Soundry. A music streaming service for business

Playing music in a business brings different challenges. How do you set the right mood for your customers? Which music do you have the legal rights to play? What is a collecting society and why do they want your money?

This is the story of how I’m making a positive difference for business owners without all the legal troubles that come with playing music in public spaces.

My Role

As the only designer on the team, my responsibilities are very wide. They include the whole design process: product direction, user research, wireframes, visual design, prototyping, user testing, and working with the developers.

The team consists of me, a product owner, and 6 developers.

The Challenge

Develop a new business area

My team and I were formed to create a new business area within Epidemic Sound: In-Store Music (ISM - the industry term for music played in public spaces like restaurants and stores) for small and medium-sized businesses. Our challenge was to build the best music solution for people who are busy running their business.

Epidemic was already working with many bigger ISM clients, which had +30 locations and a need for unique playlist crafted to fit their specific brand. The solution worked with a hardware box that synced to the internet. It was expensive and the customer had little to no control over the music.

We wanted to create a great solution for small-medium sized businesses who can’t afford a steep start-fee and doesn’t need unique playlists.

Royalty free music makes it easier

One thing that’s important to understand for this case study is the unique license Epidemic Sounds music has and how it’s different.

When playing commercial music businesses need to:

  1. Get a license to play the music in a public space
  2. Pay royalties to the collecting society (an organisation that collects music royalties and distribute the money)

Our music has a unique license which lets your customers avoid hassles like expensive fees and administrative work.

About Epidemic Sound

Music you don’t know, you know

Epidemic Sound sells music to online creators, big broadcasters, marketing agencies, and stores (In-store music). Epidemic Sound is the leading provider of music for online creators, with over 1 millions users, and most of the top YouTubers using music from the Epidemic library.

Each month Epidemic Sounds music gets billions of streams spread across all the different channels people use their music. You might not know it, but it’s almost certain you’ve heard it.

Over the years Epidemic quickly became a success with TV channels and other broadcasters. They were in a situation with a huge opportunity: a great music library with a unique license. Who else could need that? Turns out, a lot of people could.

The Approach

Starting out: What’s the current situation?

We started with research into the current state of the industry.

We had three core questions we wanted to find answers to:

  1. Do businesses know about collection societies? Do they pay?
  2. How is music currently played in a business? What do they think about it?
  3. What’s important when playing music in a business?

We used 3 types of research:

  1. User interviews
    We interviewed about 20 business in the area and talked to them about how they play music. We talked to hairdressers, restaurants, fashion stores, cafés, and beauty salons.
  2. Competitors
    What competitors exist? How did they position themselves and what was the main selling points being used? How could we stand out?
  1. In-house knowledge
    Our company already had a department focusing on In-Store Music for big chains (+30 locations). We worked together to understand what needs those clients in that range had and how smaller businesses might differ.

Alpha: Boiling things down

After getting an idea of the current state we started working on the alpha version of the product. We needed a quick development phase so we could start testing the product with potential users. We decided to build a simple MVP in a web version only.

Even though we knew the product would eventually get its own brand and a more sophisticated look we started out with the faster option: using Epidemic Sounds existing look and feel.

An early wireframe of Soundry

Very early visuals of Soundry. We adopted the identity of Epidemic Sound while in alpha to build our product as fast as possible.

When we had a working prototype we started with internal testing. We sat down with people from other departments and saw how they interacted with the prototype. We learned about how people interacted with the product and caught a handful of things that didn’t work.

Gearing up

First users and early feedback

As soon as we had a working alpha version we hit the streets of Stockholm. It was time to get real users to try our product. There are many businesses in the area around the office so we walked around and visited each one. We signed up several kinds of businesses: hairdressers, restaurants & cafés, clothing stores, spas, and many others.

We stayed in regular contact with them, to learn as much as possible. Everything about their music setup was important to us. These first rounds of users helped us better understand their needs, catch a lot of bugs and get overall feedback on the product.

Google Sheets with feedback on Soundry. We collected feedback on many different areas, such as functionality, design, music, marketing and more.

The Real Thing

Building Soundry 1.0

After testing the alpha for a while we reached a point where we were ready to start building what would turn into the real thing. The beta version would have its own identity and work on multiple platforms - not just a web version like our alpha version. It would also have a sign-up process so we didn’t need to create users manually for everyone like we had been doing in earlier stages.

Being the only designer on the team, I started designing the app with the new identity. We did the “redesign” of the Soundry in two rounds:

  1. Apply the new colors to the current design from the alpha
  2. Redesign Soundry to version 1.0 - A unique identity we can be proud of.

The first version with the new colors had a very dark look to it. We changed colors from the “old” alpha design to reach this.

For the redesign of Soundry, we wanted to explore different options. We tried out a lot of different directions to see what we could be.

We ended up going with a light and simple version where we had scrapped everything away but kept the most important content: the music.

Each playlist consisted of cover art, playlist title, playlist genres, and the energy level. We put the playlist in grid-views to reinforce the feeling of a big music library. Playlists were categorized under different categories so the different types of businesses could find a playlist fitting for their need.

Clean design with a focus on the content - Soundry 1.0

Building the iOS app

We knew from early on that we needed an iOS app. Playback didn’t work in iOS-devices through a browser so an iOS app was the only option.

Soundry was at this point still very simple. The way we presented channels could almost be directly translated to a native experience that felt natural.

The main thing that needed work was the navigation, which we needed to adapt to the iOS standards. At that point the app only had one core screen, namely the one where you discovered and played music, so we put all menu items in a side drawer menu.

We used the same strategy for launching the iOS app as the alpha version: first, we did internal testing to catch the worst and most obvious bugs. Then we got in contact with our external users who we knew wanted to use Soundry on an iOS device.

