So I just sent out my first album of music to TuneCore since I started applying Lean Startup ideas into my process of composition. TuneCore does a very good job simplifying and streamlining the distribution process in digital-music-land, so it won’t be too long before the tracks starts to show up on iTunes, Amazon, and Spotify for streaming and downloading. (I’d recommend them for anyone wanting to get their stuff out there.)
It’s been an interesting experience doing things in this way because it forced me to do things oppositely of how I normally approached my projects. I’ve been making sure to document everything that I’ve done so far since I know I’m one of the first to try this out as a musical enterprise — definitely the first to get it in writing, at least. Here a few factoids that some might find interesting:
Time/Budget in a Typical Compositional Process
Music-Making: Avg. time to complete a work for most composers is about 2-3 months.
Rehearsals: About one 1-hour session, 2 or 3 if you’re lucky. Performer and rehearsal space fees.
Performances: Space rental and negotiation fees. Performer fees.
Recordings: Recording engineer fees for recording and post-production editing.
Distribution/Marketing: Varies, thousands -> millions depending on popularity of the act using PR and marketing firms.
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Time/Budget Using Lean Methods (So Far)
Music-Making: ~2 days per track, roughly 10-11 days total.
Recordings: Uses default settings on music software — minimal mixing or “tweaking”.
Distribution/Marketing: Tunecore, Social Media. (Under $50 total.)
The slideshow at the top of the page is the presentation that I gave at the University of Southern California a few weeks ago. You can view it for more details about what I did exactly, but the gist of it is that I’m now seeking feedback on my music before I go through the hassle of putting together a live performance. The chart above might not seem like a big deal for a lot of artists working in the electronic medium, but the idea of creating a minimum viable product doesn’t come easy when you have to consider the involvement of live performers. So I think I’m doing pretty well so far, considering the circumstances.
From the composer’s or songwriter’s perspective, this basically means that the musician should make a MIDI or mock-up rendition of their work and send it out to the public immediately after it reaches a point of “viability”. This is now possible because advances in music technologies have made it much easier to make higher-quality mock-ups, while people’s ears are more attuned to sounds made by electronic devices now than ever before. All of the pieces in the album that I made are playable by live performers if necessary, but the idea here is to resist the urge to get it performed until there are some pretty solid signs that the necessity actually exists.
I’ve also tried to avoid the traps of obsessive perfection that musicians sometimes fall into — e.g. editing and re-editing a bar of music over and over until it becomes “just right”. It turns out that there’s no such thing as “just right”, and if it ever seems that way it’s usually in ways that nobody else cares about. So for this project, my new motto became “good enough, get it out!”
Customer Development for Music
What exactly is customer development and how would a musician go about applying its ideas and principals into their work? Well, in the big picture that’s for everyone to figure out, since this stuff is in new territory and there aren’t any rules to be made or broken at this point in time. But I took a few ideas from the sources above and tried to model my strategy around what entrepreneurs have done in relation to their (ad)ventures.
Currently I’m in the Customer Discovery/Customer Validation stages (steps 1 and 2), in search of a repeatable, “scalable” model. In a nutshell, this basically means that I’m not going to be finding performers for my works until it shows some signs that it could potentially draw an audience. Traditionally, the 3rd and 4th steps of the Customer Development model would come right after the music has been made, pushing the feedback process all the way at the end.
The top-down, late-feedback approach is the Waterfall Model that corporations and large institutions typically use to guide their business practices. People have become fairly skeptical of the Waterfall in recent years because it has a history of producing a lot of bad products, as well as a mentality that allows for companies to fall out of touch with its client and customer base. To be fair, in known, matured, and stable market environments this approach is can sometimes work. But the economic environment of the 21st century has proven itself to be a different beast altogether, throwing many of its ideas into disarray.
Similar to startup companies, given that most aspiring musicians are starting small and are “searching” for their potential audience/customer-base, it seems more apt to use theories from the world of entrepreneurship, rather than deriving its methods from the Waterfall Model. Lean Startup methodologies move the feedback process much earlier in the process in an attempt to increase the odds of a product launch being a successful one, which is an idea that I think can be very powerful for shaping the artistic process in the digital age. If a product fails, it fails early, way before composers/producers/songwriters end up spending thousands of dollars (and hours of their lives) on something that might not get anywhere. Money or fame doesn’t always have to be the end goal, but the methodology can be very useful for allowing the artist to shape and validate their career and artistic goals.
Sounds crazy? Well, it turns out that there already exists models that closely resembles this approach. While doing some research on my Angry Birds remix track, I found this video of the theme being played live by the London Philharmonic Orchestra. The original composer (Ari Pulkkinen) created the original theme “virtually” as a soundtrack to a video game, but as the game became more popular, it eventually became “viable” enough for hundreds of people to get involved with the process. In a lot of ways, the careers of video game composers could serve as an early hint for how the repertoire might be shaped in the upcoming years of classical music practices.
So when will my project get to step 3 in chart? Maybe soon, maybe later, maybe never…only time will tell. Throughout my life I’ve been blessed with countless opportunities to make music with world-class musicians, most of which didn’t involve money in any way whatsoever. Many of these endeavors were done as academic/research pursuits or for the sheer love of the craft, and I wouldn’t have had it any other way. But for this project the goals are defined very clearly: it’s necessary for at least one of my tracks to gain some traction before I can justify having it performed by real people.
In other news, in order to compare and contrast my results with my older habits, I wrote a string quartet and am having it performed and am having it recorded this weekend. The space and performers are already paid for (more expensive and time consuming, obviously), and I think it’ll serve as a good compare/contrast model for how the two methodologies work. And maybe a better sense on what I’m better at doing.
Either way, answers are en route. Stay tuned for more details!