Music Cue Sheet Repository: A UX Case Study

Iho Kalmyk
Sep 11 · 9 min read
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Cue Sheets are an entry log of music used in production. When a film or TV show is created, production companies submit the cue sheets to Performance Rights Organizations or PROs, so the use and broadcast of the music can be tracked. PROs also hire third-party fingerprinting services to monitor broadcasters and to report to the PRO.

Project summary

The purpose of this project is to explore current Cue Sheet processes between publishers, PROs, and production companies to discover opportunities to better monetize a client’s Film & TV assets and improve administrators’ productivity.

Project duration: 3 months

My role: UX/UI Designer

UX Strategy

I start every project with a plan. Each project is a unique experience with unique requirements and goals. The plan depends on many factors, such as the expected outcome of the project, duration, team formation, etc. Below is the UX Roadmap I created for this project.

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UX Roadmap

When I started this project, I was very new to the music industry, and so my first task was to familiarize myself with the terminology, flows between the parties, and the music industry in general. Thankfully, my team members were so patient answering my entry-level questions, and of course, I’d like to thank Donald S. Passman and his book “ It was really helpful, and I highly recommend it to anybody who is entering the industry.

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Also, I subscribed to www.musicbusinessworldwide.com and www.musicgateway.com to be up to date on what is going on in the industry.

Where do Cue Sheets Live in a Music Industry Scope?

Of course, my main focus was to understand where Cue Sheets live in music business, and how people use them. This chart is a high-level illustration of where Cue Sheets are in the music business and why we need them.

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Cue Sheets used in all kinds of moving pictures: Television, Commercials, Broadcast, TV shows, etc.

Cue Sheet Flow

Cue Sheets flow is probably the most unstructured and undefined process we can even imagine. It varies from territory to territory, it depends on a society’s preferences, it depends on the size of a production, it depends on the relationships between publishers and production, and it even depends on a broadcaster and network.

This flow is a very high-level representation of a Cue Sheets flows in the United States, and it illustrates where the publisher lays in this process.

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Cue Sheets Usage

  • Cue sheet data is shared with the tracking team to determine if we have received payment.
  • Cue Sheets help us to understand what a film/TV music production is worth, and attach value for income tracking dependent on the service, type of work, featured work, etc.
  • For some networks where claims aren’t made, cue sheets are used to support the claim to ensure payment.
  • Cue sheets also help someone know what is being used within a blanket license where clients have access to all music.
  • Agreements usually state that clients are supposed to provide cue sheets to Publisher or PROs.

User Research

The second step in my process was to discover who the people are who work with cue sheets on a regular basis. On the chart below you can see a detailed overview of who the primary users of Cue Sheets are on the publishing side. I am pretty sure if I worked for a PRO or a production company that this chart would look differently. However, for our intents and purposes, I work for a publisher so I see this project from a publishing company perspective. My primary focus was to identify opportunities to improve UX, first of all, for the publisher administrators.

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As you can see from the chart above, administrators have a lot of work responsibilities managing all music and TV assets of our clients, and Cue Sheets are just a small but very important part of all the work they do.

Users Research

We run several rounds of interviews with our users from all the territories to understand the main pain points. Also, I had “How Might We” sessions with users to discover the opportunities for improvements, and also a Job Stories exercise to understand a current flow and motivation. I consolidated all my research in personas to make it more visual. I can’t share all the research data here, but here are some of them just to give you an overview of the research.

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Business requirement document:

Unfortunately, I can’t share the whole document that my team and I compiled on this subject, but I would like to share the overview of what is important for our users. In this instance, I chose to divide all the business requirements into two parts: Business-related requirements, and design-related requirements.

Business-related requirements are things such as the number of cue sheets being sent to a publisher, agreements, cue sheet quality, business relationships between the parties, the different cue sheet formats that each production company has, the different submission requirements that local Societies (PROs) have, lack of information about global airdates, release schedules, etc. These are typically the problems that require a larger discussion and deeper investigation. Also, these types of problems are very difficult to solve from a technical point of view. Basically, these are the industry-related problems that have been in place for a decade, and it was definitely outside of this project scope. Therefore, we decided to focus instead on the relevant problems that we can solve within the next 6 months:

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Problem statements and prioritization:

This is not a comprehensive list of problems that we have in a business requirements document but we believe these to be the most important that we are aiming to solve in a first release:

