Soundcheck is a web app that redefines the production, editing, and collaboration process for rising musicians. Soundcheck was a case study project for UC Berkeley's LAUNCH program, a leading accelerator designed to transform early stage startups into fundable companies.
I led the design for Soundcheck from March 2017 to June 2017 as a competition entry for UC Berkeley’s LAUNCH program, which is a startup accelerator, designed to transform early stage startups into fundable companies. Throughout this journey, I led efforts to crafting an experience that addresses a service and customer needs concerning music collaboration and sharing.
Experience Strategy & Vision
I created prototypes in order to establish vision, design principles, and content strategy. These were instrumental to guide decision making.
Planning & Scope Definition
I defined the product along with team members, and coordinated schedule and framework to clearly establish consumer and business goals. I prioritized and negotiated features to create an MVP.
Design Execution & Validation
I executed user interviews, journeys, sketches, prototypes, and high-fidelity design specs. With the help of other team members, I used metrics in order to evaluate the MVP.
I was able to present research and designs to serial-entrepreneur mentors and acclaimed HAAS faculty throughout the project lifecycle.
Defining The Problem
Since 2010, musicians grew to have a stronger online presence and influence. Though 82% of musicians are unsigned, independent artists account for 34.5% of total sales. It’s clear that today’s indie artists are making their mark in the industry without the need for help from a record label. However without the benefits of being signed to a record label, independent artists are left to themselves to not only write and record their music, but to also edit, produce, and market their music. The problem is that the odds are consistently stacked against the underdog up-and-coming musicians, and they lack a way to streamline their production process in the chaos of a booming industry.
Facing the Challenge
Our challenge was to evolve with independent musicians and identify what would help them break through the barriers in a competitive music industry. The benefit of having a music label behind you is the immediate exposure along with top-notch producers, engineers, and facilities. Without access to these benefits, independent artists produce their own music, often resorting to using other music editing platforms, home studios, and their own two ears for consultation. So I had to ask, “How can we make their production process better?”
As a team, we conducted customer and market research to drive the planning phase and learn how to define the project’s milestones and its vision. It also kickstarted the research into user needs, behaviors and pain-points.
My process began with conducting 15 in-person interviews and 10 phone interviews to get a better understanding of the challenges that indie musicians face on a daily basis. Through this phase, the conversations revealed that the concept of producing represented something different to each of the users. Each of their motivations for producing hinted at different requirements and constraints.
Knowing who exactly I was designing for allowed me to critically think through how Soundcheck could alter careers and lives. It was important to align our vision and focus on the behaviors and thought processes of our personas rather than stressing over the nitty gritty specs about interfaces, technologies, or business goals. After designating persona types, we were able to prioritize who we would be focusing on supporting in the MVP stage. By designing these personas at a high‐level, it allowed me to work fluidly and explore concepts that we could easily communicate with our team and LAUNCH mentors.
Layout All the Tools
Hidden and unrecognizable tools are the unused tools. What this meant for our team was to be able to figure out what are the most popular editing features and a way to organize all of them in a manner that is within quick and understandable reach.
Collaboration is For Everyone
Customers understand that it isn’t how many tools are in your toolbox. But it’s about which tools exist and who is helping you use them. Collaboration is simply difficult when it comes to producing, regardless if you are in the same studio room or not. Even outside of music, collaboration requires a level of trust and understanding among all members of the team.
Doesn't Stop at Editing
Exporting and sharing on other social media platforms is how indie musicians gain exposure. Everyone is looking for the next step.
Faced with the task of improving an existing process, I wanted to make sure that I understood who my audience was, what they are currently doing, and what are existing methods that don't seem to cut it for these independent musicians.
A SWOT analysis of other music editing software and an evaluation of the multiple interviews I had revealed that the learning curve for music editing software is quite high. As a matter of fact, many of the features in most editing softwares are untouched, unrecognizable, and unnoticed. Interviews made it clear that there were certain features that were absolutely necessary. However, I needed to understand what those features were, what they accomplished, and how they are to be arranged to be easily accessible.
After analyzing the strengths, I saw that Soundcheck can really separate itself from other existing products such as FL Studio, Adobe Audition, Audacity, LMMS, PreSonus, and, fan favorite, Logic. What this meant for me was to really focus on the ways I can implement a simple layout, collaboration experience, and immediate export/upload features. The interviews also confirmed that competitors have consistent patterns in that there is a baseline quality of pre-installed sound libraries, kits, and packages. However, the problem with too many pre-installed libraries is that it obscures the more important tools and effects. Further research proved that many independent users download, create, and organize their own libraries.
A quote that I kept in mind from someone I interviewed during the research phase read...
"I often find myself spending more time learning the software that I am using rather than rehearsing or recording."
I immediately felt the pain point that was expressed through that statement. It only became surprising to me when I realized that was a shared sentiment among the many people I have had conversations with.
Keep Em' Coming Back for More
For the hardworking indie musician, the editing/production phase is crucial for their chances for exposure. With that in mind, the team acknowledges that the experience of editing and producing should motivate them to want to come back and keep perfecting their craft. The editing/production phase should not be approached with a feeling of reluctance. So we had to ask ourselves, “Besides the fact that indie musicians totally rely on this phase for success, what will drive them to want to come back for more?”
