Band App Diary #1: Initial Design Thoughts

If you read this blog lately, you know that I have (am) a band called Fisherman’s Porch, and that I’ve been making music for a long time. One idea I’ve had for a while has been to somehow combine my app making and music skills in an interesting way. I’ve also wanted a reason to do something with development that would give me some real world experience writing server side code. I’m going to follow Brent’s footsteps and put all of my design and code thoughts out there, so that hopefully I can learn something from the feedback I get.

The other day when I posted on Twitter that I was trying to think of a side project I could use Microsoft’s Azure Mobile Services to write a backend for and Nick Harris responded with this:

@collindonnell write an app for your music with a blog like feature talking about the songs.

This seems like the perfect project to try this out on for a few reasons:

  • There aren't thousands of Fisherman's Porch fans out there (yet!), and it's not going to be storing a bunch of peoples important personal data, so I can experiment as much as I like with the design and backend architecture.
  • It's not an idea anyone can “steal,” so I don’t have to be secretive at all about creating it and blog about the whole process.

An App Worth Downloading

I don’t want to make an app that’s just a static advertisement for my music, because no one will download it, and if they do, they won’t keep it. Plus, designing an app like that just isn’t as interesting to me. I want to use this to stretch my design muscles and see what I’m capable of. Ultimately, the hope is that the app could somehow get people who would have otherwise never ever heard of Fisherman’s Porch to become interested, and people who are interested to stay that way. If you think about how stupid most apps that are created to advertise different brands and whatnot actually are, it’s a pretty big goal.

So, I think it’s got to do a few of things to have a chance at achieving that. First, the content can’t suck. If my music and other things I put into it are lame, it doesn’t matter what I do. I’m going to take it as read that my content can’t suck. Good content alone is going to be enough though. There’s tons of bands with good songs no one cares about.

The second thing is that it’s got to be fun to touch and look at. The UI has to be great. It can’t look like a list of songs in the Music app. For the kind of apps I’ve created in the past (productivity mostly), I’ve gotten a lot of mileage out of “what would Mail/Contacts/Music do?” as a starting place. If I were a famous rockstar, that might fly, but I’m not at all. It has to feel like something special.

The design also needs to look full with the amount of content one person (me) can put out. If I had a table view of six songs, another separate photos view with a few photos, and a videos list with two videos on day one, that’s going to look empty. Instead of a tab bar app with a separate tab for each of those things, or some kind of table view based navigation hierarchy, I’m thinking a single feed that has everything in it. If you want to just listen to my music, you can do that in this app, but the main purpose of this app is to find out what Fisherman’s Porch is up to right now. The types of content I can think of right now are:

  • Music.
  • Videos.
  • Photos.
  • Content from social networks like Twitter, Instagram, etc.
  • Other links to things like blog posts.
  • Shows.

On the technical side whatever I do should also accommodate the possibility of me coming up with new types of content in the future. I don’t know what those are yet, but I guess that’s kind of the point. Out of all of those types of content, shows are the one that I think deserve their own special view. Giving shows their own view gives me a nice place to put things like getting a push notification if I’m playing a show nearby or requesting a show in your area. Requesting a show could be as simple as a single button. I’d store the location on my server and if I see a bunch in one general area, I can find out about booking a show there at some point.

Inside of the feed list, I think it would also be nice if people could comment on items that show up there. Review a show, give feedback on a song, that sort of thing. Of course this is the perfect place for trolls to tell me that I “totally suck, lol,” so I think before someone can leave a comment I’d ask them to authenticate with either Twitter or Facebook to remove some of the anonymity. If there’s a way to do it without being a total tool, it might be cool if I could use that as a chance to ask them to like/follow Fisherman’s Porch. I’m thinking more like a checkbox which is default off instead of an alert view that pops up in their face after they log in.

Other random things the app could maybe do that might be cool:

  • Notifications for new content. If this is annoying people will just delete the app though, so I might have it somewhere that people have to turn on instead of just on for everything by default.
  • Passbook passes for shows. Maybe.
  • Have some basic analytics so I know which songs get listened to the most or the general geographic region people who listen to my music are in. Nothing creepy, but it would be useful to know if I have a big cluster of fans in one area when I go to book a show there.

I don’t know if all of this will make it into the first version, but I’m kind of excited about this app as a place I can try new things. Since I’m already over a thousand words into this post, I think I’ll take a break and collect my thoughts on what’s all going to need to happen technically.

Collin Donnell @collin