UX Design
Business Model Validation
My role
Led the project from initial ideation phase, through research, design of MVP and running market validation experiments.
Cassandra Grdovic
Research & UX
Amy Salvador
Social Media
Sam Barnett
Project Details
Tunefull started out as my bachelor's thesis project and turned into an exploration in entrepreneurship throughout my master's degree program. It began with my classmate, Cassandra, as we are both huge fans of live music. We wanted to explore ways to facilitate casual music gatherings through a platform for artists and fans.
Over 70% of emerging musicians' income comes from their live performances. But musicians just beginning their careers cannot gather an audience large enough to cover the typical venue fees. Since performing at typical venues is a financial risk with no certainty that they will "break-even", musicians must find alternative gigs.  
Similarly, music fans in Vancouver's limited scene often express how challenging it is to find good music events in the city. The search usually involves digging through various event forums and platforms or relying on word of mouth.
The audience and the music seem to exist, but the infrastructure to connect the two is lacking.
Uncovering the problem
We began working on this project during the pandemic. Having gone many months without large social gatherings, we knew that the live music industry was struggling badly. As we explored the current situation musicians faced, we learned about pre-existing struggles.
Live performance is key to “making it” as a musician

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.

“How Much Do Musicians Actually Earn?” Output, 11 Apr. 2021, output.com/blog/how-much-musicians-actually-earn.

A BC based band, Small Town Artillery’s Facebook post about a self-organized tour of small shows they did during the pandemic.

An industry evolving for the better, but still far from good

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?”

In Short
While the pandemic temporarily stripped the industry of opportunities, there were minimal ones to begin with. Musicians could only hold back for so long and eventually started coming up with safe, creative ways to continue to perform.
Qualitative Interviews
During this phase, we spoke to musicians, venue owners, promoters, and fans. Our goal was to develop a deep understanding of the relationships between all parties, and the workings of the industry. Below are some of the key takeaways from the qualitative interviews.
Emergence of grassroots efforts by musicians to create small, local connections with music enthusiasts.
Having a strong genre specific community and being active in the local music scene is the most important way for musicians to get gigs and grow their fan-base.
For emerging artists, small intimate shows make for a more engaged audience, creating opportunities for deeper connections that are long lasting.
Encouraging local connections is a meaningful space that isn’t as easy to find digitally.
Artist discovery happens in digital spaces, so we should build on ease of that.
Small venue owners currently go through extensive vetting processes to find musicians to play, and struggle to fill last minute cancelations.
After speaking to dozens of musicians and fans, we drew insights from all the interviews and created value proposition canvases for these personas. This helped us clarify what our product would offer to be valuable to each user.
At this point, a vision was starting to form for a platform where musicians could access unconventional spaces and host live performances. We understood what musicians needed and how they could benefit from this service, but we needed to figure out how fans would react.
Co-creation Workshops
To get to the bottom of it, we ran several co-creation workshops where we invited participants to re-imagine live music using speculative design methods. The workshops were composed of several exercises that we designed to get participants to think about the future of live music without limiting their thoughts to the context of the actual industry.

Discussing imaginary scenarios on a four quadrant axis (music industry flourishes - dies) (pandemic ends - goes on forever)

This methodology allowed us to get to the root of some questions we'd been pondering without having to interview large amounts of fans one by one.
What makes a performance special to a fan? What turns an audience member into a dedicated fan?
Small interactions during which they feel connected to the musicians arose. The most memorable experiences are unique moments of connection with the music, musician, or even the crowd. Smaller shows facilitate a level of intimacy that is more rewarding for fans.
What attitudes exist about local music?
Most music fans are excited to discover local music events, but they require a certain level of vetting. They trust word of mouth, or social media, turning to Instagram & Spotify to gauge the quality of the performer before attending.
What are meaningful ways for fans to discover / connect with new artists?
For many fans, spontaneity is essential, like hearing a great opener they didn't know and feeling like they discovered their new favourite band. Others mentioned being in on something unique or exclusive, like a limited merch drop.
We now had a clearer understanding of our two main user groups. The personas below summarize core insights about the motivations of each group.
As we analyzed all the qualitative research we’d gathered, different ideas for the concept began to form. While we considered several concepts, we decided that the scope of the project should be focused on discovery of live music events for fans and providing musicians with tools to viably host live performances.
Potential solutions
We began to imagine a product that enabled musicians to use whatever space they had available to host concerts and make these easy to discover for fans.
Any space is a venue

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.

