In May 2015, Grooveshark music sharing service shut down permanently, and its millions of users lost the music libraries they’d created and curated for years. At this time, me and the team were passionately working on audiosplitter.fm, the social music platform, and we spotted a gap in the digital music industry.
The online music industry is very product oriented, music lovers are more users than anything else.
While trying to connect music lovers and artists directly and liberate them from labels, new generation music companies like Spotify, Rdio, Soundcloud, Deezer, Pandora, and many others, had put themselves in-between instead.
Listeners are bound to products where they were investing their time, and moving between services is painful. The music enthusiast who uses multiple services, knowing that every platform has its strengths, ends up with a highly fragmented collection. ‘Ownership’ became ‘borrowing’.
But we believe in music collections, and therefore that music taste must belong to people and be independent from content providers. So began our open source product project ‘Pelago’. It aims to be the main music hub that works seamlessly, protecting and unifying listeners’ music data in one place so people can carry, sync and use their curated collections everywhere.
I conducted user research in an open office in London, interviewing a small group of 9 people with a variety of daily and overall music habits. The main aim of the research was to have a detailed insight about their behaviour while streaming music and especially about their libraries/collections.
I used John Fuller of Lauren Hubener’s academic research on ‘The Human Experience of Music Information Retrieval in Digital Music Services’ as a reference point and shaped my findings into personas, guided by the main persona traits it set out.
Saves albums as playlists
Has music journalist friends
in Charity Sector
Wants to choose the taste, not the specific track.
Founder of audiu.net
Professional feedback platform for musicians
Dj, ‘Pretty musical person’
He wrote a script to add tracks in received emails to youtube playlist.
The one who manages the music
Freelance Visual Designer
True enthusiast and discoverer
Currently founding a share economy startup Spotify-loyal, because ‘Swedish’
Founder and designer
Played drums at high-school
I gathered my findings under three main personas with unique daily music habits, before braking down the potential foreseen frustrations; needs and goals; challenges and opportunities and applied a SWOT analysis to rationalise decision points.
34 years old • Married • Founder of a lifestyle start-up • Lives in London • Owns a Vinyl collection
“ I’ve gone premium on Spotify, because I want as much as possible in one player. If something is not in my Spotify, it’s not in my collection. But I’m kind of open to the idea of using new stuff. I’m not stuck with the spotify, if something better comes. "
He listens music most of the days, most of the time. He has a pick-up and a vinyl collection, he spares couple hours with them over the weekends. So he has a physical and a digital music archive. He makes digital and physical purchases and try to be loyal to the artists he likes.
Steve purchases tracks on iTunes Store or Bandcamp or wherever it is available every now and then. He discovers music through various sources, such as radio, recommendation services, blogs, events and music headed friends like himself. He manually saves them to his primary music service (Spotify at the moment) and organize them properly and carefully. He saves albums as playlists. He downloads “Best of” playlist of that year on Metacritic, look for the artists and albums and saves the ones he likes. Steve believes the current model on the industry weakens the relationship between the artist and the fans. He is not blindly bond to his music service and happy to change if something better comes up in the future. But so far, he had the best experience with Spotify. He does even have a bit of the digital fear of losing everything over one night.
He is not completely satisfied with the recommendation services, and especially Spotify Radio feature and actively looking for new ways to discover new music.
• Might require a paradigm shift in ‘ownership’
• Purchasing digital files is superior to online
• Primary value proposition is not immediate
• Productivity tool for library management
• A independent trustable platform for online archive
• Even better if the platform bring in more information about the content
• Whole collection/archiving process is mostly manual.
• Delays between discovery and owning, due to the availability
• Current products are not enough informative about content
• Most money-spending user type
• Highest potential for affiliate services or premium models
• Disruption the current product oriented state of the sector and bring artists to focus
• ‘Archive’ concept matters. Invest time in music, manually and patiently.
• Uses multiple services to listen and discover music, collects them in primary service
• Interested in music, so accessible through marketing channels.
