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The Fifteenth Annual Interactive Audio Conference
BBQ Group Report: Making Music Magical Again For Fun And Profit
Participants: A.K.A. "The Hocus Pocus Focus Group"

Rory O’Neill, Club Penguin

Aaron Higgins, Sound Trends
Kevin Brennan, Dolby Wayne Chien, DTS
Karen Collins, University of Waterloo Facilitator: David Battino, Batmosphere
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Brief problem statement:

Other people do not care about audio as much as we do.  How do we delight them so we can grow the industry?

A brief statement of the group’s solutions to this problem:

“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”
—Arthur C Clarke

Today’s audio technology is sufficiently advanced to border on magical, but even a true wizard will fail to captivate his audience without a sense of theater. We theorized that the ability to draw in, engage, and amaze the audience is one solution to the lack of engagement with music. To define what could make musical experiences engaging, we analyzed “magical” experiences, both theatrical and real.  We developed a list of characteristics of magic (see below) and then mapped those to audio scenarios.

Expanded problem statement:

Audio (music, sound) is undervalued by many consumers—as is evidenced by the widespread acceptance of the MP3 format. We identified four tiers of audio consumers: passive consumer, music follower, amateur musician/producer, and professional (see the EduMusiTainers report from BBQ 2008). Audio is often marketed to the professional, and music production is typically limited to amateur producers and pros. So how can we get the uninterested consumer interested in listening to music, and the listener to become an amateur creator? In other words, how can we increase the engagement that people in general have with music and sound?

While previously we’ve believed that the average listener would want higher fidelity, for the majority of consumers, we believe that audio quality improvement is not the main opportunity for growth in the industry. Today’s audio quality is sufficient for the majority of users. Rather, the largest opportunities lie in developing more engaging methods of creation, distribution and consumption of audio.  We believe that a growth in the enjoyment in production and consumption of music will lead to a deeper understanding of, and appreciation and desire for higher quality audio equipment and delivery formats.

Expanded solution description:

As noted above, based upon the report from 2008 by the ”EduMusiTainers,” we divided the market into four segments in a hierarchy of involvement, ranging from active to passive.

Professional Musicians (Active)
Musical Amateurs/Hobbyists  
Musical Followers  
Listeners (Passive)

Our goal is to move everyone up one level from their current state, making listeners into music followers, followers into amateur hobbyists, and the hobbyists into professional musicians.

With the goal of making music more engaging, we looked to a variety of interactive performance art forms. After much discussion, we settled on exploring magic, since the audience often participates and it generates a sense of wonder that lasts beyond the performance. We identified seven key factors of magic.

The Seven Key Factors of Magic that Make it Appealing
  1. It borders on otherworldliness, being beyond the ken of normal man
    1. It must be impressive, remarkable, and generate a sense of wonder
  2. It contains the element of surprise
  3. It creates tension and release
    1. It takes you on a journey, involves you in a story
  4. It is interactive
    1. The audience is pulled in by the action occurring or directly involved in the execution
  5. It has personality and mystique
    1. The Amazing Houdini
    2. The Mighty Fat Man
  6. It incorporates a slow unveiling that draws the audience in
  7. No matter how it turns out, always remember that that is how it should have been… (The conclusion feels right.)

We then developed a product idea, with an example of how these principles would work in the context of this example.

The Product:  Pika-tunes

Pika-tunes (a nod to the popular children’s character Pikachu*) is a mobile application that allows people to transmit and share small, meaningful audio clips with their friends and family. This can be short messages, the equivalent of SMS/text messages but with the verbal nuances missing in text. It could include, for instance, a baby’s first words, “good night” from a mother to a distant child, friendly “miss-you’s” to friends, etc. This could also include sound effects meaningful to the users:  a sample of the river by the family cottage, a foreign street soundscape, etc. An element that allows for the rapid construction of short musical clips would be included, so that users could send a musical clip—such as a MIDI file of a song that they both like, or custom-made songs.

