Over New Year’s I shared some lean media concepts with a few old friends. One of them, who has worked in the music industry since the 1990s, immediately got it, and wanted to give some feedback and insights. He related a tale that went something like this:
“About ten years ago I was friends with two people who lived in my building in New York,” he recalled. “One of them was a songwriter, and the other was a promoter. The promoter was always saying, ‘you have to get these tunes out in front of people.’ But the songwriter was like, ‘no, I am an artist and it’s all about my vision, not the audience.'”
My first response was to acknowledge that some creators are absolutely focused on their own vision, or do not care about what audiences might think of their new creation. Lemmy, the late singer of the hard rock band Motorhead, was utterly dismissive of what audiences might think of his latest songs. He and his bandmates just went into the studio and recorded what they liked. Steven Spielberg reportedly doesn’t use focus groups (“Because he doesn’t need to. He just doesn’t like the process and doesn’t think it can tell him anything he doesn’t know”) while other film directors are even more skeptical of focus group audiences:
Mr. Frankenheimer said: “You spend a year making a movie, then it comes down to 20 morons in a focus group. They all want to be film critics and are given a chance suddenly.”
What I told my friend was that it was possible to find a middle ground. Letting audiences experience an early version of a song, film, or prototype need not be seen as subverting the creative process. Nor should it be regarded as a marketing tool, although early exposure can help build buzz (as was the case with prototype versions of Minecraft on Internet discussion boards and YouTube). The purpose of this aspect of the lean media approach is to see what (if anything) can be learned from exposing audiences to rough cuts or prototype projects. Quantitative data or qualitative feedback can give insights to the team that can help them improve or shape the product, or alert producers to potential problems before it is released.
As always, feel free to share your opinions and ideas below.