• Literate, hence easier to communicate the product benefits.
• Immeadiate benefit might not be obvious.
• Triggers and touchpoints are important for habit change
• Tends to spend money on affiliate services
• Interested in more artist oriented, less service oriented experience
• Potential to influence people
• Needs alligned with casual listener
• Risk of appearing as another redundant music service.
26 years old • Digital Designer • Works in a digital startup • Lives in London • Used to occasionally DJ as hobby
“ I don’t track my music. I don’t archive what I’ve listened. I usually consume music and leave it behind. Mostly, I don’t listen the music that I have listened previous month. I guess, my music taste is very eclectic.... ”
Paul listens music everyday, especially when working. He streams music mostly on his laptop, and occasionaly on his smartphone. He is interested in self-promotion about music on social media, yet he didn’t hugely involved with music on any platform.
Paul uses different music streaming services for different music, different genres. Services he is engaged includes;
• Spotify for when he is looking for a specific track, album or artist
• Rdio for personalized radio
• Tried Apple Music, hasn’t entirely hooked up with.
• Mixcloud for curated mixes by dj’s.
• Soundcloud for subculture music (he follows artists and labels)
• Occasionally used Beatport back when he was DJing.
• Follows various blogs, sites and radio stations,
He is not bothered about his archive and keeping track of the music he listened. Music is more contemporary for him. He believes in the new norms of the music industry, we don’t own content anymore; and due to the accessibility of all the music, he is alright with renting content. He isn’t tend to listen the music that he listened last month anyways. He believes his musical identity is more about the taste and genres, rather than artist names and albums or specific tracks.
• Trust is the main barrier to adopt any new music related product, which is hard to establish and easy to lose
• Content on library will be less accessible due to underground nature, hence lower cross platform transition.
• To discover latest content as soon as possible
• Get news about the music they are interested in, and keep updated with less effort
• A more inclusive music platform to colelct their fragmented footprint for a better and personalized recommendation service, which can offer more than mainstream music.
• There isn’t a single destination to go for music
• Current discovery sources are manual and too fragmented
• Conventional services are too mainstream and doesn’t get the latest updates as fast
• Usually taste makers and influencers. Adoption of the product would enable us to reach a larger audience in shorter time.
• Interested in music, accessible through marketing channels
• Hence always on the lookout and try new products.
• Music is very much fragmented.
• Voluntarily invest too much time on music
• Doesn’t care about archiving and library; more update and news oriented, instead of keeping track.
• Radically different semantics and mental model in terms of music consumption
• Assumably smaller size of group
• Picky about new products, trust is important (although usually trust issues occurs around the content, rather than product)
• Niche music - less accesible content, from tech stand point
• Influencer; would lattract larger group of people
• Doesn’t have one go-to address for their music; actively and manually checks updates on different platforms.
• Might be happy about theit current methodology, so potential risk of not to adopt
• More discover focused, hence type of user we want on audiosplitter.
• Might cause traffic decrease on various independent platforms, so we might end up being potential natural rival.
31 years old • Account Manager • Works in a marketing agency • Lives with her partner • Lives in London
“ I'm not that much of a music head. Or in a way it feels a little bit hard work. Keeping track of the music is something I probably would like to do better. I do like listen to a new music. But easiest for me is just put that song in the radio and just let it play. ”
Vicky listens music most of the days, not necessarily with headphones. If there is music playing in the office, she just sticks with it. She listens music at home when cooking or doing chores. Usually rely on other people choices in social environments.
Vicky doesn’t consider herself a music-head. She doesn’t want, nor have time to invest in her online music experience. She uses different services to listen music, including;
• Spotify is her main service, she uses if she wants to listen a specific track. Rarely makes playlists, mostly uses the radio feature or queue tracks up.
• 8tracks to listen curated playlists. • Youtube for playlist and recommended tracks.
• She shazams songs, then usually forget about them.
