Completing a music-related project is a complex endeavor that often encompasses many interdependent tasks within a team setting. One may subsequently ask how can such creative teams not only account for all the constraints linked with their projects but also track their progress to completion? This article explores the pragmatic attributes and benefits of Project Management (PM) as a means to coordinate such projects and how PM can be applied to the music industry.
This case study was realized from one of the author’s class projects in which students developed a music business-related tangible product in the form of a cassette coffee table called Mesa Mix. This project was incubated and delivered commercially within a semester. PM was employed throughout to plan, execute, and control the work that the class did as a team in order to complete the project successfully within the specified time. Much documentation with details about the project is provided as well as some PM resources. The case study builds upon PM and the work of creativity scholars and experts Wilson and Brown (2014) and Sivaraman and Wilson (2016). Ultimately, this article aims to inspire and provide an additional and complementary instrument for the toolkit of creative teams, music industry/business entrepreneurs, and educators.
In the music industry, musical activity involves a complex system of projects that consistently encompasses many interdependent tasks within a team setting. Predictably, such projects tend to increase in complexity and diversity over time (Sivaraman and Wilson, 2016, 1). These considerations thus beg the question: How can creative teams not only account for all the intricacies and constraints that arise in their projects but also track their progress to completion? Crafted as a case study, this article explores the pragmatic attributes and benefits of Project Management (PM) as a means to coordinate such projects and how PM can be applied to the music industry.
The inspiration for crafting this case study was rooted in my desire to find a music industry-related product that was tangible and yet experiential, that would take the students outside of the classroom, and that would encourage their entrepreneurial acumen. In addition, I wanted to find a project that had the potential to teach them a wide range of skills as well as cater to their varied interests. The course that this case study emerged from was entitled Seminar in Music Marketing, which 33 senior undergraduate students took in the Spring 2019 semester at the University of Texas at San Antonio. These students came from various fields of study, including those who had majored in music, art, business, economics, communication, and multidisciplinary studies. They also had a wide range of aspirations and interests, along with established skill sets. It was a challenge to find common ground for this dynamic group of students, merging their passions and skills and being able to expand upon those to achieve a fulfilling educational and experiential outcome.
While attending the North American Music Merchants Show (NAMM) in January 2018, I discovered a unique product provided by the Taybles company (Taybles 2020) that could possibly benefit the class. The company produces cassette tape coffee tables and offers many custom options. I found the product to be compelling but felt that the cost was prohibitive for most buyers at a price of nearly $2000 per unit. However, it gave me the idea to create our own design that was low cost, entirely made in the US by our students, and which we could sell to select local customers as a fundraiser for the program. This is how the Mesa Mix project started. To manage the project, I decided to use PM software that would keep us on track as a team.
What is Project Management?
Project Management is the practice of coordinating teamwork to achieve project goals in a specified time period. The most important factors to consider in relation to PM are the project’s scope, time, quality, and budget. At its incubation stage, the project’s goals and constraints are documented. Then the project is adjusted in real-time based on its inputs in order to meet the desired objectives.
The academic literature on PM is vast, having two major journals dedicated to it: the Project Management Journal (Project Management Institute/SAGE Journals 2020) and the International Journal of Project Management (Elsevier 2020). The contents of both journals span research that offers cutting-edge theories and evidence-based practices in the field. In addition, the Project Management Institute (PMI) is the world’s leading association that represents and certifies PM professionals (Project Management Institute, Inc. 2020) The association also provides toolkits, training and development services, mentoring, and a range of publications.
PM has an important impact on business, as its techniques focus on planning, organization, and the sequencing of activities (White and Fortune 2002, 1–11). The role of PM in business has been studied for decades in the form of research that not only considers the impact of PM software across industries but also different levels of business activities. In short, PM boils down to three general objectives: (1) specified deliverables, (2) specified deadlines, and (3) budgeting. Most business activities can be simplified into these three objectives. Thus, the purpose of PM is to identify problems early on and define clear goals (Meredith, Mantel, and Shafer 2017, 2–5).
The fields prone to use PM include, but are not limited to, management, architecture, construction, engineering, technology, and health care (Meredith, Mantel, and Shafer 2017, 391–420; Kerzner 2017, 248–56). As an integral means for collaboration, many companies use a PM software. Furthermore, twice as many individuals use low-end software in comparison to high-end software (Liberatore and Pollack-Johnson 2003, 164–74). Professionals in many industries and university programs typically use the high-end software Microsoft Project. (For a detailed review of PM software options, cost, and corresponding features, see Appendix 1.)
