Rebranding + Micro-interactions
Time frame: 2 months
Team: Raymond Pai
I collaborated with another product designer to envision a new future for SoundCloud in the midst of a pandemic. How does SoundCloud compete with a giant like Spotify and not play catch up? How do we stay true to SoundCloud’s image yet help them pivot into a direction that will help them rise in usage again? We did not directly work with anyone from SoundCloud; however, the project was grounded in both qualitative and evaluative research. I focused on conducting UX research, transforming them into insights that informed user flows and polishing micro-interactions for this project.
In today’s day and age, music is always accessible. With the development of AI and algorithms that help you discover new tracks, have we reached the pinnacle of digital experiences with music? Many platforms focus on the individual experience; however, this rebrand focuses on the experience of sharing music. With a new way to decorate music albums with stickers to share with friends and engage in live streams of upcoming artists. Share tomorrow’s music, today.
Who are we building it for?
Listening to music is a universal, yet intimate experience. The new system of stickers and live streams benefits both major user segments, the listeners and artists. For listeners, it will enhance any individual’s sharing experience who’s interested in upcoming music. For artists, it increases their exposure in an interactive way and provides an alternative stream of revenue.
Share Tomorrow's Music, Today.
The new SoundCloud reinvents links for sharing music. Sharing music was always meant to be more fun than clicking a link and opening a track. With the new stickers and utilizing live streams, both listeners and producers are able to connect with one another and share music in a more meaningful way.
Provide upcoming artists and opportunity to increase exposure
Promote engagement in the music listening experience
The re-imagined SoundCloud is built upon the introduction of stickers, a way to decorate and share music.
SoundCloud’s new partnership with Twitch in 2020 has opened the doors to new possibilities of building stronger relationships between listeners and artists.
The Good Old Times.
SoundCloud used to be known as the place to discover new music but those days are long gone. Spotify has taken over the market of streaming music services with Apple Music, Amazon Music and Pandora right behind them. SoundCloud is often forgotten and barely staying relevant. With a confusing business model and varying quality of music, it’s no surprise that users are not happy with the current state.
Why does it matter?
Streaming Music is Bigger Than Ever.
In 2019, the music streaming industry brought in 11.9 billion dollars worldwide [Source]. Although SoundCloud has hit a record 200 million+ in global revenue for 2019, it pales in comparison to Spotify’s 7.44 billion dollars.
SoundCloud is Falling Behind
One way or another, SoundCloud is becoming a smaller and smaller piece of the pie. It’s an uphill battle to create better algorithms than Spotify when they simply have a huge advantage in accessing relevant data. It’s expensive to store millions of songs if there aren’t enough users. Something has to change.
What is SoundCloud?
Secondary Research, Competitive Analysis, Business Model
From the beginning, we realized that understanding their current identity was essential to creating a successful rebrand. We dug deep into background research and understanding of the landscape that SoundCloud was in.
Unique Value Proposition
SoundCloud has the lowest barrier to entry for music for producers as there is no vetting process. Anyone can upload anything to SoundCloud and it is a double edged sword as it can lower the quality of the average track.
Stay True to SoundCloud's Identity: Hear the World's Sounds
Regardless of the direction we were headed, we wanted to keep in mind that SoundCloud originally found success by giving those upcoming artists a voice, a chance to succeed in a cut-throat music industry. In return, listeners were exposed to brand new music.
It's all about
Algorithms Know Best
Although our project was about SoundCloud, it was impossible to ignore the fact that we were getting to know more about Spotify than SoundCloud itself. Even in interviews, individuals would bring up Spotify as a point of comparison without being prompted. It was clear that Spotify was the front runner and had done an incredible job of delivering relevant music in an elegant way. We realized that SoundCloud was far behind in this department and sought other directions other than music discovery or machine learning related.
How might we...
improve the experience without the use of machine learning algorithms?
Spotify is king. It has incredible music discovery algorithms and setting the standard for affordable, yet premium listening experiences
SoundCloud is used more by artists and upcoming artists who want to gain exposure
Who is the user?
One of the main challenges for SoundCloud is that they have two major user segments with different goals and needs that don't always align. The first major segment is the artists and the second is the listeners.
Within music producers, there ranges aspiring artists to established producers. Aspiring producers seek more attention, whereas veterans use SoundCloud to boost their reach. Regardless, we mapped out the journey to identify potential opportunities.
The listeners are also segmented into different categories ranging from casual listeners, one-time SoundCloud users, or underground music enthusiasts.
Improving the producer and listener relationship through engagement
Premium experiences for listeners with higher budget
Pushing the social media identity and aspect of the platform
SoundCloud is not only seen as a music listening service but also a social media platform
Producers have to deal with the uncertainty of how a track will be received every time they upload something
One of the unique genres of music that SoundCloud offers are mashups and remixes
Our hunch about the pandemic
People Miss Concerts and the In-person Experience
We had a hypothesis that people missed in-person interactions due to the pandemic and ideated a series of scenarios that provided that opportunity. It ranged from shifting to a dating focus, to a sing along karaoke mode to virtual concerts. We utilized speed dating and follow up interviews to validate these user needs.
