The Beats That Bond: frog Music League
A friendly music competition helps build global community and connection during the pandemic
By Mike Prusaitis, Senior Program Manager, frog Austin
Do you remember going to a new school for the first time? It was exciting and terrifying. It was an opportunity to start over, to make the moves you missed at your last school. A chance to make new friends. A chance to be a better version of you.
When I joined frog as a Program Manager at the start of March 2020, I was feeling all those same feelings. I was eager to contribute to exciting and challenging new projects, take advantage of the professional and social opportunities in my new office, meet and make an impression on my new colleagues. But the challenges and opportunities I faced ended up being far different than what I had imagined.
“Take a Walk on the Wild Side”
Walking into the frog Austin studio felt like what I imagine it would feel like to walk into the Emerald City of Oz. It wasn’t the work on display or the awards lining the walls that so impressed me, though. It was the ethereal and electric connection between the frogs themselves, the exchange of energy and ideas that forms the cultural fabric of the studio. This merry, welcoming, eclectic collection of people produced an intoxicating creative environment that made me want a single thing: more.
Over my first few weeks, I noticed this enthralling culture manifest itself in a myriad of other ways. I saw that frogs don’t just respect each other professionally, but communicate and bond as peers and friends. Those bonds strengthened the team’s collective resolve to tackle the thorniest challenges or most daunting of timetables. Together, the personal connections and professional pressure created a community that felt less like a workplace and more like an extension of family.
“Music League has become a replacement for the casual conversation in the office kitchen. It’s a place to be a little vulnerable and share your own musical passions, but also get so much more in return.”
-Nick Spriggs, frogNY
But as anyone who’s walked into such a tight-knit group knows, it can be hard to find your place at first. Despite the regular studio Coffee Times and Happy Hours, I still felt siloed from most of my Austin coworkers, not to mention my fellow frogs in studios around the world. I was trying — I even took some small-stakes steps in hopes of building connections, such as bringing my lunch to work. But even so, I felt like I had barely begun to make connections.
I wasn’t alone in feeling isolated for long. By the end of the month, COVID-19 was spreading across the world, the studio was closed, and we were all working from home. Sitting in my ad hoc “home office,” interacting almost exclusively with people I’d never met in person, I quickly realized I’d taken for granted the level of connection that comes with simply being together. frog adapted quickly to remote operations — we barely lost a step in our ability to deliver for clients — but the internal culture and community of the studio was much harder to recreate virtually. In the early days of the pandemic, I tried remote incarnations of some of the Austin studio’s long-standing social traditions:
- Afternoon coffee time: When it’s not an excuse to get up from your desk, the daily office ritual just isn’t the same.
- Spanish classes: This ended up being an opportunity to increase my stress and workload more than an opportunity for socialization.
- Dungeons and Dragons: The D&D Slack channel had the lights on, but no one was home. Calls to get a campaign going were met with giant cave crickets.
- Happy hour: This one initially had strong attendance and engagement, but once it became just another optional meeting to attend, most people opted out.
None of these workplace rituals or communities really survived the transition to remote work, at least for me. I know it’s a job. I know we’re paid to work, not socialize. But when you’re spending the majority of your waking hours in one place — even if that place is virtual — it makes sense that people will want more from it than a paycheck. People want connection. It’s human nature. That felt especially true given the fear, uncertainty, and isolation of the pandemic.
“Music League has helped me relieve stress and get away from my bustling calendar while connecting with other frogs and exploring music. It’s become part of my frog life.”
-Neha Jattu, frogDelhi
“Sending Out an S.O.S.”
All the while, I was listening to music constantly. Cooped up at home, I felt like I needed it nearly as much as I needed oxygen. So when a friend told me about a free Spotify plug-in called Music League, I was intrigued.
Music League basically works like this: a group of people all anonymously submit songs based on a specific prompt (e.g., “songs about the sea,” or “dedications to your teenage romances”). The app generates a playlist of all the submitted songs, and then each member of the group has the chance to vote for the songs they like the most. The app automatically tallies and keeps track of the votes, and members compete to be crowned the winner of the league by amassing the most votes for their songs over a set number of rounds.
