Project 5: Music Platform
Updated: Mar 4, 2020
Project 5 is a digital platform to support emerging artists with tools to build their own sub-communities within the music ecosystem. The platform connects artists with professional coaching & studio resources and to build & expand their fan base.
This particular project focuses on researching the existing and potential relationships between artists and fans to develop a system that mutually benefits both groups. A prototype is delivered at the end of the session to demonstrate a design solution.
User research & interview, information architecture, web platform UI design, user testing
Almost everyone loves to listen to some good music that resonates with a certain style or spirit. With streaming products available across wide range devices nowadays, it’s very easy to access music anywhere at any time. We certainly know how to take full advantage of it, whether it’s passing through the dull hours during a commute, to pump up our energy during a workout, or simply enjoying some downtime, music has always been a loyal companion.
Not sure if it’s just me, but my mental picture of “good” music or musicians are only the ones who have been successful for as long as we can remember, the remaining are the lucky few who have either topped the Billboard Lists or had reserved seats at the Grammy’s. With the constant portrayal of “the survival of the fittest”, I had the silly impression that there are no musicians besides the vintage ones.
But I am not the only one (credits to John Lennon here). Apparently the mainstream media seems to only favor the top figures while leaving the majority practically invisible.
How is that possible? Look at the variety of widely broadcasted music and talent shows, and the widespread internet fandom, getting famous and recognized must have been easier than ever, right?
Well not really. The statistics from Digital Music News shows that more than 90% of the artists in the music industry are “undiscovered” and collect less than 10% of the views, likes, and followers on the top social media platform.
The same condition half a globe away in East Asia is not looking much more optimistic. Recent research from B Site -- one of the most popular video-sharing sites in China -- shows that about 70% of their independent musicians’ monthly income is 1000 RMB ($143) and below, while the starting salary for college graduates exceeds more than fivefold at 5600 RMB ($803).
As someone who has traveled to China several times over the past few years, I am absolutely certain that, with the cost of living constantly on the rise, 1000 RMB per month is merely enough to cover one’s allowance, or even less.
The harsh truth is that most independent musicians or musicians on the rise, do not have access to the right resources required to turn them from nobody to somebody: lack of money, limited opportunities of exposure, insufficient self-marketing, to name a few. Every once in awhile, a few talented and fortunate ones make their presence on one of the many on-going live contests. They get on stage, awe the celebrity judges, get some nice close-up shots from the camera, and go off the stage. Once contests are over, their shortage of the right professional resources will eventually put their names out of sight, and scatter their small groups of fans back to dust.
No, it’s definitely not easy for these artists to build their fan base from scratch. Especially in the midst of this digital age, an independent musician in China will need to constantly compete with 100,000 others in the same industry, out of a conservative estimate.
But What If
What if these artists can come together on a shared space that connects them to professional coaching and media exposure, as well as a place to build and expand their fan base? A startup artist may not have many fans, to begin with. What if a number of these artists come together for a joint performance, getting better public exposure, attracting a larger audience, and grow their fanbase? Eventually bringing more sources of income for the artists themselves.
Looking across some of the most popular music platforms in China, the online presence of the independent artists gradually became a necessity due to the growing demands of digital media.
However, very few (or almost none) of these platforms are steering any type of system that mutually benefits the artists and their fan community. Solving the mysteries in between is going to be challenging, but it could also lead to unexpected discoveries.
Understanding the Fans
In order to understand the fans and what they are hoping to gain out of the musical experience, and find out answers to a few key questions:
How did fans become fans?
What captures the fans’ interest from the artists they support?
How can existing fans bring in more fans?
7 interviews were conducted on potential users who live in Shanghai and interact with digital music on a frequent basis. Some interesting trends gradually surfaced among the information shared by the interviewees.