Concept Development
As the concept began to develop, and we determined the necessary features, I also got to work on the visual identity. We wanted Tunefull to be a tool for musicians to own their industry and embrace the human aspect of music. In an industry where streaming services and social media have challenged musicians to market themselves at little profit, we want to empower musicians with tools that can shift this standard. It was important that the visual identity reflect these values, while presenting Tunefull events as engaging & unique.
Brand Values
1. Celebrating a multitude of genres
2. Meaningful connections
3. Embracing spontaneity
4. Support & opportunity
6. Empowering musicians
7. Keeping it local
Turning values into visuals

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.

I created hundreds of shape variations using the same base grid and geometric forms as a limitation. The outcome was a smaller family of 26 icons that are expressive yet cohesive.
I created hundreds of shape variations using the same base grid and geometric forms as a limitation. The outcome was a smaller family of 26 icons that are expressive yet cohesive.
The idea behind the icons was that they are also used as playful shapes, forming part of backgrounds or framing elements surrounding the space, reminiscent of how music fills space. The shapes themselves feature connecting geometric elements that symbolize the connections happening at Tunefull events.

Various versions of the dynamic logo.

Presenting the concept

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.

Musician-led pricing

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.

Fan facing spontaneous discovery
Fan facing filtering for shows
Musician facing, sending messages to attendees
Facilitating spontaneous discovery & meaningful connections

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.

Putting the concept to the test
By this point, I was done with university and had begun to think of Tunefull as a product I wanted to make a reality. At the same time, I was doing my MA, learning how to validate products, understand market demand, and design a business.
To do all this, I had to run experiments that would test if real users would get value out of this product. More importantly, could it become a viable business? As restrictions loosened and we began to feel a sense of normality again, I set out to plan our first event. But there was the question of what spaces are really suitable for hosting small concerts. What if a musician doesn't have a viable space? Would fans want to host events like these in their homes? Concerns about COVID hadn't blown over, and it was wintertime, so I couldn't test if fans would be open to hosting. I began to explore small businesses like cafes, workspaces, studios & galleries as potential venues.
I spoke to various small businesses across town that had viable spaces, and many of the owners were appreciative of the idea and thought it would add value. When it seemed like the restrictions were over, I began to plan my first experiment event.
I found a talented musician to play. The cafe would be free for us to use after their regular hours and would benefit from extra food & drink sales during the show. I created a simple MVP, just a landing page where fans could buy tickets to the event. Because there were no fans on the platform yet, I would do all the promotion myself (word of mouth, posters, Instagram) and see what the response was like.
The goal of this experiment was to test the following:
Hypothesis 1
Fans will attend shows of musicians they haven't heard before if they trust the source.
Hypothesis 2
Small business owners will want to host in their space to get their brand in front of people.
Hypothesis 3
The musician will walk away satisfied with 80% of ticket sales.
Days before beginning to promote the event, Ontario brought the capacity restrictions back. I had to postpone the event until further notice. Sadly, this happened several times until the venue owner I was working with decided it simply wasn't the right time to plan anything.
I was unable to prove or disprove any of my hypotheses.
Unable to run any conclusive experiments, I focused my efforts on continuing to research the problem, the market, and competitors. I participated in various pitch competitions, reworked our value propositions to make Tunefull more competitive in the existing landscape, and waited.
As I underwent this process, I learned there is a real opportunity to do better than the existing competitors on the market. But I also began to understand that I wasn't the right person to carry the vision forward. As a music fan and designer, I was in love with the product. But I wasn't a musician or had any experience in the space. I had to decide whether I wanted to pursue this full-time because, for someone without the knowledge, that's what it would take.
I realized the problem I was solving wasn't personal enough to me to push me through the low points of the real entrepreneurial journey that was just beginning. Eventually, I took off my entrepreneur hat and put the project to rest.
Until next time!
1. Industry knowledge is key

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.

2. Rapid prototypes can get you 80% there

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.

3. Love the problem, not the solution

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.

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UX Design
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