Unite Independent Musicians
The power of collaborating is that it provides a platform for people to be on the same page. We envisioned Soundcheck to be a platform for users to enjoy the concept of production and being able to enjoy the craft of co-creation.
Low Learning Curve
It’s intimidating to learn a new tool. Beyond the features, we saw opportunities to create a connection with our users. We envisioned Soundcheck to be a means to connect and support an audience of the unsigned underdog.
Faster, Even Faster
The key priority for the initial phases of planning was to focus on the primary user goals. What it meant for me was to strip Soundcheck down to its core and focus on its convenience for users. We envisioned Soundcheck to bring the user’s production process to high speeds.
It was imperative to synthesize research and feedback into specific goals. No fluffy words. No beating around the bush.
1. Establish the grid system in the music editor and organize tools in a vertical navigation.
2. Allow the history view to indicate collaborators and all actions completed by all users.
3. Clearly identify the process for exporting to other platforms.
4. Provide a means to extend the lifespan of the product for users. Give them a reason to come back.
5. Be transparent. Show everything.
Having given myself these goals and the necessary guidelines to keep me on a straight path, I recognized that I had to constantly remind myself that the mental models and the personas also have to drive the principles for the aesthetics, feel, and overall tonal direction of Soundcheck.
Structuring the Experience
Before jumping straight into visuals and facades, it was crucial for us to be on the same page concerning how we view the sitemap of Soundcheck. Because there is a range of important tasks that span between organizing, producing, and exporting, I used the Jesse James Garrett's Visual Vocabulary to represent the visualization of the map, which clarified the structure and flow.
Setting the Direction
I took a top‐down approach to defining the overall structure of the experience. Furthermore, I defined a differentiation between organizing and producing. Though those were high priority tasks, through sketching and storyboarding, I found ways to arrive at a level of consistency concerning grids, arrangement of UI, functional, and data elements. Starting broad, our vision began evolving into something tangible. For that process to begin, I started with a few initial phase sketches.
Framing the Facade
To ensure a consistent style with that of a traditional music industry experience, I drew icons and established a style that resembled a dark UI with neon detailed elements (CTA's, icons, instructions, spatial divisions, soundwaves). Feedback proved that a darker UI was more related and expressed the feeling of being in a studio room that honed in and highlighted the medium: soundwaves. In order to establish this consistent style, I created a style guide that details the elements of the facade.
Soundcheck High Fidelity Mockups
The high-fidelity mockups represent the design decisions that I have made over the course of project development. The overarching consistency in hierarchy and execution helped simplify the process of building a basic prototype.
User Main Page - Project Organization
To maintain the sentiment of constancy across the different tasks, the user's project organization screen also implements the grid system in a similar fashion as the user's channel control system. It was important for me to note how to incorporate business objectives by indicating space availability and allowing users to upgrade their plan.
Starting a New Project
In order to start a new project, I designed a pop-up screen that did not require a step-by-step process to ensure a quick setup. The ux writing was crucial for this pop-up screen to assure that there would be no confusion.
Each channel has its own record CTA, which allows flexible
maintenance, editing, and creative processes. I saw how
important it was for the musician to have as much freedom
as possible to edit and record according to specific tracks/instruments/sounds.
All Tools Organized Through Side Navigation
From interviews and previously conducted research, I quickly realized that I had to be careful with what I include in the tools side navigation. It was crucial for me to acknowledge what the serious independent musician actually needs. Due to the fact that most indie musicians download, create, and organize their own sound kits and libraries, I had to make sure not to clutter the side navigation with unnecessary and redundant tools. It ultimately boils down to a library and samples organizer, effects, filters, equalizer, and an action history log.
The Results and Reflection
After multiple rounds of meetings with LAUNCH mentors, prototype and usability test sessions, and team huddles, we were all able to agree on the potential and upside that Soundcheck has on a specific demographic of musicians. And that is precisely what it is meant for. We targeted a very niche and specific community within the music industry. Mentors and critics alike really harped on the need to design not only for users, but also for business objectives. I agree that though we entered Soundcheck as a project entry for a startup accelerator, I failed to really consider the impacts and the scalability of Soundcheck's MVP. Though we did not continue onto the final rounds of interviews with LAUNCH, I thoroughly enjoyed my experience working within a small team of 5 with efforts to advance an idea to product.
View the Latest Prototype
Measuring Feedback & Success
10/10 users were able to start a new project with ease and without hesitation.
9/10 users thought that the invitation process was familiar and straightforward.
8/10 users found the export process to be a simple and quick process.
8/10 users found that the icons were misleading and would like to see written copy to clarify icons.
6/10 users would like to customize the editor and create their own grid system.
6/10 users would prefer to see a more defined brand identity.
1. Narrow the scope during planning phases and design iteration. A narrower scope would have helped me to closely validate every reasoning I had for design decisions and its impacts on users and team objectives.
2. Be counter intuitive. There isn't a strict linear progression for a design process. Simply put, the ability to be flexible and creative with development processes will help team members collaborate and share ideas with candor and ease.
3. When your team relationships are silent, then something is wrong. Always communicate. This also means communicating with partnerships and stakeholders, especially when designing and planning sitemaps and journey maps. They are central to research and contributing a third-layer of critiques.
4. Don't be afraid to ask, "why?" Understanding reasoning helped me design with conviction.
Thank you for reading!