People tend to enjoy music on their own while on the move or at home, but tend to enjoy live performances with others; interviewees (on average) attended a live performance in groups of 2s or 3s
People tend to pay more attention to the automated recommendations in their apps when it comes to searching for new artists or songs, this saves them time and effort from random searches
People are willing to pay more for live events or performance; their average budget on music app membership: ￥10-￥15 per month, live tickets could cost between ￥300 to ￥1000+
Event attendees can’t remember the names of artists from music festivals & pubs (even if they are excellent performers) but remember the artists discovered by themselves or referred through close friends
People enjoy the process of sharing: share newfound artist or music in Wechat moments, or invite friends with similar taste to live performance or concert
Chinese audience is becoming aware of copyright protection on the independent musicians, respecting the fact that you have to pay for the musicians’ work
Target Audience Persona
Based on information collected during screening surveys and interviews, the following traits can be identified as the target persona:
Lives in one of the largest metropolitan cities in China
Listens to the music player or app in transit, or during downtime
Shares new artists or songs via social media platform (Wechat or Weibo)
Attends live performance 2 times a year in groups of 2s or 3s
Ideation & Design
I am not simply designing another music player. There is already a list of streaming apps that have been around for a while and Project 5 is not trying to clone into another one. My job is to think outside the box and look for potential solutions that trigger positive growth among the artists as well as the fan community.
The first prototype was designed under the existing visual styles of Project 5’s site, in the format of a mobile website, since most of our target audience use smartphones as the primary device for music playing.
Another key factor to take into consideration is that the Chinese mobile users had already adapted into their unique set of social media platforms. Facebook and Twitter are, in some aspects, reformatted as Wechat and Weibo. The users’ mentality of clicking certain buttons at a particular location was already under the influence of the digital tools they frequently interact with.
Testing, Iterations & Leanings
The prototype was then tested with a few more potential audience, which resulted in new insights to improve the site’s content and functionality.
Users prefer a limited number of selections versus a big sea of options, having too many options require the user to take time to pick & choose and add further confusion; 3-5 seems like the golden number of options
Comments section may increase user engagement or appear overwhelming; visitors only use it as a quick way to get their words out to the public, people usually pay no further attention beyond the top 3 comments
Artist’s bio page can include additional information such as past/upcoming events and top songs
Event page should display a specific address since not all venue is at an easily recognizable location; it can also include things such as venue logo, promotional video or photos of past events to enrich the content
Tickets section can show how many tickets are left for purchase to prompt any hesitant user to take action
The company stakeholder took more notice into the actual channels to increase the artists’ income, either through small tipping or crowdfunding. The first prototype did not focus much on this mechanism, which meant more research was needed to understand the funding system which the Chinese audience is used to.
Although cash tipping is not a part of the daily norm, yet smart tech users in China are used to a mobile tipping system “Dashang”. It is usually placed at the end of a public resource, where users chip in small amounts to show their support or appreciation. The act of crowdfunding has not populated the lives of the majority yet, but it’s working its way towards a lasting impact.
My next step was to reconstruct the user’s routes along with these particular ways of profit gain and aimed for noteworthy design improvement.
Other than implementing more details to the artist’s bio page and the event page, a fans’ group and a rewards shopping page were also added as they could serve as the main channel to generate money, through purchase or crowdfunding.
Further testing will be needed to observe the users’ reactions towards the funding requests placed throughout the site. While money remains a practical goal, we wouldn’t want to be galling for money every step of the way. That would just be plain old annoying.
In order to perfect the platform to full functionality, the design also had to work closely along with a well-crafted system for the three groups of users: the artists, the fans, and professional resources, respectively as well as interchangeably; and see how a reward system can benefit the operation in a positive cycle.
The mobile world definitely has the potential to impact the future of independent artists. We do hope to see such a solution coming alive to host more promising opportunities in digital music.
Xuesen Wang, Base Salary for 2019 Graduates in China, Sina China
Xianjiang Chen, Why Are There So Many Independent Musicians, Re-Chord Wechat official account publication, June 6, 2019