The journey from music consumption, to creation (and beyond)

I’ve been saying this for a long time now. But increasingly I think that we will a more pronounced movement of users from listener consumer through a series  of steps or paths to content creator and beyond.

If you look back just a couple of decades it was not an easy thing to start making electronic music or even to have any kind of home studio. Over the years this has become progressively easier to the point now where you can start making music at a relatively minimal cost including the hardware. As a result of this you can go from listener to creator with incredible ease.

So what does this mean? So what takes some from the consumer / curator to creator? Well my guess is that lots of people would like to make music but the transition is too hard and often very daunting. Mobile tools can place plenty of stepping stones on the way though. Lots of these are cheap and easy to use and can help a user make that journey to musical creativity, whatever that might mean for an individual.

So what are these stepping stones? Well, one path through starts with the kind of curation tools that allow users to share tracks and play lists. Moving on to remix tools like those from liine. Letting a user remix tracks in a familiar environment on their mobile device gives them a taste of what they could do next. Of course, not everyone wants to move through all of these phases.

That’s fine, but giving people the tools and entry points is what’s important. I’m a firm believer that people need creative outlets and that music is an excellent way of satisfying that need. But it isn’t the easiest way to satisfy it. Not by a long way. So in order to encourage users down this path they need simple cheap and engaging tools to make small steps into musical creativity rather than have to take what is often a very large perceptual leap that can end up putting them off for a long time.

There are already plenty of apps that do this and do it well, but as with everything in the mobile music world discovering them can be difficult and the search in itself can be off putting. Wherever you go these days discovery is talked about as some kind of Holy Grail. I’m still not entirely sure why. From my own perspective discovery is not the answer. Discovery relies on a user making an active decision to search for something in an area that they’re unfamiliar with (at least in terms of moving along a path toward musical creativity). What we need is guidance for users. A way of understanding their behaviour and being able to suggest possible paths for them to take next. Music discovery is already getting better at this and is better understood by users in general whereas getting a suggestion that a user might want to try out a wholly different kind of application is less familiar. But that doesn’t mean that it is necessarily unwelcome.

I’ve often wondered why it is the so many discovery systems only work in a single category. Why is it that when Apple emails me to tell me what I’ve bought it recommend apps to me? If I buy a synth app why doesn’t it recommend ebooks on synth programming? Or even synth music?

If I buy music by an electronic artist why doesn’t it recommend a handful of synth apps to me based on previous purchases? Now you could argue that this would require a lot of work on Apple’s part and that they’re unlikely to change overnight. I’d agree. But it isn’t just about Apple. There are plenty of developers who have in app stores inside their apps. Why don’t those recommend books and music too? Surely that wouldn’t be so difficult? If we don’t grow the market for music apps it will eventually stagnate and I firmly believe that there is a much bigger market available if we can only define simple and non-threatening paths for users to try out. Encouraging people to make the jump from listener to creator is a big key to the app economy in my view. But how do we make that happen?

Well, I believe that there are a number of routes. One very obvious route is through games. Now, before I go further with this I have to admit that I am firstly not a gamer and secondly not entirely convinced that gamification of music is completely workable. However, having said that, just because I don’t think that I’ve seen it done successfully so far doesn’t mean that it can’t be done. In fact, my own doubts about the concept could just be because I’m not a gamer. The only think that’s come close in my book is the work that RJDJ have done with the app they produced for the film Inception and also their Dimensions game. Both of which are very much worth a look at if you don’t know them.

So, on to the gamification of music creation. My biggest problem with this is how to turn something fundamentally competitive into something creative. I think that there is a problem at a very conceptual level with the whole application of gamification to the process of music creation. I think if you can design a process that gets you around that it could have a real chance of success. There are ways of gamifying music though, outside of making the actual process of creation a game itself. For instance, applying the concept of leader boards to music creation is something that you rarely see and in fact only a handful of music apps on ios connect to apples game centre. To be fair game centre isn’t really an ideal place for music creation and others would be best place to take this on, like SoundCloud for example. Allowing users to rate and comment on tracks is already something that SoundCloud do well so why not extend to a leader board model that can exist commonly to apps?

So what else can be gamified? Patches and samples in the same way as tracks themselves? Why not? That of course leads nicely into collaborative approaches to music, but that’s for another day.

Are there alternatives to gamification as a route to bring users in? Of course there are. One other example would be locative services. Ideas around sound walks have been explored for some time now, but why not mainstream this by allowing users to collect tracks or sounds fromtheir favourite artists based on location? Check ins don’t just have to give you points but sounds and tracks too.

Taking it one step further a user, once they’ve collected stems and made their mix, could drop it to a specific location as well. For others to find and also remix. Again this leads back to ideas around collaboration. There are many possibilities and I’ve only mentioned a very limited number here. Others will have better ideas than I do I’m sure, that is if anyone reads or decides to take any of this further.

But what comes after that? Sure only a percentage of people will make the move to starting to create their own music but of those who do a percentage will continue further and become more technical users. Others will make the move from mobile to desktop for more powerful tools and a different experience. Their needs to be continuity from one platform to another and a consistency of experience as well. This is especially important to desktop tool manufacturers and we’ve begun to see this with vendors like Propellerheads and their iOS app Figure. On its own it is a great app for making a beat and playing with it. But as a potential hook to the desktop it is a very useful stepping stone. These kind of experiments are important. Not just in terms of learning, but also in showing that the big established players on the music tools business also see the benefit in taking this route.

Anyway, I think that this is as good a place as any to wrap things up here. I hope you found this useful or thought provoking.

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