Designing F2P music with a focus on "Fun"
Understanding who the userbase are, what they like to do, and why
In it, we create an iteration of the “4 keys to fun” framework, designed around the music ecosystem, and then highlight example profiles of potential users within a creator’s world.
It is important to note that we are speaking to both creators and startup founders with this piece, it’s our belief that the next generation of creators will think like a founder and should consider all the same questions when thinking about their careers.
We round the piece off by looking at the current suite of platforms available to creators and suggest areas that are likely necessary for us to create an F2P music stack.
I - It’s not about designing for “superfans”
In an F2P business model, usually, the breakdown looks like 90% of revenue coming from 1% of users. The vast majority of users won’t pay a single £/$.
Seeing a change in the market, we have seen a sudden influx of startups building towards “superfans”. Which is an error on a number of levels.
Firstly, just because someone has high activity doesn’t mean that they are going to be the ones that spend the most money if given the opportunity to do so. Sure, there will be cross-over in user types, but the typical high-spend user (wallet rich, time poor) is often very different to the typical high-activity user (time rich, wallet rich or poor).
Very little work has been done to better understand user types in music on these metrics (at least to our knowledge).
Secondly, and potentially even more important, designing for the “superfan” means that you are neglecting 99% of users. That 99% may not be the ones that drive revenue, but they are what populates your world and makes the experience something that the 1% want to pay money to progress within.
II - It’s not about “gamification”
I recently tweeted, “stop building platforms to gamify the Spotify algorithm”.
The recent trend of building out reward mechanisms around getting fans to do work to inflate platform metrics is a dead end. It is intellectually insulting to users and platforms and not sustainable.
Gamification is essentially the antithesis of what we are proposing as part of this series of essays. Flip around the understanding of “get users to do something for you through rewards” towards “understand what users want to do and build features that let them do so”.
That exists within a wider world of engagement, you need to cater to a wide set of user types and create an ecosystem. And to do that you need to think deeply about personas.
III - It’s about building a fun and rewarding world of engagement
There are three questions to ask yourself when thinking about your ecosystem:
Who are the people coming to your content?
What else do they like?
What are their motivations?
Each of these aspects will dictate the kind of experience that you will want to design for your current and future fans so that you can create a fun experience for them, at whatever level they want to engage.
Ideally, you want to offer the opportunity for users to develop along a “Path to Mastery” and for them to be able to track and compare their progress along it.
i - Who, what, why
A lot of this already exists through disconnected instances around the internet. F2P can provide a metagame around the 4 keys to fun, enabled by the affordances of apps built for it, connected to monetisation models that provide financial upside to the creator, and rewards to the users.
The below diagram is our attempt at building out a 4 keys to fun framework for the ecosystem around music; Competitive, Casual, Creative, and Community fun (the four Cs), and includes examples of “Paths to Mastery” within them to show how a creator can encourage and facilitate a fan’s development within a “fun tree” (one of the keys). See the previous blog for more information on Paths to Mastery):
The 4 Cs of “fun” in music
Competitive Fun: competing with the system and vs. other people
Could be categorised under the same heading as “superfan”, except we are more interested in motivations rather than singling out the most active users and targeting them.
Users that enjoy competitive fun are rewarded by the challenge, or the opportunity for skill expression, which is an interesting thing to consider in the world of music.
Examples could be being the top listener, going to every gig on a tour, finding a creator first, owning most of their songs, and owning a lower edition number of a famous record.
With regards to “skill”, we can define this as being able to showcase the development of ability, for example having “good ears” and being early to popular music. It could also extend to aspects that are also found within the “creative fun” tree, such as writing reviews, remixing, making playlists, or making covers of the creator’s songs (users will have a profile that extends across multiple trees).
Example Paths to Mastery
Casual Fun: using music as a functional resource
Casual fun stretches the word “fun” slightly, as what we really mean here is users in a creator’s ecosystem that are lean-back consumers.
Those that don’t specifically go out in search of a creator, or indeed any specific music, and instead are happy to be served audio, often to fulfil a need. For example, as background noise while working.
Engagement largely rests in streaming environments, and the design space has been heavily explored by the major DSPs, Spotify, Apple, YouTube etc. Users likely don’t pay for usage, or pay a small subscription / watch adverts.
Example Paths to Mastery
Creative Fun: making new things around music
User Generated Content in music usually means YouTube / TikTok and the various types of videos that fans make using music. It can be seen as a subset within a wider category of Creative Fun, which also includes other creative outlets, such as making fan art, blogging, doing covers, and even cosplay.
The drivers behind creative fun are usually around wanting to showcase their skill, wanting to connect with other similar fans, and wanting to build a reputation through their output. It is additive to a creator’s own work (though can be seen as substitutive / competitive by some).
As AI models become increasingly used to generate new works we face an interesting new era of user-driven creative output which could be harnessed by creators.
