A lot has been said over the years about technology solutions and how it can assist artists grow their careers in tangible ways. There’s also the less intangible aspect of tech though, the so-called backend, which is as intriguing as the offerings themselves. With this in mind, we caught up with rapper and product manager Lemogang Makabanyane to find out some of the ways thinking through tech can help artists approach their creative processes. So what can a product manager share with artists in this regard? “There are all these small moving bits and pieces that might not necessarily be very obvious to an artist,” Makabanyane says. “[I think learning from different industries] helps answer the question ‘How do I get to where someone else is?’”. Here’s a breakdown of some of the most salient points of our recent conversation:
Building Stans: So what does product management actually entail?
Lemogang: With product management everybody needs to look at themselves like a problem solver. The beauty of it is that you’re consistently looking at a business problem and trying to see how you can better apply your mind around it. When you have that sort of mental model it helps you always think about what tools you need, what skills are associated with those tools and what exactly you’re trying to achieve? You could be a fashion designer or musician but you always have to have a problem solving mental model.
Why are models so important in your area of expertise?
What's great about models is that you can always configure them. You can look at what someone else does and customize that to suit your own budget, needs or desires. You can just take the framework and tweak it here and there. You don't necessarily need to follow a blueprint and where it becomes interesting is that you can be creative.
I like that you mention creativity ‘cause that’s maybe where music and tech intersect. What role does music play in your life at the moment?
I feel like music exists everywhere I go. I've gotten to a point in my life where I always have a soundtrack. I always tell people that I actually mark time with music, you know, people say ‘10 years back’ and I say ‘When Drake came out!’. So I think ‘cause my job is pretty stressful music is very central.
You mentioned something about artists being the product owners, can you expand on that?
The artist literally is the product owner ‘cause it’s about how they put out their brand. From the actual brand to the music they create, another way of looking at it is they’re almost like a coach as well. They have to see the whole picture and communicate their vision! Even in the song making process, you need to think of artwork, who’s playing the keys and the mixing & mastering. It’s literally a map of the guys that are gonna help you build that product. So an artist needs to understand which people and what skills they need to move the process forward.
What are some transferable tools to use in terms of processes?
Usually people think songmaking is all inclusive -. I'm gonna write the song, engineer it and market it. You need to break the elephant into smaller chunks. You need to break it down so you can tell each person involved what the vision is.
In terms of defining that vision… is that where design thinking comes in?
Yeah, exactly because when you make music you're not making it for the four walls around you. You're making music for human beings so it’s important to know what the market actually wants. Being an artist is you maintaining your identity versus appealing to people. You need to understand what's happening around you musically but the objective of your music should be to speak to what people are getting from you, and your team as well.
What does a normal product team look like for you, and how a product team might compare to an artist’s?
I work with different people who have different skill sets. We have UI and UX designers that make your interface pretty on apps or websites. The visual people. Before you hand over to them, you start with a business analyst. They look at what's working or not working in a business. In order for you to know where you're going, you need to know exactly where you're coming from. They document that, sit with you and dream what the future is going to look like.
How do you get these two sides communicating?
What I usually do is use process maps. I basically map out a simple visual showing how ‘when this happens; that needs to happen’. The reason that’s so beautiful is that whether engineers or designers are looking at the map; they can all understand what's going on. So how you communicate with people is important - they need to understand your vision in a simplified manner.
So the vision gets buy-in…
Yeah. So once that’s done we go to a designer, think of how our app is going to look and start putting together things like buttons, copy and icons. Before we waste money, we take this to the business side to have a look at what we’re building. They assess the prototype and usually ask ‘Does it actually work for you?’. So it's like creating a reference for a song before you actually go into studio. You have a melody in your head and a few chords, and call people in to put everything together. The product team is like a band.
Sounds like a band with automation! So what role is tech playing in artist’s careers?
Tech is so pivotal and I don't think people understand how powerful it is. Artists need to look at tech as an ecosystem and build a model with social media and streaming platforms as part of their value chain. It gives them leverage in terms of roll-outs and controlling their narrative. What I like about something like amapiano is that it’s the literal definition of DIY. It’s a 30-second clip and a dance!
I'm so glad you mentioned dance because with music you also have to find the right visual way to communicate right?
You're speaking about UI and UX. Visual cues are important and there's a visual identity artists need to have. Everybody needs to know who you are at a glimpse or just by looking at your logo. The human brain is wired to look for shortcuts, so you need to simplify your brand. That’s your interface, it's literally the bridge where somebody gets to interact - they actually interface with you.
Once that relationship is formed how does an artist maintain it as they grow?
I feel like when an artist evolves they should keep people as part of that journey. People remember exactly where you started off and like to see where you're going. You can test social posts and tease music and videos. We use something like AB testing to get feedback and keep people involved.
Thank you for being involved in this conversation.