Collaboration Tools for Musicians
Elements

Overview

Elements is an app concept aimed at helping musicians, songwriters and bands better collaborate as they produce music.

The app is for mobile and desktop and centers around sharing of audio files and textual data like lyrics and chords.

Researching with Musicians

After the initial flash of inspiration I decided to reach out to my network of musician friends and find out what their biggest pain points were. These were people from a variety of roles and backgrounds in music, but all had created and performed their own original work with others.

From my perspective, there are a few areas of opportunity.
- Capturing song ideas in the momentSharing ideas with collaborators
- Keeping track of songs and ideas in various stages

I did a mix of live video interviews, phone calls and an online survey.

Distilling the Data

To help identify themes from the interviews, I sorted the feedback into different profiles. These represented each respondent and acted somewhat like a persona in concept for me.

Context & Tools

In my research I recorded the variety of touch points and places the creative process included.

This included devices, physical media and the spaces they utilized. I had participants share photos and their process.

Songwriting Process

A key part of understanding what might be required was a breakdown of the common workflow. I created a flow chart that showed the typical process of song creation in many groups.

Key Takeaways

1. Writing takes place anywhere

For everyone interviewed, it was largely a mix of whether the song started with a lyric or musical idea. Additionally, songs started anytime, from doing dishes, to driving or sitting awake in bed.

2. Sharing ideas is convoluted

Though most of the musicians did text or e-mail communication, no one was using anything consistent to keep communication organized. Most fruitful conversations usually happened during a rehearsal.

3. Process is fractured

Between recording ideas, writing lyrics, sharing content, revising content and collecting ideas. Songwriters and musicians don’t have any obvious cohesive solutions.

Breaking Down Similar Tools

1. Voice Memos

This is used for quick ideas and rough demos. The most common complaint was the inability to keep track of ideas. The feeling of an “abyss” of ideas was common. Sharing consists of sharing a single file over e-mail or text.

2. Note Taking

Similar to the voice memo app, this is a great for capturing the idea in the moment. It makes it easy to capture lyrics anywhere. Ultimately, organization becomes the biggest headache here as well. Sharing consists of sharing a single file over e-mail or text.

3. Music Playing Apps

Music apps in general are really good at one thing, browsing and listening to music. The thing they are not good at is being flexible or editable.

Design Considerations

For this initial concept I wanted to stick to the core issues of songwriting. Scheduling practices, managing band resources are other opportunities, but possibly for another solution or a later feature. I focused on 4 main features for the prototype.

  • Capture and organize music ideas in audio
  • Capture and organize lyric ideas in text
  • Use the familiar album/release structure of music apps
  • Provide ability to share and collaborate on this content

1. Simple and intuitive

Most song ideas are worked on or thought of in chaotic places. Band rehearsal or on a walk, it can’t be complicated. Larger buttons and simple controls will reduce frustration and help people capture their ideas no matter their environment.

2. Play to the familiar

Rather than having people learn a whole new paradigm for an app, it’d be best to capitalize on successful layouts people have come to expect from a music app. This will make it easier to adopt and incorporate for people.

3. Make the novel obvious

The key difference between this app and others in the music space is that content is dynamic. The potential to upload a new recording and revise basically any element in the library could be frustrating if not clearly shown.

Prototyping

My first explorations actually preceded my analysis of other apps. Based on feedback from the research and my own experience with songwriting, I experimented with the idea of a dynamic “album” based app to combine the navigation ease of a music app with all the flexibility of today’s productivity tools.

In my sketching, the modular track view and track detail became the most novel and important:

- Modular tracks, allowed for rearrangement and contextual listening of new ideas

- Track View Details: including lyrics, chords and iterative history of recordings helps keep track of your progress in one spot

Feedback and Next Steps

To get an idea of how things were going I ran the prototype by several musicians.

  • Some confusion on what the app could do for them at first, what was different than their current music app?
  • Purpose and capability of app really revealed itself in the song detail view
  • Musicians were appreciative of the familiar layouts, it fit with their expectations of a music app
  • Requested “stages” tags to help process. ie. “Editing”, “Demo”, “Full Band Demo”, “Mixing”
  • “Demo Recorder” with with ability to send “click track” to headphones while recording