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May 29, 2021 / Michael Yaroshefsky

The Organic Music Movement (2021 Follow-up)

In 2012, I expected that there would come a time when quality (vs quality) of music would (again) become a differentiator. In this case, the quality I was referring to is the fidelity of the music — how closely does the sound you hear match that which was recorded by the artist.

Back then, I wrote:

Streaming audio providers (XM, Pandora, Spotify, etc.) continue to make the CD obsolete by offering us variety and convenience, but in return we sacrifice audio quality.  So the question is: does anyone care?  If trends in other consumer verticals can give us any hints, then perhaps we’ll soon see a renaissance of high quality audio.

November 14, 2012: The Organic Music Movement

Now, nearly 10 years later, Apple has delivered on this expectation:

Apple today announced Apple Music is bringing industry-leading sound quality to subscribers with the addition of Spatial Audio with support for Dolby Atmos…

“Apple Music is making its biggest advancement ever in sound quality,” said Oliver Schusser, Apple’s vice president of Apple Music and Beats. “Listening to a song in Dolby Atmos is like magic. The music comes from all around you and sounds incredible

May 12, 2021: Apple Music announces Spatial Audio with Dolby Atmos; will bring Lossless Audio to entire catalog
Apple Music displayed on iPhone 12.
Notice the “Dolby Atmos” and Lossless icons in the image above. It’s finally here.

While I’m thrilled to see that prediction validated, I’ve even more excited to have increasing evidence for this trend that I believe creates fascinating business opportunities for those savvy enough to notice:

Commodification of consumer goods and services eventually creates an opportunity for differentiation via quality.

I had hoped that in the case of music, it would have been an upstart that took on the behemoths. But TIDAL tried but never caught on.

Get TIDAL - Music Streaming - Microsoft Store
Tidal: Launched in 2014 as an alternative streaming service, pitching high-fidelity audio streaming as one of it’s differentiators. Some claim it never took off because the streaming prices were too high or the average listener didn’t care.

In the case of TIDAL, I think most critics got it wrong. It wasn’t so much that the price was too high or that average consumer couldn’t tell the difference. I believe it was the circumstance that consumer require very high cost audio equipment (speakers or headphones) to even experience that difference. If customers can’t easily experience the difference, it’s not a differentiator.

Unlike organic food or high quality coffee, it’s not as simple as just paying a small premium. It requires an investment in some fixed cost, which is a barrier to people even being able to experience that difference.

The reason Apple can now do it is because they also make the hardware and are making a small fortune selling high quality audio gear. This is the ultimate manifestation of the Beats audio movement I mentioned in 2012. In that way, the Apple headphones and Apple music software become a package deal, which reduces the friction for Apple consumers to notice the difference.

That seems to be a worthwhile lesson about this trend: if the quality requires consumers to bear some upfront fixed cost to experience it, the differentiation will be harder for consumers to experience and vendors to sell. The quality has to be easy to understand and experience.

And if it’s not, then it’s the brand’s job to inform the consumer. That’s the other reason Apple can make this work. They established themselves as a premium brand. In doing so, they have also established themselves as the authority on what consumers should care about. It’s crucial to inform the consumer why quality matters (and how to discern it). In this case, Apple is signalling to their users that audio quality matters.

This is exactly what Lexus did with their highly effective advertising in the early 1990s. In the now famous “ball bearing” commercial, they informed the audience that body panel gap consistency was a reflection of build quality.

This concept clearly stuck with me, because it’s a core part of Visor’s differentiation: “the most easy-to-use two-way integrations.”

Most SaaS products add integrations well after their product is built, or they rely on third parties (like Zapier) to do it for them. While it’s great that integrations are now becoming far more common, their quality is deplorable. They are complicated to set up, they break frequently, they often only sync one way, and they mutilate the data along the way.

When existing SaaS apps try to shoehorn integrations in later, they have no choice but to chose a technical strategy that transforms the external data immediately into some internal format that their product already knows how to handle. In doing so, they lose the “richness” of the data source — such as whether certain fields are dropdowns, whether textfields have character limits that must be enforced, or whether numbers have a specific precision to maintain.

For example, didn’t add their integrations until 5 years after they launched their product. While these integrations do work, they do so in a limited way. Sometimes the data comes through in a way you can’t fully understand because fo the transformation it had to undergo to get there. Often you can’t really edit the data in a way that allows it to be synced back. These are low-fidelity integrations added integrations in 2019 — 5 years after they were founded!

More apt to the example of the Organic Music Movement is the popularity of Zapier and other integration platform as a service (IPaaS) companies. Zapier (and companies like it) are to integrations what Dunkin Donuts was to Coffee and McDonalds was to Hamburgers. They went for commoditization. But in doing so, they sacrificed on quality.

Up until now, the integration market has been a race for quantity. It’s plain to see when these products tout the number of integrations they offer:

Zapier’s differentiation is the commoditization of integrations.

And that creates an opportunity to create the Starbucks of integrations — a higher quality experience. And that’s exactly what we’re doing at Visor.

For those interested in learning more, stay tuned. Visor’s product is currently available by invitation only, with a public launch expected later this year.

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