You Can't Replace Live Events
Surprisingly, we found that although people missed live concerts or reminisce about karaoke, many of the elements were tightly woven or dependent on the physical experience. Due to technological constraints and feasibility, we deconstructed the findings to discover a new direction.
There’s a value with a live musician, there's a feel. When it’s virtual - it’s not the same.
Jumping to a song, waving my arms back and forth with the crowd and feeling like you’re part of something bigger than yourself
Here comes the drop
Music is Intimate and Sharing it is Even More Intimate
What's the real opportunity? From listening to current users of SoundCloud, we identified that sharing music is a very intimate action due to the memories that are often associated with music. This coincided with the fact that Spotify has done an incredible job on the individual listening experience but focused less on the sharing of music, making this a space for SoundCloud to innovate in.
I hear songs and it brings me back to a specific year or time of my life.
Sharing playlists are pretty intimate and cool. It’s an interesting starting point for a conversation.
Leverage Existing Partnerships to Allow Listeners to Connect with the Music
We were excited to learn that SoundCloud had partnered with Twitch this year and wanted to maximize this partnership to ground the project. Twitch has an extremely profitable business model and live streaming services to help connect listeners and producers.
It’s always nice to get a thought process, it makes it more meaningful. How they created it, the tools they used. How they wrote the lyrics...
Like Streamer, Like Artist
Furthermore, we identified many similarities between upcoming streamers and artists. One of the few advantages that they have over established artists is time. The is the same for streamers and enables them to respond to the chat with viewers, building a strong relationship as they grow in popularity. Even popular streamers are able to interact with the chat, an aspect of Twitch that artists could utilize.
People miss the in-person interactions but also are unwilling to substitute it for a virtual experience
One of the things that people value most about music are the memories it evokes and intimacy in sharing music
Upcoming artists have more time and are willing to interact with fans, similar to streamers
SoundCloud 2.0: Stickers and Live
Share Tomorrow’s Music, Today.
Introducing stickers to decorate your favorite music albums and share with friends. Join live streams of artists you enjoy, ask any questions or support them with exclusive shiny stickers.
Making Your Own Mark and Create with Others
There are three tiers to stickers. Original stickers that are released periodically and event-based that everyone will receive in their collection. Show off Live stickers whenever you attend live sessions of artists. Last but not least, receive shiny stickers when donating to your favorite artists. Decorate any album with all the stickers and share with your friends!
Increase customer retention
New modality of sharing
Connect with the Music, Connect with the Artist
Whether you’re listening to a track when the artist unexpectedly goes live, or sharing the live stream with a friend, join the live stream to ask any questions or just chill out and enjoy the music.
Go the Extra Mile for the Ones You Love
If you really enjoy an artist’s track or live performance, you can show your appreciation through purchasing shiny stickers of different tiers. Make your support loud and clear and watch the artist’s reaction when they receive your love.
Alternative revenue stream
Incentivize new artists to join
Let's prove that we're helping
There are many ways to analyze the data with the new vision of SoundCloud. The live streams can provide many data points about what helps aspiring producers to gain traction, the interactions with listeners and time spent on the modes.
Survey artists to identify if SoundCloud is enabling them to share their creations with the world.
Shiny Sticker Usage:
Understand if artists are gaining additional revenue and when listeners are most likely to donate.
Time Spent Decorating Albums:
Evaluate the time on decorating albums to gauge interest and analyze the forms of exporting the finished designs.
Stickers and then what?
I would continue to monitor the usage of stickers and whether it is an effective way for individuals to illustrate their intimate relationship with music and share with friends. It would be interesting to re-categorize stickers, or understand the frequency of releasing new stickers. If stickers mature as a feature, I would look to research into alternative ways for users to express their relationship with music.
What is the Difference Between Streamers and Artists?
Although there were many similarities identified between streamers and producers, it would be essential to identify the differences to build a platform that specifically benefits producers. To have features that are effective with the cadence of the duration of songs, or events that happen with drops in a song. Furthermore, to change the settings available to producers to help optimize the experience for listeners, similar to how streamers can adjust resolution, delay and chat restrictions.
You can’t always design with the expectation that you have access to a lot of data or resources. Not every company is Google, or Spotify in this case. It’s important to leverage existing resources and maximize their impact before investing in other things.
You can't always catch up:
It was clear that Spotify had such a profound advantage that it forced us to think laterally and approach the problem from a different angle. This meant to think outside of machine learning algorithms and the industry’s focus on music discovery.
Kill two birds with one stone:
Music listeners and artists are on opposing ends of the experience; however, in conjunction with being resourceful, we wanted to identify leverage points. To create live sessions that mutually benefit both parties meant that we could maximize our impact with the changes we implemented.