Hans Indigo Spencer has always been passionate about music; in high school, he composed music, played piano and saxophone, and had dreams of becoming a professional musician.
- He strategically packaged his course
- He created a student community
- He geared his course towards a specific, niche audience
- He fully believed in what he’s teaching
- He priced his courses in an accessible way
- He hired help
- He created free classes as lead magnets
- He experimented
Later, he did an undergraduate degree in classical composition, followed by a master’s degree in jazz performance. Then, he started a band in Boston. “Along the way, I’ve written for big bands, worked with choreographers, and worked on television documentaries,” he shares with Thinkific.
At the same time as pursuing his multiple side gigs, Spencer became passionate about teaching music at elementary school. During his master’s degree, he learned about something called the Kodàly pedagogy, which is a method created by the Hungarian composer and ethnographer Zoltan Kodaly. He used this pedagogy as the backbone of his teaching to kids in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Now, he teaches ear training to musicians at the University of Southern Maine.
When covid hit, all of his university teaching moved online. He took this opportunity to learn Final Cut Pro so that he could film and edit teaching content. Inspired by his new skills, he decided to create a side hustle—-specifically so that he could create a course that would make learning to play by ear as organic and enjoyable for grown ups as it was in the classroom with his elementary school students.
He joined Thinkific’s Accelerator program—an annual live program designed to help creators develop and sell their online course, step-by-step and with confidence.The result: he created a Thinkific course called Holistic Ear Training for Busy People, designed to help people play music by ear and “with a certain freedom that opens up their imagination,” as described by him.
While his program has only been live for less than four months, and his enrollment uptake has been gradual, he’s learned a ton along the way—much of which can help other first-time creators find their own path to online course success. “It’s been a slow, slow process,” Spencer reveals. “Along the way I’m learning about marketing and things I haven’t done before. But it’s still not off the runway yet.”
Here are a few key steps he took to create his very first online course:
When it came to choosing the right elearning platform, he spent a day doing research. “Then, once I got on Thinkific, I just stayed with it,” he says.
He launched his Thinkific course in August 2023. “It’s not 100% built out yet,” he shares. “I’m continuing to build it out in concert with the few people who are taking it.”
In total, there are ten chapters. Each chapter has around 20 minutes of content—with some chapters shorter and some longer. “It starts gradually, so that people can start slowly and stick with it over a period of time,” he continues. “This course is really about cultivating perception and awareness of playing by ear over time, as well as relating to music that you really care about. And that inherently requires some time.”
“The course is packaged in such a way where there’s a mix of video and audio-only content,” adds Spencer. “The idea is that you can download the audio, and everything—even the videos—are available as audio-only. That way, you can listen when you walk your dog, drive, or exercise.”
For Spencer, the community he hosts for his students is as integral to their learning experience as the course content itself. “It’s where the interaction between students and myself can really happen,” he explains.
As part of the course, students choose a song they like, and then they learn the “spine” of that song by identifying each key. “You have to hear the sound of the key before you can find the note,” he says. “That’s where the community comes in. You take the class, you tell me what song you want to work on, and then we work together. In the community, I help students find the answers.”
He holds his community on Thinkific Communities, and enjoys the ease of having the community and his course on the same platform.
As mentioned in his title—Holistic Ear Training for Busy People—Spencer’s course is geared towards a specific audience. “Busy people are people who are feeling like they maybe don’t have time to pick up an instrument, or they have some interest in music, but they have too much going on,” he explains.
“In the Accelerator program, we talked about product market fit and titling things in a way that encapsulates who it’s for,” continues Spencer. “That seems to be a big marketing approach.”
In terms of demographics, Spencer did some testing to see who exactly these “busy people” are who are interacting with his content. To do so, he put out some content via social media posts and ads. “Presently, it seems that the people who engage with my ads are men over 60,” he explains. “I wouldn’t have predicted that, but those are the ones who’ve bitten.”
For other content he’s posted, he says it is a tie between men and women.