VH — Cue Sheet Storage is not accessible from all territories

VH — No capability to upload the Cue Sheet to a repository

VH — Cue Sheet bulk upload doesn’t exist

VH — No capability to read and map text from various cue sheet formats (.doc, all Excel formats, .pdf, image files)

VH — No capability to convert cue sheets into a standardized spreadsheet

H — No advanced Search Capability (Series, Creator, Work, Pub Entity, Territory, Usage Type, Production Company)

H — No capability to attach supporting documentation to a Cue Sheet

H — No capability to create Cue Sheet delivery service “Circular” (affiliate offices, local societies, or other entities)

M — No capability to map legacy Cue Sheets from the existing repository

VH — No capability to register new works from a cue sheet if that work does not already exist in the Tango database

VH — No capability to assign “aka” names to cues with the same ownership information

M — No capability to receive all cue sheets on a single delivery point to standardize the delivery process

H — No capability to automatically notify users if Main or End title exist on a Cue Sheet

H — No capability to distinguish between Admin Deal cue sheets and Sync cue sheets in an archive

M — No notification system exists to notify users about new cue sheet uploads

H — No capability to Bulk search for “wanted” cue sheets provided by Societies

VH — No capability to Search/filter Cue Sheets by Cue Sheet Owner, Cue Sheet type (Deal / Sync), Publisher, Society, Territory, Language, Producer, Air Date, Release Date

H — No capability to match Income statement time codes with Cue Sheet time codes

VH — No capability to manually edit cue sheet data

L — No capability to notify users when the Cue Sheet has been registered at Societies

L — No capability to manually create Cue Sheets

M — No capability to filter/sort individual columns on Cue Sheets

M — No capability to manually create language variations for each individual Cue Sheet

H — No capability to “read/map” promo usage logs

H — No capability to export Cue Sheets into various formats (PDF, CSV)

Project success metrics

  • Reduce the amount of unnecessary manual work
  • Increase admins productivity
  • Improve royalty tracking quality
  • Streamline Cue Sheet processes within the organization

Comparison Matrix

This part of the project was also to investigate the technical capabilities of third-party vendors and possible integration with built-in solutions. I can’t share the names of the specific vendors because that information is proprietary, but the comparison matrix below still provides an overview of the technical capabilities between three companies. The last column, “Built-in solution,” provided the greatest challenge for me, as I needed to create a design to tackle all the problems we have in a business requirement document.

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Technical requirements document

I am not a back-end expert so mostly I utilized this document to gain an understanding of the high-level data structure within the organization. I worked closely with our solution architects to ensure that all the ideas I had as a UX designer were technically feasible, and would fit within the complexity of implementation. The screen below represents a fully built-in solution without integration with any third-party vendors.

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Sitemap

The sitemap below represents a fully built-in solution without integration with any third-party vendors.

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Wireframes

I used a multitude of wireframes to communicate my design ideas with my team and solution architects. Primarily, I used Figma to create static wireframes, and Adobe After Effects to demonstrate the full interaction. I have provided a few of those below to illustrate a few of the main concepts.

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Cue Sheet “Reader” here is scraping all the metadata from a PDF Cue Sheet.

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The Cue Sheet owner will always be able to manually edit each individual cue.​

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All Cue Sheets will be accessible through the “Explore” page. ​

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Golden path

I had multiple user paths through the app that I needed to test with users but I wanted to come up with a golden path (key journey) that is a crucial feature that I wanted to test on my user to validate the main concept. In my case, it’s a cue sheet onboarding process flow. It’s extremely important to make this process intuitive and stressless for the users.

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Stakeholder review

I decided to make higher fidelity mockups to show the idea to the stakeholders. It’s better to eliminate too many potential extra questions from them, and rather focus their attention only on important features, such as for the ones where I need their feedback.

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Takeaways

If we talk about overall Cue Sheet User Experience we need to think about the big picture on how we can change the industry. Currently, no good Cue Sheet creation services exist on the market. The ones that exist like RapidCue are not very convenient and UX is not as great as it should be. From a user perspective, the process is too complicated. Some of the services like BMAT or CueTrack are not free, so there are so many obstacles for the users. And my personal humble opinion is if we have a robust, user-friendly, multilingual, and FREE cue sheet creation service, it can definitely streamline Cue Sheet processes and improve the music industry.

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