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8 Questions All Music Startups Must Answer

622131_444828462230035_120329510_oAs part of SF MusicTech week, NARM and held their Music Startup Academy from the Rdio offices in downtown San Francisco last week. The room was filled with entrepreneurs and developers looking to educate themselves on what it really takes to develop a digital music product. For many (including myself), it was a crash course on the inner workings of a music startup and all that must be thought out and developed before bringing a product to market. Of all the useful insights gained at the event, these eight things must be kept in mind before developing a digital music product.

1. What Problem Are You Solving?

Is it a real problem within the music space?

Don’t just go after what you think people are dying for, or what your friends tell you would be a great idea. All too often, I am presented with products and ideas that either don’t solve actual problems, or worse yet, solve for problems that don’t even exist. And while I’d admire the ambition, whenever “game changer” enters the conversation, I immediately become skeptical.

Identify your problem clearly and ensure you’ve demonstrated it exists through exhausted market research. Examine where other products or features fail and position yours to fill that void.

Do also note the singular use of the word “problem” – it’s important to focus on solving one identifiable problem and do so with precision. Don’t attempt to be all things to all people; otherwise you’ll end up be nothing to nobody.

2. Who Are Your Competitors?

 Perhaps worse than not identifying a real problem or solving for one that doesn’t exist, is creating a product for problem that is already being solved.

I can’t tell you how many Bandcamp clones I’ve come across, or how many people are ambitious enough to believe that theirmusic focused” social network will be enough to entice people to spend time away from the bigger parties being thrown at Facebook and Twitter. Unless it’s absolutely compelling enough to create a user experience unlike any other, people won’t stick around for more than the initial visit (if you’re lucky enough to get that).

Take some time – scratch that, a lot of time – to review the marketplace and identify who it is addressing your same solutions (no matter how well or how minute) before diving in headfirst and risking the time and money.

3. Who Are Your Target Users?

These should be the people whom you’ve drawn inspiration to solve a problem for.

Study them intensely – their habits as users / consumers, their preferences, their behaviors, etc. and tailor your product towards them. In fact, they should be heavily involved in the research and development of your product. Once ready, your product should exist well enough on its own that it attracts others who are like-minded in reaping all its benefits.

Another thing to consider after you’ve indentified who they are, is ensure that enough of them exist to meet a viable demand. It can’t be just you making a product for yourself (although it's fine to start out this way), so ensure there are others that exist who would benefit from your idea. Again, this takes lots of time and research, but it’ll be well worth it in the long run.

4. How Will Music Be Used and What Rights Do You Need?

This is a crucial step to ensuring the viability of your product.

Are you using tracks in their entirety? Snippets? Will it be stream only, or are you allowing downloads? How are you obtaining them?

There are a plethora of options and routes to go down, but before designing the user experience, do keep in mind the gargantuan licensing hurdle that will inevitably come your way when dealing with labels. It’s best to not even attempt to go down the licensing labyrinth solo, so employ the help of an experienced associate to help you understand the complexities of rights and licensing agreements.

5. What Platforms and Technologies Can You Leverage?

Will your product be available via mobile? Desktop? Both?

While these decisions have a lot of factors that go into them, some of the more important ones to take into account are the type of user base that would be most receptive to your product, the costs that go into development, and the ideal platform that can handle and deliver your product.

Sometimes a great deal of legwork can be streamlined by employing the use of an application programming interface (API), which can reduce the complexity around rights and technology in many cases. Many licensing models are available through APIs, such as in-app experiences with no licensing required (e.g., Spotify apps), white label or co-branded cross-platform products (e.g., 7digital), or label supported APIs (e.g., EMI & IDJ).

When employing the use of an API, be mindful of the Terms of Service (especially with regards to global reach), their commercial advantages or disadvantages, and if you’re working with an API that is maintaining good partner relationships.

6. Do You Have A Working Prototype and White Paper?

Any idea always sounds great when it exists in the air, but it’s imperative to have something to demonstrate when approaching labels, press and especially potential investors.

It doesn’t need to be flawlessly designed, but it is important to ensure that the basic functionality is in working order and that the problem you’ve identified is clearly being solved with your prototype. A prototype also helps in identifying roadblocks early so you can better identify problems and glitches before the public does.

Including a well written white paper is also a good idea, especially if your prototype doesn’t include all the features and functions you’d like to see it have. The white paper should act – in a way – as a business plan; in the sense that it includes all the market research you’ve done, identifies the problem you’re solving, and demonstrates how your product is positioned to meet the demands of your target users / consumers.

7. How Will You Make Money?

I’ve heard the saying “focus on the product first, money second” several times at various conferences and seminars. While I tend to agree, I’m amazed at how many people never get to that second stage! They have not once thought about how they will monetize their products.

“We’ll cross that bridge when we get to it,” is what someone once told me when I asked how their app would make money. Bad idea.

Are you expecting to receive money from consumers directly, or perhaps are you going B2B and offering your product as a service to other companies? Perhaps your data is for sale? Whatever it is, make sure that people would actually want to pay for it and that it’s at a price where they feel comfortable spending the money.

Without a sound business model that is both viable and realistic, the lifespan of your product will be reduced – as does the likelihood of it evolving and expanding into something greater.

8. How Will You Market Your Business?

You may have the greatest product on the planet, but if no one knows about, what good does that do you?

Marketing your product will be key in ensuring that the right people get exposed to your product at the right time. Here’s where it pays to be specific in understanding your target users and coming to them directly in demonstrating your products benefits. Marketing is certainly its own beast to tackle, so consider employing the services of an experienced marketing team to help you create awareness and generate buzz.

Of course, the best marketing will always be word of mouth. If your product truly delivers as well as it should, then user experiences and evangelism will be your greatest ally. 

And We Must Not Forget...


If you're not oozing with genuine enthusiasm at the impact your product will soon make to the world, something is certainly amiss. Those who truly believe in their product can't help but talk about it to everyone and anyone who will listen. They do so because they believe in it, not because they're out to make a dollar.

Deliver a product that solves a real problem, with developed strategies to attract users and create sustained engagements, and the money will follow. 

Hisham Dahud is a Senior Analyst for Additionally, he is the head of Business Development for Fame House and an independent musician. Follow him on Twitter: @HishamDahud