Organizations and individuals are likely to use a PM platform if they must coordinate complex projects with many interdependent tasks that rely on predecessors, or even previous tasks in order to move the project forward. However, resources addressing the intersection of PM and the cultural sector, and music-related projects specifically, are few. Indeed, there is little research on PM's role in the music industry, but Raji Sivaraman and Chris Wilson’s Making Projects Sing: A Musical Perspective of Project Management (2016) investigates the possible uses of PM in various musical projects. Much of this book’s insightful conceptual foundation comes from the “The Business of Invention: Considering Project Management in the Arts and Industry” by Chris Wilson and Michael Brown, two of the book’s contributing authors (Wilson and Brown 2013). Much of Making Projects Sing addresses how musicians would benefit from PM for their individual practice, ensemble rehearsals, and performance coordination. The authors also mention that industry professionals can use it for tours, album production, and commercial products, and that PM can break down the communication process as well as provide the clearest mitigation of negative risks that happen on tour (Sivaraman and Wilson, 2016, 30). However, they do not instruct the reader about how to implement PM. In what follows, I intend to bridge that gap.
Case Study: Mesa Mix
To set up this project, I built a prototype to prepare myself for this daunting effort and did so as a hobby during a winter holiday break. The prototype is based entirely on the model of an actual Fuji Type II Compact Cassette Tape (Figure 1). Although I meant to construct this model for my own benefit and amusement, I also wanted to have a handle on the process so that I could guide my students in order to move the project forward. However, I wanted the students to come up with their own design and certainly not feel compelled to imitate mine.
Figure 1. Prototype
On the first day of class, I proposed to the students that we attempt to create a project and raise funds by selling cassette tape coffee tables. The students were immediately on board. We then created an organizational chart that listed the activities and tasks that we needed to staff (Figure 2). We compiled three main activities: (1) design, (2) manufacturing, and (3) marketing. From these activities, we created twelve subtasks: purchasing, assembly, painting, sanding, quality control, sales, videos, photography, public relations, CAD modeling, brochure design, and concept design. Each student selected three of those tasks.
Figure 2. Mesa Mix Organizational Chart
Our next call to order was to create a viable budget and make sure that we had all the resources needed to successfully jump-start our project. The students went to the closest home improvement center and created an initial budget based upon the materials list that I had compiled when building my prototype (Table 1). We then decided that we would only produce four tables as an achievable goal. We contacted the art department at our university to request
Table 1. Mesa Mix Budget
access to the woodshop and were pleased that an art faculty member and a graduate assistant supported our project. The art program was excited about the opportunity for cross-collaboration between our departments (see Appendix 2). Upon seeing our proposal, the music department agreed to provide the initial start-up funds for the materials required to construct four tables that we needed to complete. In short, we were in business. At this point, realizing the complexity of our project, we needed a means to remain accountable and meet our goals within the timeframe of the semester. This is when we decided to use Microsoft Project as our PM software to keep us on track.
Project Management Setup
Microsoft Project (MP) has become the standard PM software used across many industries. Although an excellent tool, it requires a steep learning curve. Thankfully, there are several excellent tutorials developed by Microsoft to help the novice launch a project. And of course there is always YouTube. However, MP is not compatible with Mac computers and its operating system, which is a major drawback. Nevertheless, there are several alternatives for Mac users who wish to use MP and/or open and manipulate MP files. The first option is to create a virtual machine, download Windows 10, and then download Microsoft Project. There are also several software packages developed for the Mac that can open MP files and manipulate them, such as Microsoft Planner, ProjectLibre, Gantt Project, and 5 2-Plan. And there are certainly many alternatives to MP if the software becomes problematic to handle (see Appendix 1).
The class’s objectives with MP were to set specified deliverables based on a constrictive deadline. We wanted to complete our project before the end of April 2019. We did set up the MP file by entering the (1) various tasks, (2) predecessors interconnecting the tasks, and (3) expected length for each task. The output gave us a sense of urgency, informing us that we only had 69 days to complete our project. Table 2 shows the completed task sheet at the end of the semester (Table 2). The predecessor function is, in my opinion, the most useful one in MP. It interlocks
Table 2. Mesa Mix Multiple Baselines Table
tasks and prevents a subsequent task from being completed before a prior task or set of tasks is accomplished. We also found that several MP-generated compelling graphs were useful to visualize our progress as the project developed. Those graphs include, but are not limited to, the burndown report (Table 3), the calendar view (Figure 3), the network diagram (Figures 4 and 5), and the project overview (Figure 6). What follows is how the project developed as we implemented PM:
Table 3. Mesa Mix Burndown Report
Figure 3. Calendar View
Figure 4. Network Diagram
Figure 5. Network Diagram Zoomed In
Figure 6. Project Overview
From Incubation to Delivery
After we followed through on the initial steps discussed above and after having set up our MP file, thereby guiding us for the rest of the semester, we were ready to implement our project. I encourage the reader to keep referring to Table 2 found above to help assess how the tasks considered below are interconnected with each other. The brand name and mission for our product was the first task that we undertook. After much brainstorming, the group cast their vote in favor of “Mesa Mix.” Mesa means table in Spanish, and the word Mix was chosen for its association with “mixed tapes” and by extension the compact cassette. Mesa Mix also settled on a goal: “Our mission is to unite generations through this unique piece of furniture. We hope to bring a little bit of joy, and nostalgia to your living room.”