*(“Pika” is Japanese for “shiny,” which suggests the sparkle of magic. The cutesy Pikachu character also ties in with Peter Kirn’s keynote speech, in which he noted how the most popular audio gadgets are small and cute.)

How the Seven Key Factors of Magic map onto Pika-tunes:

  1. Otherworldly in how it communicates (the “magic” of hearing mother’s voice from afar)
  2. Surprising in when and what other users send you (the unknown that occurs when the message indicator beeps us)
  3. Tension and release of hearing what was sent to you and learning who it was from
  4. Interactive by sending and receiving with others, by sharing music
  5. Personality from celebrity voices and product marketing that could be incorporated to add a fun dimension to verbal messages (e.g., “Make my voice sound like Arnold Schwarzenegger”)
  6. N/A
  7. The “story” is told and not left unfinished.

Based on our idea and discussion of examples, we then developed a series of principles that developers of musical products can draw on:

Design Principles for Magical Musical Products
  1. Facilitate happy accidents — creation with an unexpected / fortuitous result: How can your product lead to and encourage happy accidents?  Allow for a random element that can surprise and delight the listener (e.g., “Change my music clip to a random key.”)
  2. Must encourage the user to use the device or service again and again
    1. Level-up “rewards” for accomplishments: what can increased use offer your user?
    2. Cute factor: for example, dancing mascots that react to the audio: make the user feel emotionally connected to your product
    3. Create a visual connection, interaction with the visual: Visualizing sound helps all users, but especially beginners
    4. Visual representation of your actions: “How did what I just do alter the sound?”
    5. More personal or meaningful (part of me went into its creation)
    6. Increase complexity with increase in skill
  3. Customizable
    1. Skinning
    2. User skill modes
    3. Ability to hide toolboxes in software
    4. Personalization options
    5. Accessibility, adaptability
  4. Focus on what the user wants, not what you want
    1. The mystery of exploration of the new instrument
    2. Anticipation of the next result
    3. Unveiling the next big thing in an exciting manner
  5. Variety of content requires adaptability of audio settings to react to the differences
  6. Sharing of audio content is important social factor: How can you incorporate feedback from an audience?
  7. What is the value proposition, the story in your product?
  8. Audio is what you feel, not see: how can the audio in your product influence the user’s emotional response?
  9. How will you make the audio more tangible (video, haptics? Animations?)
  10. People are okay listening to poor quality speakers: How will you influence them to appreciate quality?
  11. Piggy-back on the visuals: aesthetically pleasing designs are important.
  12. Tie in with Icon / Brand recognition: e.g., Dr. Dre Beats products for Hewlett Packard.
  13. The advancement of technology will come with removing road blocks previously limited by the technology (e.g., portability, shareability, networking)
Items from the brainstorming lists that the group thought were worth reporting:

We also came up with these other possible applications of our ideas:

  1. Collectable sound bites: pass audio clips to your friends on Facebook. Collect all 12,938,876 of them. Like puzzle pieces from around the world. Many developing world countries are doing wireless phones exclusively. Existing cell phones are already capable of capturing the audio.
  2. Musical tag:  send a piece of music to a friend, they continue it and forward it to someone else.
  3. DJ party with request line: stream your favorite DJ live, connect to your stereo through Bluetooth
  4. Key and tempo and arrangement synchronization: knock out that quick melody in your head, add some instant arrangement, mix it with friends live in the same key, etc.
  5. Guitar-Tune: the instrument equivalent of Auto-Tune
  6. Multiperson mashup jukebox: A computer synthesizes a new song in real time based on the personal music libraries of everyone in the room
  7. Audio camouflage: mask unwanted sounds.
  8. Ventriloquist: send your sounds or voice to someone else across the room
  9. Stadium casting: phone based adboards sent out to users
  10. The electronic wave: pass a sound torch across the stadium


section 4

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select a section:
1. Introduction
2. Workgroup Reports Overview
3. Wherever You Go, There You Are: Audio that Understands Context and Mobility
4. Making Music Magical Again For Fun And Profit
5. The iPhatBack
6. Schedule & Sponsors