Local music website has worldwide reach

Richmond Times-Dispatch | Athena Cao

Don Crafton and Adam Rabung know their Sight Reading Factory’s website has a worldwide reach.

From Rabung’s home in Hanover County on Tuesday morning, they could see a user from Dubai using the site that generates sight reading and sight singing exercises.

“When I get up in the morning, it really motivates me because I will look at this, and I will see (users from) four or five continents on the site,” Rabung said.

The website creates about 100,000 pieces of music each month and has attracted music educators, students and other individuals who are passionate about music from all 50 states and 23 countries.

“What we’ve done is we filled a need,” Crafton said. “I obviously needed it when I was teaching in New York.”

As a band director, Crafton used method books to help students learn sight reading, but he said those books are not efficient because students can practice sight reading only on pieces they have never seen before. The website provides so many more music offerings than a textbook, he said.

In December 2011, Rabung, a programmer with no musical experience, helped launch Sight Reading Factory’s website.

He translated Crafton’s musical expertise into algorithms and created the product that Crafton had envisioned: a source that always gives users new pieces to practice.

Sight Reading Factory features 20 instruments, including strings, guitar, woodwinds, brass, percussion and piano. It also offers four types of voices in choir and three kinds of ensembles: concert band, choir and string orchestra.

The subscription-based website has seen a “nice and steady” growth in users, Rabung said.

He did not reveal how many subscribers Sight Reading Factory has but said the number is now more than 10 times what it was in January 2013. The company is profitable, the founders said.

About a quarter of the paid accounts are opened by music educators.

Jayson Gerth, a band director at Southeast Polk High School in Pleasant Hill, Iowa, used a demo with his students in January 2013 and started a subscription a month later.

Comparing traditional books that cost about $10 each to Sight Reading Factory, which charges $29.99 yearly and has infinite pieces for practice, Gerth called the website a blessing.

“It s a huge time saver for teaching that skill,” Gerth said. “And cost-effective too.”

Another band director, Steve Pruitt at Stallings Island Middle School in Martinez, Ga., said 25 students joined the district honor band this school year with Sight Reading Factory’s help. That is almost 80 percent more than the number of students who made it last year.

Music professor Anthony Maiello at George Mason University said he enjoys the freedom to choose from the instruments, difficulty levels, key signatures and time signatures available on the site.

The Sight Reading Factory website may soon have even more for users.

Crafton and Rabung are working on expanding the difficulty levels that allow users to fully customize their own music, including range, rhythm and articulation. Rabung said he aims to add the new feature by the end of the next school year.

Crafton eventually wants the website to run in other languages. As of May, 23 percent of Sight Reading Factory’s users are from overseas.

The two founders said they did not do much marketing other than paying Google and Bing to display advertisements, but “music is an international language,” Crafton said.

Crafton and Rabung said they have a long list of potential features to add to site, which has already been updated to the second version. But the said it takes time to develop them, especially since Rabung is the site’s only programmer.

Rabung started working on Sight Reading Factory full time last year. Although bringing others on board is not entirely out of the picture, he said the company does not have the resources to hire any additional help now, and the founders want to retain control of their product.

“It’s making enough money now that we can almost keep the lights on by ourselves,” Rabung said. “Maybe it’s a mistake, but that’s what we’ve done so far.”

Copyright Times-Dispatch. Used by permission.