Whether in the vinyl, CD, Napster, iTunes or Spotify era, recording music has always been a necessary but not very fruitful practice for musicians before a certain scale. Underground or emerging musicians primarily earn a living through live performance.
But live shows come with their fair share of hurdles. Outside of the complexity of actually organizing all the pieces, many factors make it hard to put on profitable shows. Not being able to predict turnout means musicians put on shows sometimes without knowing if they’ll break even. If they do, earnings are split many ways before reaching the musician.
The music industry has changed radically during the last decades. While record labels and agents are still significant, they no longer act as gatekeepers thanks to the vast array of tools that independent musicians now have access to. There are now many ways to get music recorded and into streaming services.
None of these tools help with the one vital source of financial stability for emerging artists - none make it easier to put on a live show. None of them help musicians build a dedicated fanbase; at the start, those connections need to happen live. So while there may be more freedom and avenues to break into the industry, there are only so many meaningful opportunities.
As we conducted our research, we began to understand that the COVID-19 pandemic worsened the situation as many small music venues that offered more accessible opportunities for artists had to shut down. But we also saw musicians who came up with unique, resilient ways to keep performing. While a five-person show obviously would generate less than selling out a venue, these unique and intimate shows forged valuable connections with fans. And that got us thinking:
“How might we facilitate a mutually beneficial relationship between fans & musicians in an underground scene?”
Small concerts could be held in backyards, studios, living rooms... Musicians would get to control all the details like how many people can attend & how much to sell tickets for. This allows musicians to organize lower-risk but still valuable fan-generating shows. Fans on the app would receive recommendations to shows aligned with their interests. Fans would also have access to all event details and see ratings or content from artists' previous shows. If they chose to attend, they would pay through the app and get the address to the location.
The identity needed to reflect themes of connection, spontaneity, and a wealth of music genres. A static identity seemed inappropriate to do this job. Instead, the identity is dynamic, composed of a family of twenty-six icons representing the twenty-six different genres the platform supports. I created the icons using the same base grid and geometric shapes as a structure, which allowed us to make more as needed and also served as a limitation that added cohesion between the icons.
With the help of a fantastic group of friends, we shot a promotional video for Tunefull. The video would help me present the project at university and also a great demo of the concept I used when I began to pursue the venture more seriously.
Some performances are just about playing and growing a musician's fanbase; others are about making a living -- shows can be free, ticketed or pay-what-you-can to reach a crowd-funded goal. Transparency about the musician's funding goals throughout the process encourages fans to contribute when they can.
We know music fans love the feeling of a new discovery. That's why we created several ways to find shows - powerful filters for when you've got something in mind or adventure mode. In adventure mode, Tunefull generates a suggested line-up of shows tailored to the user's taste.
Post-event, fans could be surprised with a special message from the musician they just watched. Tunefull allows musicians to contact event attendees once after their show, allowing them to build deeper connections, shout out their next show or share exclusive merch.
My lack of understanding of the industry complexities meant I didn't have the experience I could use as an advantage. It's best to focus venture ideas on an industry you have significant connections to.
I'm usually all for considered, thoughtful pixel perfect design. But when you're a small team testing the viability of a product, time is limited, and it's better done than perfect. This experience was a great exercise in prioritizing what would lead to more learning, and that wasn't always design work.
Unable to test out my MVP, I considered pivoting to a solution we could test in the post-pandemic environment. I envisioned a tool that would make it easy for musicians to promote themselves on existing platforms. It was feasible, but my heart wasn't in it. This made me realize I was passionate about the product I was building, not the problem space. In the future, I'd only work on a venture where I have a deeper personal connection to the problem it addresses. Products change, problems don't.