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Beta test for The Choral Hub’s gamification of singing skills

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The Choral Hub has submitted its singing for wellness app, Tchzant, for Beta testing prior to a planned summer launch.

The Choral Hub app focuses on wellness and the enjoyment of singing
The Choral Hub app focuses on wellness and the enjoyment of singing

Tchzant – pronouned ‘chant’ – is the world’s first gamified exploration of improving your singing skills and is the brainchild of New Yorker and CEO Xann Schwinn. Xann, who co-founded the company with Suzi Digby in January 2020, originally arrived in Cambridge in 2012, first for a masters in choral conducting from the University of Cambridge, and subsequently as a start-up entrepreneur and graduate (with an earlier venture) of the Accelerate Cambridge programme at the Cambridge Judge Business School.

“I’m New York City born and raised,” says Xann, speaking over Zoom from her hometown, where she’s on “the last leg of an investment raise”.

“We’re in our second raise,” she continues. “We raised £133k last year and £100,000 from Innovate UK; we’re now pre-seed, we’re looking at £500k. It’ll be to build out the team, marketing spend, the roll-out – but basically improving the platform.

“It’s an adult market very similar to Duolingo [online language learning]; it’s for people who always wanted to sing but hadn’t had time or the confidence to sing in a band or choir – it creates a support mechanism.”

Xann Schwinn with fellow co-founder Suzi Digby
Xann Schwinn with fellow co-founder Suzi Digby

The app is gamified to make it more accessible. Musical genres on the app so far include gospel music, sea shanties, folk, rock’n’roll, spiritual and – Xann’s favourite – 16th century choral music. Some music – children’s songs, football songs – is behind a paywall, but the Beta version contains 45.

Say you decide you want to learn Swing Low, Sweet Chariot?

“You come into the app, pick it as your next song, and there’s a set of games that activate that song,” Xann explains. “It’s rhythm first, and you tap for that. Then you move on to the lyric game, where you listen to the track and pick out a lyric, then it’s call-and-response for your phrasing. So that would be maybe the chorus plays and you sing it back.”

The scoring of your effort seems based more on encouragement than a take-down.

“Yes, we score it but not note-by-note,” says Xann. “It’s really about ‘did you get close enough to that song?’ and ear training game, along with the pitch and the rhythm.

“The app records the vocal and then it says ‘this phrase needs a bit more work on it’, it’s not by notes though, that is on the back end. We can see what notes are right and have an equation which works out what’s not quite right. It’s a friendly environment, and we’re trying to make people sing a bit more every day. If you score across a number of points, you’ve completed that part and you get points, badges and trophies along the way. Gradually, there’s more going on: gaming and gamification is what it’s based on.”

Xann describes herself as “a seasoned entrepreneur working at the intersection of start-up tech and the arts”. Before she arrived in Cambridge she earned a Bachelor of Music degree in Music Business/Management from Berklee College of Music in Boston, Massachusetts. The Choral Hub is her third music start-up and the fifth start-up she’s been a part of overall, on both sides of the pond. Yet her own musical journey is one that can only be called awesome.

Xann Schwinn, The Choral Hub CEO and co-founder
Xann Schwinn, The Choral Hub CEO and co-founder

“In my second year at Cambridge I sang in the Jesus College choir and it was one of the highlights of my life.”

She’s sung on a couple of albums on Spotify and has “scratch players – a group of friends from Cambridge days where we sing in tunnels and car parks”. Her approach to Tchzant is “holistic, because most people like to listen to various genres, so I listen to r’n’b when I’m stressed, and I want kids’ songs when I’m around kids”.

She adds: “Creating accessibility to music and ‘singing with others’ has been the strand that ties most of my life’s work together.”

Tchzant is in its “super-early days but it gives you an idea of where we’re headed”. If it takes off the market “is not a totally blue ocean but pretty close to it; for music education there’s not many apps out there”. Of those that are out there one, Yousician, a Finnish interactive musician platform, raised €23m last year.

“It’s growing and we’re at the crest of it,” concludes Xann.

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