The launch

Opening up to the world

Soundry launched in early September 2018. We decided to do a soft launch and let the product spread through the Swedish market slowly instead of us doing one big splash. The launch primarily meant 2 things from a product perspective:

  1. Soundry became a paid product. The alpha and beta versions had been free. Now we charged a monthly fee.
  2. Our iOS app went live in the App Store. Soundry now worked on web, iOS, and Android! (Android through a browser)

We were super excited to officially launch Soundry. At this point, we had been working on the project for 1 year. We were happy to show the world what we had built and excited to get more users.

The Evolution

... Users?

Getting paying users turned out to be harder than we had anticipated. We knew the Swedish market wasn’t the best fit from a sales perspective (a strict collecting society in the country makes it easier to sell Soundry. The collecting society in Sweden is anything but strict), but being close to our users was more valuable to us. It would help us build a better product so we, later on, could take to other markets when we had gotten rid of the early hiccups most startups go through with the first launch.

The users, unfortunately, did not sign up as we expected. The average daily signup was low and too few of our trial users turned into paying customers.

We identified a set of problems we would have to fix.

  1. We still didn’t know enough about our users and our potential target group
  2. Our product was a little weak. We knew that there were gaps in the product. (Selling point was “cheap great music”, while we needed it to be “cheap great music” and “killer product”.)
  3. The Swedish market was even harder than we had anticipated.

Here’s how we addressed it.

  1. Doing more user research
    What’s the profile of a user that turns into a paying customer? What makes them tick, and start paying?
  2. More features
    Soundry still needs more features to be a robust product that can work for many.
  3. New markets
    We knew from the beginning Sweden wasn’t going to be easy. Where should we open next?

Diving deeper into the research

Understanding our users

To learn more about our users we did something crazy… talked to them! One day after signing up, they would receive an email asking them, if they had time to get on the phone.

Over the last few months, I’ve talked to users from the United Kingdom, The Netherlands, USA, Germany, and Kazakhstan. I’ve gotten valuable insights about how they found us, what made them sign up, and if they had any issues or ideas.

John, the product owner, and I were also in charge of Intercom (Which we used for support), so we saw all incoming questions and requests.

Automatic email that goes out 1 day after sign up. Through phone calls, we’ve gotten valuable insights about how users found us, what made them sign up, and if they had any issues/ideas.

Understanding our target group

One thing is to understand the users who sign up with us, another thing is to understand our bigger target group.

To get a better idea of everything that’s included in running our clients businesses, we did in-depth interviews with business owners and managers. We wanted to get a broader view, so we didn’t make the interview only about music. We learned about them and their business, their workday, a good customer experience, and lastly music.

Some of the people we did interview in-depth interviews with. They’re running restaurants, cafés, hotels, and clothing stores.

Continuous improvement

More features

Since the launch, we’ve worked hard make Soundry even better. This has lead to new features, experiments, and iterations on parts of Soundry which wasn’t performing as we hoped.

Recently played
After conducting a few user tests, we learned that a lot of our users always played the same playlist. Instead of having to scroll down and find the specific list, we implemented a solution which put the 3 most recently played playlist right at the top.

Currently Playing
We build a currently playing view to get a place where the user had more information about what’s currently playing and more control. It also discourages switching playlists a lot, which is not something you want to do when playing music in a business.

MVP experiments: Legal document and Account hierarchy

To get data about the interest in a possible new feature, we’ve been doing MVP experiments. To keep design and development hours to a minimum both these experiments were simply links to a SurveyMonkey spreadsheet. If many of our users find and use the spreadsheet we know there’s a need, and we will build it properly.

Legal document
Businesses need to prove to collecting societies that they play royalty free music and therefore do not need to pay them. We put a link in the header and a big amount of our users filed our their information. We’re currently building this feature.

Account Hierarchy
We’ve had a few users who have multiple locations. Today it’s tedious, as you’d need to create a new account for each location. We put a link under the call to action on our landing page, to get a better idea of how many that has more than one location.

Testing the interest for possible new features, Legal certificate and Account management. Both links go to Survey Monkey, where users fill  their information. If there’s enough interest we'll build the feature, instead of the manual work we’re doing while the test is running.

More countries, more opportunities

Launching to new markets

As mentioned earlier, we knew Sweden wasn’t going to be our strongest market. Ever since our soft launch, we focused all our marketing efforts on Sweden, but still got sign-ups from many different countries. A few countries stood out and after getting on the phone with a handful of users, we got a good understanding where there was a strong need for a solution like Soundry.

Our next country was going to be the UK. The collecting society PRS/PPL recently increased their prices and our users reported their fees had increased anywhere from x3 all the way up to x10! Combined with having a handful of colleagues with great contacts in the UK, it seemed like this best choice.

Our Slack bot notifying us about new sign-ups. Notice any flags more than others?

To get more familiar with the market in the UK, John (Product Owner) and I went on a 48-hour research trip. We visited over 80 businesses and asked them questions about their music needs, their setup and the collecting society in the UK.

A few of the places we visited on our 48 hours research trip in the UK. We visited over 80 businesses.  

The future

A good start and much to come

It’s still early days for the Soundry and we will keep improving the product. This coming year we will be focusing on improving the discovery of music and how we can make sure every type of business finds the music that’s right for them.

We’re going to work with a strategic idea that we call Effective Music. Effective Music is music that gives the desired effect - that could be higher sales, less time spent in the restaurant or a calm mind.

Soundry is just getting started and the market is huge. The general trend towards stricter copyright rules will mean a growing need for alternatives like Soundry. On top of that, the Effective Music strategy will make lots of business want to play Soundry. Not only because the music is good and legal but because it actively improves their business.