Having launched nearly 200 products, mostly in music technology, I’ve learned a few lessons along the way.

1. Start with customer expectations. We make the mistake of thinking that the “customer” is the end user. In point of fact, there are many customers along the way including those who distribute and resell the product to the end user. What are their expectations not only for product features, but system integration issues, tech support, customer training, pricing and discounts?

All of these are part of total product design.

2. Training Is Important. In music technology, training is usually skipped over because developers listen, not to the Early Adopters, but to those who represent 2.5% of all sales, the Innovators. The Innovators are primarily self-teachers. All the rest, 97.5%, either want the training or in the case of Laggards (institutions) send people for training. People in music tech would be shocked by how many people don’t buy because the product looks complicated to use and makes them feel stupid. Words like newbie, MIDI Idiot, Midiots, et al, reinforce customer reasons NOT to buy.

3. Don’t Ignore Academia and Diss Education. Sadly, music technology, which needs substantive training, often disses music trainers and ignores a major slice of sales for the present and the future – academia. Every year, roughly 10,000 or more students are required to take orchestration classes to fulfill their degree requirements. Any orchestral library priced around $995 that achieves a 10% sales penetration of the base annually brings in an extra $995,000 gross. But you do have to learn to be nice to them and how to sell to them, because once in, you’re in.

4. Recognize That Sequencing Is Difficult. People understand the concept of notation programs. They do not understand sequencing programs. Sequencing programs were hard enough to explain before audio recording engines were added to them. Now with the addition of audio recording engines, end users must learn a block of skills including the act of sequencing, MIDI editing skills for MIDI mock-ups, non-live audio recording and editing, and sound shaping tools from reverb to EQ and more. They should also possess reasonable keyboard skills to produce their music, preferably Grade Level 2 and above.

Music technology products are mostly designed for people who have bought into the idea of sequencing and have made around a $5,000 purchasing decision (computer, audio cards, monitors, MIDI keyboard, cables, etc). before buying any independent libraries.

Consequently, genuinely new customers may like a particular orchestral sample library, but they can’t buy it and use right out of the box because they first need the tool that really runs the library – the sequencing or notation program, and a powerful digital audio computing system. Without those components and a MIDI keyboard, any soft synth or sample library is unusable.

Sequencer sales are the equivalent of new home construction. When sequencer sales are booming, sample library sales are booming. When sequencer sales lag, sample library sales lag and sales become focused with the smaller subset of professionals who keep buying because they have to, and highly motivated amateurs because they want to. But the end result is still the same – that sample library sales slow down.

5. Design First by Best Practices. Many developing new products start with the weaknesses of their competitor’s products. This is certainly valid, but a stronger view is looking at competing products and seeing what their strengths are, then taking those strengths and aggregating them together to create the better product to which you add your own unique innovations.

6. Recognize That The Market Is Shrinking – World Wide. The boom years are coming to an end. That’s because the Heavy Buyers of music tech products have been the Post War Baby Boomers who are now entering retirement. Retirement brings changes in buying behavior. By comparison, the Heavy Buyers of guitar products have the same profile as Heavy Buyers of soda pop: 12-24. Sales Reality: Volume sales, unless value priced, will continue to decrease then level out.

7. Selling Direct With Lower Prices. This is the new trend and it’s not going away. Product design for the future may mean fleeter products with add-on components as separate download purchases to acquire the full product that once was available in a box. With this are new sales tax trends in the U.S. For example, if any developer sells up to $10,000 to customers in New York State, they don’t have to register for and charge sales tax. But once a developer has sold $10,001 for the year, sales tax must be charged and paid. Similar legislation is being considered in California.

8. The Best? In Amadeus, Mozart complained that he was the best composer in the city! But someone else got the gig, who in Mozart’s opinion, wasn’t as good as him. The problem with aiming to be “the best” is that “best” is non-quantifiable. Much of this has to do with end buyer knowledge and experience. When a product is “more complete” then another, how much more does a typical buyer need to know to first appreciate how more complete the product is, and second, need training to understand how to really use it and get the most out of it?

For example, two libraries have two different methodologies for creating divisi strings. But one of the first questions that came out when this key feature was finally available was, “What’s divisi?”

So what do you when a what’s a benefit for one group becomes a sales liability for another? You create simpler editions with upgrade paths.

There’s a lot involved with competing and being competitive. But these are some things to think about as you press forward with developing and financing your own contribution to the art.