At this point, each team started working on their assigned tasks. But even this early into the project, some tasks were put on hold, waiting for other teams to complete their task(s) (refer to Table 2). For instance, the video team needed the design team to complete the logo, whereas the brochure/pitch deck team needed both the logo and the photography team to complete their tasks. If some tasks were delayed, MP automatically postponed any subsequent tasks that were assigned predecessor(s), only crunching our already limited schedule. Eventually, several logos were designed (Figures 7, 8, and 9). The logo displayed in Figure 9 was chosen.
Figure 7. Mesa Mix Logo (Version 1)
Figure 8. Mesa Mix Logo (Version 2)
Figure 9. Mesa Mix Logo (Version 3)
The students also produced a high-quality photo shoot, and the brochure and video teams were able to move forward with their tasks (Figures 10 and 11). Meanwhile, as some students were
Figure 10. Mesa Mix Promotional Photo (Version 1)
Figure 11. Mesa Mix Promotional Photo (Version 2)
starting to work in the woodshop on the early stages of the manufacturing process, the design team was developing Computer-Aided Design (CAD) models in SketchUp (Trimble 2020) that would be used by both the manufacturing and sales teams. The CAD models became a useful means to show prospective customers how their custom designs looked like on a 3D model (Figures 12, 13, and 14).
Figure 12. Mesa Mix CAD Model (View 1)
Figure 13. Mesa Mix CAD Model (View 2)
Figure 14. Mesa Mix CAD Model (View 3)
The brochure team then tasked the sales team to make some pricing decisions. What should be the price point that one would or could sell the tables? The team knew that our cost per table was $153.61 (refer to Table 1). After some brainstorming, and a best- or worst-case scenario discussion, the team agreed on a base price of $250, with custom options available for an added fee, such as an extra color, fancier stencil work, etc. With the necessary moving parts in place, the brochure and sales teams then completed their task (see Appendix C). However, as a whole, the Mesa Mix team knew that they needed an excellent video package to secure sales with the potential customers they had in mind. It took two attempts and a lengthy editing process to create a video that pleased the whole team. The first attempt was creative but felt amateurish, and the team decided to shelve it. They got back to the story board and took their time to generate a professional looking video teaser (see Video 1). After this point, the sales team was pushing our product and attempting to secure commitments from buyers. Our first two sales were highly customized tables at a premium. We subsequently received the initial designs from those customers (Figures 15 and 16).
Video 1. Mesa Mix Video Teaser
Figure 15. Customer Design 1
Figure 16. Customer Design 2
At this point the pressure shifted to manufacturing, namely, to the purchasing, assembly, sanding, painting, and quality control teams. The cleaning team was folded into those other teams depending on who was left at the end of the day to clean up. The purchasing team was still shopping for a better deal on hairpin legs and the cups that would be inserted where the supply and take-up reels were on a compact cassette. What is more, the stencil design team started crafting custom stencils now that we had some designs on hand. Besides assembling the tables, the painting team had the most time-consuming project. The tables required several coats of primer, paint, and laborious stencil work. In addition, we wanted to find spaces where we could paint rain or shine. We were fortunate to find those, and, even better, the art department was willing to store our tables. PM kept us on track throughout the manufacturing process, even though students would arrive at different times during this activity. Depending on their tasks, students had to be coached. To access the full album showing the entire manufacturing process, click on the following link (Renard 2019).
I would now like to share the work that was done by the Mesa Mix public relations team. They wrote two stories for an e-magazine documenting the work that was done, which coincidentally made it possible for me to write this case study. One story was published early in the semester (see Appendix 2), and the other one when we were just about to complete and deliver the tables to the customers (see Appendix 4). To craft their stories, the Mesa Mix team interviewed many parties involved in the project, including the art faculty as well as each other. They also documented the whole manufacturing process by taking the photos and short videos that can be seen via the link provided in the previous paragraph.
While gauging its progress with PM, the Mesa Mix team was successful in its endeavor by selling its four tables, learning how to collaborate as a large group, connecting with the community, and gaining some insight as to how to bring a product to market from incubation to delivery. As the instructor, I was able to coordinate the project and identify early on the lagging team, thus urging them to complete their tasks. This was particularly useful later in the semester when the students were starting to get tired. It gave me the opportunity to encourage and inspire them to complete the project and finish the semester in a strong manner.
Project Management is an excellent means to an end with many applications in the music industry. It is particularly effective when working with a large team and/or on complex projects with many interconnected tasks. This case study showcases how PM can be used in a Music Industry classroom setting and how it is a good fit when engaging students in project-based or experiential learning. In addition, learning how to use PM is an asset for the resume of any Music Industry student in a job market increasingly seeking individuals capable of being effective project managers. In the final analysis, this case study strives to inspire and provide an additional and complementary instrument for the toolkit of music industry/business entrepreneurs and educators.
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