would really sing as an intro\outro to some 12 bar blues….

  20. My brother is a computer geek, and owns his own IT support company. They also sell (through affiliate) products, and to help promote their products they write litte lay-person reviews of them in a blog.

    By the way.. this is my first time to your website. It’s a slow day at work, and I just typed “guitar blogs” into google and you were the first or second thing that came up. So I’m sure music execs, if interested, would not have a hard time finding you.

  21. Hey Rob I found your website because I was doing some marketing research for a music school client of mine. I also liked your blog, especially the kid playing Wild Thing.

    Here’s an idea: 99 cents song/technique video lessons. For example, if Santana’s Smooth uses a special fingering technique you could go step by step, slowly explaining the technique. At the end of the lesson you play along the song reminding the student of certain difficult parts to come, like here comes the strumming technique or chorus, etc. Once the video is uploaded, the student does not only have a lesson teaching them a special strumming technique, but also a full song lesson they can play, pause, and rewind for better practice.
    Since you make comments throughout the song, the audio is not entirely the song, hence I do not think you would get into trouble for that. But then again, I’m not a lawyer, I’m a statistician.

  22. Hi Rob,

    First, your site is very inspirational and helpful. Your tone and attitude are just right and I am sure you are a very good teacher. When I move to Seattle in 2010 I will look you up. Maybe my kid can play “Wild Thing” too!

    Have you heard of the Seattle band, “Jesse Skyes and the Sweet Hearafter?” Don’t miss them! Incredible depth and soul, great lyrics, voice and guitar playing.

    I just started learning the guitar this year after 30 years of thinking about it and found some very well organized lessons on They are by Dan Cross and I am up to lesson three so far. If you could do something similar to this but in an easily printable form that would be great. Or available on a CD with your helpful videos and jam tracks. Maybe a chord chart with the most popular 20 or 40 chords would be nice too and a chart of strum patterns and scales and the notes on the guitar. These could be printed out and easily referenced. I think it would get people started and inspired and then some people would come in for lessons which seems to be your main gig. I really like your logo post and I think you should have the logo displayed on your blog and link back to the main site. Also, include the logo on the printable lessons and all your contact info. PDF files would be good. I think if you maintain the spirit of generosity that you and your site have so far, giving away free things will just bring more people in for lessons, while those of us far away will learn too. Word of mouth will have people at your door.

    I live in Brooklyn right now and it seems like every cool store sells T-shirts these days. Stinky Brooklyn is a cheese shop. Gorilla Coffee is a hipster free trade coffee shop. Big Nose Full Body is a wine store. Cocoa Bar is a coffee, chocolate, wine place. Your logo is excellent. Get it on a high quality T-shirt maybe with a little slogan but definitely with the word Seattle on it. Onesies too, for the babies. People that enjoy and learn from your site can buy a shirt. Guitar people are good people and some of them will be happy to reward you for your generosity and enthusiasm. These shirts would also be souvenirs of Seattle.

    Blah, blah, blah. Anyway, thanks for sharing your knowledge. I am working on that Am penatonic scale and your folk strum to add to what I am learning from Dan Cross.


  23. Rob, I recommend a gift shop feature. Nothing huge, just an outlet to sell “Heartwood Guitar” t-shirts, picks, hats, etc. It would be pretty simple to do, you could get this stuff made on a pretty small scale. If you aren’t looking in this direction, I’d just like to say that I think its bad judgment to charge for your site content. Googlers, will find your site, and take it for one of the thousands of ripoff mediocre sites out there. It annoys people. Also charging for tabs will likely attract copyrighters’ attention as you said.

  24. Hi Rob,

    I think we could work something out…

    We’re giving away an Instant guitarist starter pack on our website: worth $17.99, you’ll learn how to play guitar by learning how to play guitar songs. We start you off with Green Day – Good Riddance (Time of Your Life) and give you all the material you need to master this song.

    I’d be happy to work out an affiliate deal where you advertise my site on your page and receive 50% of all income that comes directly from your site.

    Let me know if you’re keen and we’ll setup an affiliate link for you.

    Thanks for your time

    Ant Brown

    P.S. This is NOT an automated message, I take time to email people personally and absolutely hate spam as much as you do, so please don’t think some robot is emailing you, it’s a real live person called Ant ๐Ÿ™‚

    Instant Guitarist

    1. Post

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