I have always had a passion for music, ever since I was a little kid. One of my earliest memories is the excitement of getting to choose which CD my parents and I would listen to when we’d sit down for family dinner. Cracked Rear View, the debut studio album by Hootie & the Blowfish, was a popular choice in the Thue household, as I recall!
As I got older, I started to write my own lyrics, learned how to play guitar, and started to dabble with music production. Lately, I have been spending a lot of time on the MPC One experimenting with new genres and learning the ins and outs of Akai’s robust standalone music production machine.
As I have dove further into the world of UX/UI, it has opened my eyes to the parallels between music and design. I’ve noted a few that have stuck out to me below, and some things I have learned along the way.
"One good thing about music, when it hits you, you feel no pain." - Bob Marley
While I could spend a lot of time talking about the evolution of how the end user listens to and interacts with music, from vinyl records at home to streaming Spotify in the car, I actually want to take it back a step further and look at the decisions that are made to design the experience the artist and their production team set out to achieve for the listener.
One “design” decision that stands out right away is the chosen musical key and the characteristics and emotions that are associated with it. Would you like the listener to resonate with the existential angst you are feeling as conveyed by your emo/pop-punk lyrics? Perhaps D# Minor is a good key to use. Perhaps you would like them to dance freely and feel the joy of youth again? A Major could be a nice fit.
Similar to the psychology of color in design, the key of a song impacts the way that it is perceived subconsciously in the listener. Given that emotions are complex, how the song is perceived may vary from person to person, but when done well and with intent, creating music in a certain key with a certain chord progression can have a powerful impact in getting the listener to empathize with the song in the artist’s intended way.
Outside of my presentation skillset, my knowledge of digital marketing and branding, experience working with startups, and exposure to some insanely bright web developer's have all given me a great foundation of transferable skills that I can bring to the table.
"Funk is the opposite of magic. Funk is about rules." - Prince
"As is the case with design, there are some guiding principles that need to be followed in music in order for it to sound good. Just like you don’t want your visual design to have no clear structure and be out of alignment, you don’t want your song to be totally out of key. Another important principle in music is related to the tempo, or BPM (beats per minute). When you hear a band that is playing at a totally different tempo from one another, you know right away that they are out of sorts and need to rehearse together a lot more. Bootsy Collins infamously emphasized that the #1 rule of funk is to “Keep it on the One.”
These types of issues are usually apparent right away, even to the novice observer.
Beyond these guiding principles, there are a plethora of patterns that have emerged in both the design and music world. Design patterns in the world of UI can include common methods of getting input, navigation, onboarding, feedback, and more. In the world of music, every piece of music has a foundation of rhythmic patterns and tonal patterns. Chord progressions and melodic patterns have been used and reused over and over again, and can act as a source of inspiration for a songwriter just like a well designed menu or carousel can inspire a designer.
"The secret of getting ahead is getting started. The secret to getting started is breaking your overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks, and then starting on the first one." - Mark Twain
It is easy to get caught up, especially if you are looking at job listings, with the tools of the trade in the UX field. Should I learn Sketch or Figma? What about Adobe XD? Should I prototype with InVision or UXPin? A lot of aspiring musicians find themselves in the same boat. Ableton or FL Studio? Should I learn how to play drums or learn how to program them? How important is it that I learn music theory? Or mixing and mastering?
It is also really easy to get overwhelmed with the amount of information and resources available for both! Which design/music communities should I join? What are the best blog resources out there? Should I take this Udemy course on Audio Mixing? Or enroll in one for Graphic Design? Do I need to go back to College?
This is something that, admittingly, I struggle with as I really, really want to learn but there is SO MUCH to learn.
And you know what...That’s okay. Both of these fields are ever evolving, trends and styles come and go, and technology is rapidly evolving. In the meantime, I will just do the best I can to learn as much as I can and work on honing my craft.