FREEPLAYMUSIC and I started talking about improving its website. One of the biggest struggles for them was allowing music producers to pre-listen to a song on their website before licensing.
The current website structure required producers to submit a request to FREEPLAYMUSIC that included the name of the artist and title of the song.
The hurdles involved in that process led to producers not taking the appropriate licensing steps and didn’t allow them to easily explore the music of new and lesser-known artists.
Producers were relying on two major software products for Macs to pre-listen to music, which they manually uploaded via their CD collection, but none of them were web portals accessing a shared music database.
Pitching the Idea
In a casual conversation with the current director, I pitched the idea of mimicking online photo database systems that were currently used to sell stock photography.
FREEPLAYMUSIC did not have the budget to create such a music portal, but pitched the concept to the NBC Olympics Team.
NBC had a different set of production challenges during the music selection process for the live-streaming Olympics TV production. Music producers could select the same song for consecutive TV spots and they could not easily track what music was selected by other producers, which caused some conflict.
From a licensing point of view, many used CDs were bought and ripped, making it extremely difficult in post production to track songs for pricing.
Another obstacle was that not all music producers used Macs. In addition, the current cost of software licensing fees for NBC’s 50-plus producers was outrageously high and still not fulfilling required functions.
Web Portal or Software?
Dmitri Bvorik, Development Lead, suggested we create a web portal instead of the software. Since it was 2005, there were initially concerns because we didn’t know if the high-speed Internet connection for the winter Olympics into Torino would yet have the infrastructure to support such a massive upload and download of data.
The other worry was that the producers might choose to upload music from home, where they would likely have a much weaker connection, before heading to Italy. Ultimately, the team chose to build the web portal with two discrete applications to avoid any PC/Mac compatibility issues.
The product for NBC had to solve for following problems
- It had to be accessible via Mac and PC
- Allow music producer to upload music via CD
- Verify the uploaded music against the licensing database to ensure proper tagging of artist name and song since that might had gotten lost with ripped CDs
- Pre-listen to songs, reserve songs for potential TV production
- Create music lists for various TV spots, notify other music producers if the song was selected for final TV cut or was reserved by another music producer
- Create a list of all songs used for licensing fees
Producers needed the ability to
- Have access via Mac and PC
- Upload CDs
- Verify uploaded music against the licensing database to ensure proper tagging (since artist name and song may have been lost with ripped CDs)
- Pre-listen to songs
- Reserve songs for potential TV production
- Create music lists for various TV spots
The product also needed to create a list of all songs used for licensing fees, as well as notify other music producers if the song was selected for final TV cut or was reserved by another producer.
Design and UX Consideration
From a design standpoint, I had to take into consideration that the music producers needed the portal to be intuitive. We also had to leverage the current technology and understanding. One of the biggest downfalls of the current music software was that the design confused most of the producers.
Since iTunes came out in 2001, most music producers were very comfortable with the user experience of the native Mac app application. I leveraged the design and user experience of iTunes to give our design a familiar feel, which led to less fear and resistance to using the new portal. It also minimized the learning curve in locating the newly added and expanded functions.
Since in 2005 UX and UI were one genre, I submitted all the interaction patterns as high-fidelity Photoshop files (UI designs). Ludovic Moineau, Tech & Project Management, submitted the matching functional and technical requirements as a Word document.
There were two user groups: music producers and an administrator. The Photoshop files captured the step-by-step interactions available to the users, including all error messages.
The admin section was developed by Dmitri without any UI/UX guidance and provided a manual download for all song names, artists and production years, for the final billing of the license fees.
Selling the Portal
NBC was skeptical about the adaptation of the web portal and initially just licensed the portal for the 2006 Torino Winter Olympics.
But, after the success at the Olympics and feedback from music producers about how they loved the portal’s ease of use, it was sold to NBC for exclusive use and further development for the Bejing Summer Olympics in 2008.