“Music is about connection, not only with ourselves but also with other people. So the fact that we got together during a pandemic, thanks to Music League, is huge.”
-Estefania Barboza, frogCDMX
After playing through a “season” with my friends, I realized that Music League could be an excellent way to get to know my coworkers. After all, it avoids many of the common reasons people opt out of other online social activities:
- It’s competitive, but low-stakes.
- It’s asynchronous.
- It doesn’t require a lot of time or focus.
- It isn’t a meeting.
- It’s audio-based, which is a sweet blessing when screentime is through the roof.
With nothing to lose, I wrote a note and tossed my message-in-a-virtual-bottle into two frog Slack channels — one for music fans, and another one for my Austin studio. After a week and only a few nibbles, I sent another note. These two channels contained 150 frogs. Of those, 15 were willing to give this Music League thing a try.
“The feeling of community, the group conversations, bonding through music — it makes it so easy to stay and enjoy Music League.”
-Gokce Ince, FrogLondon
I set up a new Slack channel, where I published the league rules along with submission and voting deadlines. Our first prompt was something that, in hindsight, I realized people talk about when they have nothing to talk about: “the weather.” Silly as it was, everyone got into the spirit of the league. Within two weeks, people were having fun discussing their selections, talking a little trash in the Slack, and generally behaving as people do when they share a bonding experience. This felt particularly impressive because the league included some frogs from outside of Austin: one from New York, one from Munich, and two from Milan. Before we knew it, two months had passed and we’d crowned a victor. Every single member of that first league wrote a blurb about what the experience meant to them and how much fun they’d had, encouraging others to participate.
We started a new league a few weeks later, with advocates and champions from the inaugural league luring new blood from other studios. The second season had over 50 frogs, though most members were still based out of the Americas. Again, it went swimmingly, and again, two months passed in a flash. We’d barely crowned the winner of season two before we started organizing the next iteration of the league.
In season three, there were over 100 frogs. We divided them into 6 different groups, each with a captain/administrator to handle logistics and questions. And these captains were global — based out of Malmo, Lyon, Mexico City, Bangalore, New York, and Austin. Season three also brought another milestone: for the first time, we had more participants from our European studios than from the Americas. The winners of the first and second seasons were both New Yorkers, but when season three was done, we had victors in London, Delhi, San Francisco, Milan and New York (again). Season four, which wrapped only a few weeks ago, included even more frogs from around the world, expanding our Music League community to frogs in Shanghai and Amsterdam.
“That moment when somebody from another studio, country, and cultural background has picked the same song as you is invaluable.”
-Lina Rodriguez, frogBarcelona
With just a little risk, encouragement and praise, I took a simple internet game and turned it into an organic tool for building community and connection across a global community of studios. If you’re someone who enjoys metrics that quantify growth, engagement or culture, this probably sounds fantastic. The data is out there, waiting to be gathered in the next season of Music League.
But you can’t quantify the community and camaraderie we created in this safe harbor of friendly competition. At frog, we talk a lot about brands — those of organizations and of individuals. Historically, a defining characteristic of the frog brand is its infectious culture of festive collaboration and tight-knit community. Over the past year, those bonds were tested like never before. But Music League and other similar initiatives helped our culture and community not only survive, but thrive.
“It definitely helps make frog feel more like one global pond.”
-Megan Nesbeth, frogNY
And for my part in it all? I’m surprised to say that, yes — like the underdog whose oddball skills turn out to be just what the team needs at the critical moment — I realized the best version of myself, I made the best moves I could, and made some new friends along the way.
To experience the fun for yourself, enjoy this Music League meta-playlist submitted in response to the prompt “Songs that created a connection between you and another frog.”
Mike Prusaitis is a Senior Program Manager based in frog’s Austin studio. Through Music League, he has combined two of his greatest passions: listening to excellent tunes and building culture through relationships.