Keeping It Agile To Stay Ahead Of The Curve

Over the last few weeks, we’ve examined topics that circle back to a problem in the arts field where organizations tend to place artificial limitations on how they connect online with patrons. A key point of contact in that process is e-commerce, which covers everything from purchasing tickets to making donations.

Instead of merely ranting about it, I’ve been working with a new arts-based website client over the past few months who decided it was time to shrug off those restrictions and look at designing an e-commerce component from a new perspective.

All things being equal, the site will launch in a few weeks but I wanted to take today’s post to share some of what’s in store and connect it with the problems we’ve been examining.

For this project, a composer with a catalog of more than 1,000 works, many with multiple versions to publish, needed a way for users to easily and quickly navigate this vast sea of music, find what they need, and make a purchase.

Adaptistration People 082

If you visit most composer and sheet music publisher websites, you’ll find works categorized via a single structure: orchestral, pops, chamber, solo works, etc. That works fine for a catalog with a few dozen works but if you spend enough time surfing those websites, you’ll discover this single categorization approach is applied pretty much the same regardless of how many works a catalog contains.

But what if you want to find a concerto for piano and orchestra that’s available for rent or purchase with a duration between 12 and 25 minutes?

Good luck with that.

If you visit most retail websites, multi-taxonomy filtering (the ability to search and filter products by one or more categories) is normal. But for whatever reason, the classical music field seems almost willfully resistant to the idea.

There are a few notable exceptions to the rule, such as sharmusic.com or sheetmusicplus.com, but you might be surprised at how limited most sites are.

Having said all of that, classical music doesn’t always have easily defined, universally agreed on categories. Consequently, the first step in the process is a doozy: figure out a way to group everything that comes across as intuitive for a diverse group of buyers.

If that isn’t a big enough step, you also need to factor in the very different buyer perspectives. A professional orchestra looking for holiday pops programming will approach searching a catalog in very different fashion than a solo pianist looking for a new concerto to perform.

In web development, those groups and how they interact with the site are called user stories. A user story describes something that the user wants to accomplish by using something like a search/filter interface. Clearly defined user goals, such as “I want a piano concerto with orchestra and chamber orchestra orchestration that lasts around 15 minutes,” helps to organize and prioritize how user interaction is designed.

Lastly, everything needs to be constructed with an eye toward ongoing evolution. Using a platform that provides the ability to easily edit and expand categorization in a way that doesn’t break the bank is critical to staying with the technology curve.

Here’s a sneak peek of the solution we’re in the process of finalizing:

Filters
The filter located in the most prominent location (top, left) is the one most music buyers are used to seeing; a category that groups works by ensemble type.
ENSEMBLE FILTER
At this point, a user can simply continue using that traditional starting point or define their unique user path by applying any of the additional filter options.
Moving clockwise, each additional filter refines the process based on typical user stories.

Once the site goes live, you’ll get to experience everything first hand. In the meantime, if you buy sheet music for yourself or your organization, what are some of the limitations you wish didn’t exist?

About Drew McManus

"I hear that every time you show up to work with an orchestra, people get fired." Those were the first words out of an executive's mouth after her board chair introduced us. That executive is now a dear colleague and friend but the day that consulting contract began with her orchestra, she was convinced I was a hatchet-man brought in by the board to clean house.

I understand where the trepidation comes from as a great deal of my consulting and technology provider work for arts organizations involves due diligence, separating fact from fiction, interpreting spin, as well as performance review and oversight. So yes, sometimes that work results in one or two individuals "aggressively embracing career change" but far more often than not, it reinforces and clarifies exactly what works and why.

In short, it doesn't matter if you know where all the bodies are buried if you can't keep your own clients out of the ground, and I'm fortunate enough to say that for more than 15 years, I've done exactly that for groups of all budget size from Qatar to Kathmandu.

For fun, I write a daily blog about the orchestra business, provide a platform for arts insiders to speak their mind, keep track of what people in this business get paid, help write a satirical cartoon about orchestra life, hack the arts, and love a good coffee drink.

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