Example Paths to Mastery
Community Fun: connecting with other fans and the creator
For some users, the social interactions (and associated dopamine hits) that come alongside music are as important as the music itself.
We can see the most extreme examples of this in communities such as those built around KPOP and superstars such as Taylor Swift, as well as in more local scenes such as those built around genres and venues.
There are two main elements of the social interactions that make up Community Fun, creator-fan and fan-fan. These can occur across social media, community platforms such as Discord, and, in the old days, things like street teams and fan clubs.
In some ways, much of what is described as the “creator economy” leans heavily into Community Fun, with platforms such as Twitch and Patreon making available an environment in which a creator can grow and enable a community.
Example Paths to Mastery
ii - Fan profiles
Within these “fun trees”, it is likely that every user fits a profile with different levels of engagement across each axis.
Thus we can start to construct examples of these profiles:
Fan profiles across the fun trees
In this diagram we have outlined 4 example profiles:
Social maker: Driven by the social and creative aspects of being part of a creator’s community, is a creator themselves and likes to work with other fans to make new things that build out their and the creator’s profile
Competitive listener: Enjoys the challenge of collecting and comparing their collection against other users, is likely a self-identifying “music fan”, has a completionism mentality
Background consumer: Uses music as a tool rather than something that they want to lean deeply into, can likely be engaged further within the constraints of the platforms that they are already on, though may be limited to pre-existing platform metrics
Community leader: Driven by the values linked to social interactions and the organisational challenges that this can provide
There are of course many other profiles that we could draw out, for example, those driven by Creative + Competitive fun.
The important thing is that it’s unlikely that a creator will have, or will want to appeal to, every single profile of users. But drawing out an idea of what the range of potential users looks like will assist in designing their world.
IV - Considering this within the current music ecosystem
Now that we have an idea about the different types of users that may exist within the fanbase we can start to think about how current platforms are serving them.
Note, our focus is, of course, music, but platforms are sometimes more generalised, where user behaviour occurs across all kinds of media.
Streaming clearly fits users within the Casual Fun tree well, to the point where one could reasonably assume that Spotify et al. have largely defined it as their market.
Features built to appeal to other types of fun are relatively limited; Spotify, in particular, has attempted to roll out things like social features, and then rolled them back, multiple times over the past few years.
There have been many attempts in the past to build new streaming platforms focussed more towards Competitive / Social Fun, but invariably they have met the familiar failure mode of not having a large enough scale / potential market to survive and being non-differentiated enough from major DSPs.
This has created a relatively homogenous Streaming environment that serves as many Casual Fun enjoying users as possible (for basically free for the user).
UGC (User Generated Content)
YouTube, TikTok, Soundcloud, and Twitch all represent different versions of more Creative Fun targeted platforms, each taking a different path around engagement within other fun trees.
Clearly, for music, there is a strong cross-over with Streaming platforms in that the dominant UGC platforms aim for scale and mass-market entertainment. And some cross-over with Community fun, via social connectivity.
Twitch stands out as keying into Competitive Fun elements, with subscriptions & “Twitch Bits”. TikTok has cross-over with Creative Fun focussed, with Stories, challenges, etc.
Twitter, Facebook, Whatsapp groups, Discord, and Telegram, provide platforms for social interaction and Community Fun.
While maybe not viewed as “music” platforms, they are a critical element of the stack that a creator uses. This area is largely oversaturated, and especially in the Musk years at Twitter, faces issues with regard to fragmentation.
Regardless, social media & group chat platforms generally do a decent job with regards to providing tools for Community Fun, and allow for the sharing and broadcast of elements of Creative and Competitive Fun.
Live may seem out of place compared to the other digital-first channels and platforms already discussed, but it’s important to remember that music doesn’t exist in a digital vacuum and that Live will be an essential part of many Creators’ careers.
Live is front and centre when it comes to Community Fun, it is the embodiment of social connections, from fan-to-creator and fan-to-fan.
The majority of development around music NFTs has focussed on collecting.
This is largely building within the Competitive Fun tree, though arguably lacks development with regards to a user’s Path to Mastery development.
Within the traditional industry, we can see platforms built to fulfil similar users in things like Discogs.
V - Connecting it all together
Based on the above, there are a number of reasonable conclusions that we can reach:
Categorising the types of fun that users enjoy around music gives four distinct “fun trees”; Competitive, Casual, Creative, and Community Fun
Users will have a profile that spans across “fun trees”, which can be defined by a creator to better understand their fan base and make decisions on how to serve
The “fun trees” are currently catered for across a range of available platforms, which presents creators with a relatively fragmented and disjointed environment in which to build out their ecosystem
There is a lack of common substrate to connect platforms, to bring it all together, and allow for overarching sense and monetisation mechanisms
This final point is likely where the true innovation in F2P music will be found. Building a cohesive world that incorporates and spans across activity on the internet.
This essay should hopefully support both founders and creators seeking to explore F2P Music, by providing a framework on which to make decisions about how and where to build and operate.