Vicky listens the stuff that her friends shares on facebook or twitter, and she mostly trusts their recommendations. She listens internet radio, such as BBC Radio 6, Chill FM, XFM, Layback Radio etc. She doesn’t archive any music. She doesn’t care enough about the ‘ownership’ to invest time. Hence, she loses most of the stuff that she likes and cannot build a digital presence. She feels sort of lost in digital music scene.
• Requires a habit change.
• Less tech-savvy, hence a longer learning curve.
• Lack of interest in the area, so it’s more difficult create awareness.
• Automatically creating a library through her activity. • Empowering better recommendations and customized radio.
• Entire online experience is fragmented.
• Doesn’t have a library, doesnt want to invest time and effort.
• Usually doesn’t know where to play what music.
• There isn’t a main hub to understand her taste in music, so recommendation services are also not optimum.
• Bigger target group.
• Not loyal to any service yet, open minded.
• Doesn’t have a library, but want to have one. • Relatively new to streaming, so open minded. • Keen to try out new stuff.
• Mostly not aware or not looking for new music product.
• Not tech-savvy, naturally longer learning curve.
• Doesn’t want to invest time in music; so there is a sign-up barrier and challenge to communicate the product and its benefits clearly.
• Needs alligned with heavy collectors.
• Make the most of the new services through aggregations
We decided to focus on Heavy Collectors. The main use case, hence the MVP, targets drawbacks of their user flow. The issues we focussed on at the first stage were:
• How to hold and protect music collection in one single database
• Establishing ease of transferability of the content over platforms
• How to update and sync libraries on each platform seamlessly
The primary focus in the early stages is synchronising all collections across all platforms so that users could enjoy all the platforms to the full extent, without investing excessive amounts of time. One of the main issues we found with the existing digital music scene is that products were silos, disconnected from each other. Listeners were bound with their primary platforms, especially Steve; although he does use different products for different purposes, he can’t enjoy the full benefits of them due to fragmentation.
Pelago aims to disrupt the common understanding of a ‘collection’, and therefore it must be very clear about what it is, and what it is not. In order to achieve that I deliberately ruled out four big things:
• Player. Pelago is not another music streaming service. The music it shows is linked to the music services.
• Discovery. Any sort of suggestion mechanism hasn’t been included in the MVP.
• Social. Connections, follow, messaging, etc. is the least of our target Steve’s concerns.Pelago is about ownership. The one thing Pelago must do perfectly is facilitate the management of a person’s collection.
I gave the full control to the user (an important lesson I learned from the Brewster Mess (!) ) by allowing them to choose which collection to update and where. With basic edit options (merge, rename, delete), the aim was to get the user used to the idea of managing music collection on Pelago.
The onboarding of Pelago is purely focussed on synchronising all libraries across all platforms. Considering Steve’s case, one of his subscriptions will be the most thorough, the most curated, and the main purpose of this step is to update all his accounts.
The first confirmation is provided when the information is successfully received. Inspired by Minimum Badass User, I designed a small widget here; a mini summary box about users’ music taste. I aimed to increase social share and provide the audience - actual and potential - with instant awareness about the benefits of the product.
There are two main sections of Pelago, which serve two main user needs found during the user research;
• Library: management and organisation of the user’s music library across all platforms
• Activity: updating the user’s library according to their online activity
After onboarding, the user lands on the library, which provides them with solid validation about their retrieved data. On the library the user is able to see an overview of their entire collection. They can ‘activate’ playlists on integrated services.
The information architecture here is designed so that the services are attached to content (as opposed to grouping tracks and playlists under containing services). By doing so I aimed to emphasise the content over the product, and give the impression of an independent music collection.
‘Activity’ indicates user activity on different services. The user research showed that Steve tends to discover music on different sources like playlists, online mags, social media, etc. Content he discovers, he manually adds to his main library. This is a painful process, especially if the tracks are not yet available on the destination platform. Instead on Pelago, user can add music to any playlists from activity history. And playlists will update on all services with that music.
