Creator Stories:

Success with hyper-niche music courses: How this pair of creators found success teaching the hammered dulcimer.

Mary Lynn Michal and Laurie McCarriar are the founders of HD Homeland, an online course built with Heights Platform that teaches people how to play a musical instrument called the Hammered Dulcimer.

Ever since the launch, HD Homeland has been a huge success: Laurie and Mary Lynn managed to reach $50,000 (and counting) in revenue from their online courses.

Wondering how these two passionate musicians managed to build such a successful course around this unusual musical instrument? Keep reading below to learn about the journey that brought them here.

HD Homeland creating and selling music courses about the hammered dulcimer on Heights Platform

The Story Behind HD Homeland

We recently had the opportunity to talk to Laurie, a hammered dulcimer player living in Virginia, US, who founded HD Homeland together with Mary Lynn.

For those of you who are not familiar with the hammered dulcimer, it is a trapezoidal-shaped stringed instrument, played by striking the strings with light, hand-held hammers.

Before the launch of HD Homeland, Mary Lynn helped to write The Complete Guide to Theory and Mapping for the Hammered Dulcimer, with Ken Kolodner, regarded as one of the most influential hammered dulcimer players in the U.S. Laurie produced all of the charts, illustrations, and graphic design for the book.

“Mary Lynn and I were just talking about how cool it would be if we could help people go through the book. Because it's one thing to buy a book, and the next thing people do is put it on the shelf. And so we wanted them to engage with it.”

As Laurie is an expert in graphic design and digital marketing, she was already aware of the world of eLearning. They were already using Heights Platform to teach tunes, and had the idea of creating an online course to provide even more resources to those who purchased the book.

So this is how the online course HD Homeland was born. But how did Laurie and Mary Lynn manage to grow it and reach $50,000 in revenue?

Let's see how HD Homeland attracts clients and what marketing strategies Laurie and Mary Lynn have been using to scale their business.

How HD Homeland Attracts New Clients

The main way HD Homeland manages to attract new students is through cross-promotion, especially between the book and the online course.

If someone purchases Ken Kolodner's book, after a couple of weeks they receive an email inviting them to check out the online course (HD Homeland).

The people who bought the book are a great audience, as they are clearly interested in learning how to play the hammered dulcimer and having an interactive tool such as an online course at their disposal is a great added advantage.

Cross-marketing between products is overall an excellent way to increase sales and create a community around your brand, as you are promoting to a "hot audience" who already knows you and is familiar with your content.

Another way Laurie and Mary Lynn grew their online course sales is through their community.

The Sandbridge Hammered Dulcimer Retreat, now in its 17th year, began with an idea by Ken Kolodner (enthusiastically supported by Laurie) to create a community around learning the hammered dulcimer in a fun and supportive setting. Mary Lynn began attending the workshop in 2012 and is now Ken's Teaching Assistant for all 5 weeks of the retreats.

hammered dulcimer book that cross promotes their online course

“We run this workshop at the beach every spring and fall attracting nearly 120 students per year who come to the beach and learn with us.”

Hammered dulcimer players from all over the country attend year after year, to learn and play music (and spikeball) together. The book, online courses, and all of the other online resources available from Ken and from HD Homeland extend the learning year-round, and also serve to attract new students to the retreats.

From the community, people who took part in the workshops or enrolled in the online course are more likely to tell their friends and fellow musicians about it. Word of mouth is an extremely powerful way of promoting any product and it is how HD Homeland gained its success today.

playing music together at the Sandbridge community retreat

"We've got a good solid customer base. We've gone beyond the Sandbridge community and we're getting international sales too. A lot of it is people telling their friends about it."

The Importance of Niching Down

HD Homeland is an excellent example that shows the importance of finding a small niche and segmenting your value proposition.

Laurie and Mary Lynn understood very well that the more you "niche down" and the more you adapt your content to fit a very specific interest or group of people, the better are your chances of being found by your ideal customer.

Their community is the ultimate example of a small niche market. Not only is the hammered dulcimer a quite rare musical instrument, but Laurie and Mary Lynn niched down even further and they shaped their signature online course to focus mainly on teaching music theory for the hammered dulcimer.

Many creators are worried that only focusing on a specific niche might affect their visibility and they are afraid of losing potential customers.

In reality, focusing on a smaller niche gives you the opportunity to attract customers that are the right fit for your business, and if possible you will gain even more sales, as potential customers are able to identify themselves in your online course.

“With online marketing, if you are in a very specific niche, you just talk about it! You just have to keep talking about it. You've got to tell your story. And you'll eventually find those people who are interested in it.”


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Learn all about finding the right niche for you in this article from our blog: How to Find the Right Niche and Topic for Your New Online Course

Is it Possible to Teach a Musical Instrument Online?

HD Homeland's success is proof that teaching music online is not only possible, but if done right, it can lead to great achievements for both the creator and their students.

Learning to play an instrument online can be more challenging compared to in-person classes. There are subtleties that are hard to address when you are not in person. However, as the creator, there are certain things you can do to ensure a smooth learning experience for your students.

First of all, you need to provide good quality materials—video and audio recorded in high quality, and a camera angle that is set right. Secondly, you need to have good tech support so that technophobic students feel welcome.

"Many students need a little hand-holding when it comes to navigating online learning. Fortunately, Heights Platform makes it easy."

Another important component of learning a musical instrument is practice and interaction with the teacher. While it can get trickier to get that with an online course, Laurie and Mary Lynn complement their online pre-recorded lessons with live online meeting sessions, and email support as questions arise.

a hammered dulcimer used to create HD homeland's online music courses
music theory course created with online course creation software using Heights Platform

Why Laurie Loves Heights Platform

On our call with Laurie McCarriar, we asked her why she chose Heights Platform and what feature of the software she likes the most.

“I love the ease of use and the flexibility it offers, and that you're constantly developing new things. I think that's super cool.”

Heights Platform gives you full flexibility in how you can structure your online course and even how many courses you can make.

If you are thinking about starting your own online course teaching a musical instrument, you need to look out for certain specific features in a platform. How many courses can you create? How much video content can you upload? Are there any community or students interaction features?

To date, HD Homeland has created more than 15 courses and digital product resources for students inside their program with more to come.

Inside Heights Platform, Laurie and Mary Lynn can create unlimited courses, membership sites and digital products, structure them as they want, charge different prices, open discussion boards for their students and more, allowing them to focus on being creative and spending time enjoying their music.


"Game changing platform for course creation.

The software is ridiculously easy to use, right out of the box. The dashboard is well designed and incredibly simple to navigate. You can switch into different views to experience the course as a student too, which really helps as you build your lesson plan.

The course looks professional once completed, with the added bonus of being able to customise the look and feel of the course, to match your branding.

You can set up a discussion board too, and create and sell additional resources to compliment your course, and it all works seamlessly to create a sense of community for the students.

The support for the software is second to none, and the team at Heights obviously care about their customers, and work to support your course's success."

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