I'm the CEO of Don't Fret Productions™. When I was five, I started playing guitar, and shortly thereafter, I came up with the original idea for the Don't Fret Note Map™ to show how to play guitar. At eight, I filed for a utility patent, (5,920,023) and received it when I was ten. I received a supplemental patent (6,452,081) based on my original invention when I was 12.
One of my goals in life has always been to help people acquire the gift of music. I continue to try to achieve that goal. One of my biggest personal enjoyments is playing guitar. I know how beneficial it is to me to be able to pick up my guitar and "play the stress away". Science has proven that learning to play guitar helps to lower stress levels and can improve overall quality of life.
I am now 22, and I run two more companies. My other music instruction company is Fretless Finger Guides™ which currently manufactures fingerboard note locators for full size and half size violins. Eventually, I hope to have maps for all stringed, necked instruments with or with out frets.
My third company, Computer Works Northwest involves network administration and security, computer repair, educational lecturing, web site design (such as this site) and construction of high-end custom computers and servers.
I hope to have a future career in network administration, consulting, and security. Check out my Resume.
If you'd like to contact me, you can email me at:
nick [at] dontfret.com
(This is not a link, to help reduce spam)
The photo below was taken in March of 2005 at the NBC Studios in New York City. I was asked to participate in a Jane Pauley show about young entrepreneurs. Jane is the consummate professional and a most gracious host. My thanks to her for her hospitality.
This article is reprinted with permission from The Music Trades magazine, the June 2004 issue. Our thanks to Rich Watson.
Entrepreneurial Prodigy Created First Product At Age 6 And Is Now Developing A New Computer Based Learning System
Can you remember what you were doing when you were six? Depending on your generation, it likely involved G. I. Joe or Barbie, Hot Wheels, and/or Play Station. Aside from the handful of modern-day Mozarts' among us, most so young weren't making significant contributions to music, and fewer still were inventing hit products for the music products industry. Nicholas Ravagni may be a kind of modern-day Mozart of music industry marketing.
Nick started playing guitar when he was five. He recalls that about a year later after taking a guitar lesson he saw an older student who was "literally in tears, trying to figure out where to put his fingers on the fretboard." Troubled, that night Nick went home and thought about ways to help beginners by creating visual cues of the finger positions.
Without any adult guidance he wrapped a piece of Saran Wrap around his guitar neck and drew finger position dots on it with a felt-tipped marker. At first, he recalls, his parents just chuckled about his invention. "Then they looked at each other and said, 'Hey this isn't a bad idea.'" Before long Nick and his father Steve, began experimenting with a roll of static cling vinyl, "mapping" out color-coded finger position dots and using a razor blade to cut the device to fit the neck of his guitar. That prototype evolved into the Don't Fret Note Map™, a breakthrough educational aid that is now distributed by Hal Leonard Publishing worldwide. But more remarkable that Nick's Saran Wrap epiphany or the success he now enjoys at the ripe old age of 15 are the steps he took to make his business vision a reality- and the ones he's been making ever since.
Initially Nick marketed his invention directly to Seattle-area music retailers. I was nine or ten at the time," he explains, "I dressed up in my little JC Penny suit and tie, put some Note Maps in a brief case and walked up to the counter of some of the local music stores and asked for the manager. I put a Note Map on a guitar and did a product demonstration, explaining how it doesn't affect the playability of the guitar because the static cling vinyl is only about eight millimeters thick, and because it has slots cut for the frets. I also pitched how the low wholesale cost and a $10 retail price would provide a great margin, and that the dealer was almost guaranteed to sell a dozen of them if he displayed them prominently in the store". If discussing margins and merchandise with seasoned retailers doesn't seem like typical behavior for a ten-year-old, it was an early indication of just how atypical Nick Ravagni is. "My parents have a great business sense," he says. "They taught me very young about business principals, money management, and sales pitching."
After a couple of rejections, American Music owner Reese Marin - "A really nice man"- Took Nick seriously and purchased a stock of Don't Fret Note Maps, helping him establish a track record. "Nicholas was totally amazing - brimming with self-confidence and very specific in his mission" recalls Marin. "The Note Map seemed viable and saleable, so I went for it. I displayed one on a guitar and the rest of them sold - quickly. From that point we kept reordering." Other luthiers and stores Nick credits with helping him throughout his career include Hammond Ashley, Mills Music, Kennelly Keys, and Pacific Music.