Although his enrollments have been off to a slow start, Spencer is confident in his course and the power of the content he shares. “I believe in what I’m doing, and creators who are offering similar courses don’t have the pedagogical credibility to pull it off like I do,” he says. “I’m very confident because between my education, I have a unique mix of curriculum design skills and an understanding of how to make music in real time.”
“I wouldn’t want to put a shingle up in something where I didn’t know what I was doing,” adds Spencer. “You need to know what you’re talking about; then you can bring depth.”
Plus, believing in what he is teaching helps him to sell it. “I couldn’t market soda or pottery, but I can market this course because it’s in my bones,” he says, confidently.
To up his intake of students, he plans on relaunching his Facebook ad campaign with some videos he made over the summer. “So far, I’ve been getting little nibbles from the ad, which feels great,” he says.
He chose to price his course at $98 USD. When choosing the price, he compared his content to some competitors. Then, he decided he wanted to choose a more accessible price than what others were offering so that he could get people into the program and continue testing it.
He uses Thinkific Payments, so that—like Thinkific Communities—everything is under one roof. “I already have Thinkific, Mailchimp, Zapier, Meta, and my own website. It would have been too much to have an external payment system,” he states.
His goal is to be profitable enough to pay for itself. His mission is to get up to 100 active users in the next two quarters. Then, he would like to create a Level 2 course with more advanced content, and have those students continue on to the next course. “In Level 2, I would share things that I do to improve my own ear,” shares Spencer. “It would be a master level type of class.”
Spencer’s biggest learning curve has been wrapping his head around marketing. “They don’t teach you how to market in music school,” he laughs. “Learning how to feel comfortable in my own skin with marketing has taken me a while.”
He describes social media as feeling “maddening” and “time-consuming” at times. Luckily, he works with two assistants on a part-time basis; one helps him with social media, and the other helps him with high-level funnel design. “I found both of these folks through Upwork, which I’ve really enjoyed.”
In fact, one thing he wished he did differently was hire sooner. “Part of my journey as a musician and composer is that I tend to try to do everything myself,” he reveals. “I think that if I could have gotten more help sooner, it would have been helpful.”
“In my experience, there are so many little pieces that you have to put together between producing social media content, learning how to repurpose content, learning how to connect the content to the curriculum content, and learning how to deal with all of the interfaces of MailChimp, Thinkific, Meta, and Google,” he says. “You have to do these tasks repeatedly so that you get comfortable with it and it doesn’t take as many hours, or hire someone to help you.
He creates all of his content himself, such as the course content, newsletter, and ads.
He updates his students via newsletter about new lessons or practices that are in the course. And then those who come through his lead magnet are on another email list and get sent the series of five emails that point them towards free lessons with the hopes of getting them to join the paid version of the course.
He plans on mainly using Instagram, Facebook ads, as well as Google keywords to market his course.
When asked about his customer journey, he says he still has work to do in refining it.
Currently, he has two Facebook ads that are videos of him teaching. The call to action on those ads is to access free lessons—and he is using the Thinkific feature that allows him to access some lessons free. “My hypothesis is that the people who get in there are going to get a direct experience of what I do,” he shares.
Spencer offers these free lessons scattered throughout the course, so that once people are in Thinkific they can browse all of the free content. Then, he has Zapier set up that sends their data to Mailchimp, which takes them on an automated five-email journey. These emails direct the customer or potential customer to look at certain other features within the course.
A big part of Spencer’s journey with first-time online course creation is being open to experimentation.
“Everything is an experiment,” he maintains. “If I don’t get many plays on an Instagram video, it’s not because it’s bad. Some videos get 11,000 views, and others get 25. So what can I test? I can test the marketing approach and I can ask myself if there is something I’m not being clear about.”
While Spencer hasn’t seen instant, overnight success (which many first-time course creators don’t see right away! It’s a long game, remember), he’s committed to the process and is passionate about the knowledge he wants to share. “If you are called to share your expertise, I honestly believe that there is an audience to be found there,” he concludes.
Ready to turn your expertise into revenue? Your own audience—and online course—awaits. Sign up for Thinkific today for free and see for yourself.