Also, I added an auto-playlist option which creates a playlist from their listening history in their library. So they can see all available history on all services simultaneously. An additional benefit if this button is; leading user to get used to the idea of managing playlists from another platform.
With their own playlists, user would hesitate to turn on & off (trust issues, digital fear and so on) at first stage.
Instead we serve them a useful playlist, that they didnt invest time and effort. So they can have an early experimentation in terms of ‘playlist management’.
I did a guerrilla testing on people who fall into the Heavy Collector category for two reasons:
• To collect some user insight about the product, validation of the concept and first impressions
• Usability testing and to see how every step on the initial user journey was understood
The main shortcomings on the UX found during the user testing can be listed as the following;
- Users need a better explanation and understanding of the product. Although I do believe that a fully defined landing page is going to help this a lot, I also improved the onboarding process especially in terms of clearer signposting. I also added more information throughout the process about the received data and the action that is going to take place. Another change on the onboarding was adjusting the tone of voice, so that the user will semantically build a better mental model of Pelago.
- One of the bigger changes in the product after user testing was turning playlists on and off on integrated services. Originally, this was done on the list of playlists and the playlist header inside. However, this caused confusion, especially considering that the same place in the layout is reserved to linking the track listing to actual content on those services. Also, turning playlists on and off being so prominent was increasing the chances of mistakes, and potentially stresses the user. So I moved this functionality to settings menu inside a playlist.
UI & Visual Design
The brand identity of Pelago has been created by the London based design agency EACH. They created a concept for us to emphasise the feeling of 'order' and with varying colours that correspond to the services included in Pelago. Throughout the design, I tried to keep Pelago's UI consistent and keep the branding meaningful.
I deliberately avoided using artworks on the interface and kept the UI style clean and typographic. I aimed to make the most of the familiar existing management tools, such as Google Drive, Dropbox, Pocket, Slack, etc. By doing so, I aimed to encourage the understanding of Pelago as a management tool.
In order to strengthen the reference to music services, I used circular elements in the branding with UI icons from all products.
Also, to increase the feeling of order, I used a parallax animation on the landing page, showing different entities from different services coming together in a organised way.
Three main messages on the landing page states the three main benefits of the Pelago in the short-, medium- and long term.
• Sync everything, everywhere. Immediate benefit.
All libraries on different services are synchronised after the signup.
• Always keep your archive updated.
Pelago empowers user (the user/users) to keep their libraries updated on all services simultaneously and seamlessly, as they use them.
• It's your music, safe forever.
Long term benefit
Assurance against the digital fear of losing all online data, in case the products they use shut down.
Onboarding Step 1
I used cautious language, and deliberately picked vocabulary to build a proper mental model of Pelago. On the first step, where users connect their accounts, instead of simply saying ‘Import', as the common tendency in music services, I described it carefully with the three main actions that will take place throughout the onboarding.
'Scan' is especially important at this step, because what Pelago does is actually scan the metadata in isolated libraries, rather than 'importing' content. I emphasised it with an animation on the header, again recruiting the branding elements.
Onboarding Step 2
Data retrieval & confirmation
The second step of the onboarding is a confirmation of the scanned data in an infographic form. I aimed to encourage the understanding that the music archive is above the products: Users don't have separate libraries on different services, instead they have one collective music archive which is separately available on services.
Onboarding Step 2.1
Social media engagement
I hid the social share element as opposed to the pre-user testing wireframes behind the infographic. I planned to add a movement animation to the hidden element upon the cursor movement, aiming to draw attention.
Onboarding Step 3
One of the UX shortcomings on the prototype was the last step of the onboarding. Users (the user/ users) were confused and lost, due to the lack of instructions and visual clues, therefore I included a clear explanatory copy. I also used original icons for every retrieved entity (Youtube Likes, Soundcloud Reposts etc.) and showed clearly where they are retrieved from.