Interest in Nick's products grew, and the precocious, market-savvy 11-year-old was even the subject of a feature on ABC World News Tonight with Peter Jennings. But after a few years of flying solo he realized he could use some help in reaching a music broader market. Nick and his parents had acquired a utility (full-coverage) patent on the Don't Fret Note Map when he was 10, and a year later they licensed the Don't Fret Note Map, Don't Fret Chord Map, and Don't Fret Bass Map to Hal Leonard Corp. The products come in attractive packs complete with instructions and simple practice songs. In a contract that Nick and his parents negotiated themselves, Nick retained the right to sell Don't Fret products at Seattle 's Experience Music Project museum store to honor the "great personal relationship" he'd established with its staff, and on his self-authored and constructed web site, www.dontfret.com . Hal Leonard also distributes the Put It On and Play pack, which includes both the Note Map and the Chord Map.
Between home schooling and enjoying his favorite pastime of guitar (with influences including Eric Clapton, Roy Orbison, Kurt Cobain, Smash Mouth, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Jimi Hendrix, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, and Chris Cornell), Nick still managed to find time to launch a second company in 2003. Fretless Finger Guides™ produces learning aids that are similar to Note Maps but are designed specifically for violin, viola, cello, and upright bass. The orchestral line's inaugural product is a model for half-size violin, the most popular orchestral string instrument for beginners. Other models for three-quarter and full-size instruments will be available soon. Nick reports that Hal Leonard has served his Don't Fret products very well, but at least for a while he and his parents will handle the sales and distribution of all orchestra products. "Keeping the companies separate helps organize our business" he says. "It also allows us to maintain two separate web sites ( www.dontfret.com and www.fretlessfingerguides.com ) which makes our marketing and sales efforts more effective."
A self-described "nerd", Nick says that computers are a passion of his second only to music. He teaches a weekly computer class to 50 to 80 senior citizens and provides them with one-on-one computer help and repairs. He also takes programming and web design classes at two local community colleges. This interest led him to explore high-tech variations on his instrument learning aids. An electronic version of his Don't Fret Note Map, still under development, replaces the ink dots on the vinyl with Light Emitting Polymers. "LEPs involve a delocalized pi-electron system that glow when the electricity flows to them," he explains. "When you connect it to a computer interface and click, for example, the G Chord icon on your computer screen, the computer will light up the appropriate dots on the Note Map as it displays the chord notes on the screen. The software for the device will know every chord, note and scale in existence for guitar and numerous other stringed instruments, and it will have the ability to display them." The eventual goal would be that users could insert their favorite CD and the system could selectively sample a particular instrument and display the piece on the Note Map. Nick is looking into developing an electronic version of his fretless products as well.
Unlike the Don't Fret Note Map, the electronic device will be fairly expensive to develop because it requires interfaces for both hardware and software as well as lots of high-level programming. Consequently, Nick and his parents are formulating a business plan and seeking venture capital to continue advancing the project. "We've completed the patent work and all of the basic wiring diagrams," says Nick. "Now we just have to put together a prototype and look for people to retail it or someone to buy the patent."
Although Nick admits that he'd like to "make a few bucks in the process," he says the primary mission of his business ventures has always been to help people experience music. This is one of the reasons he has tried to keep his products' retail price low "so that just about anybody can afford them." It also partly explains his excitement about the emerging awareness of recreational music making. "I read a great article about recreational music making in The Music Trades (Feb. 2004). I thought the whole concept of bringing music making to non-musicians was great. I plan to create a web site that's going to serve two purposes: First, it will be a place where people can exchange links and ideas to advance the idea that all people, young and old, can improve their life just by picking up an instrument. I hope to use this forum to start jam sessions for non-musicians and musicians at our local community center, and I want to encourage music stores and people in the community to loan or donate instruments for use in these sessions. Second," he continues, true to form, "it will be a great way for me to turn people on to my products."
Does Nicholas Ravagni represent the industry's future of market building? If his first 15 years as an inventor and go-getting marketer are any indication, he could be making a mark on the music products industry for years to come.