Fender Rocks the Data — Interview with Josh Couch, VP Engineering at Fender
In this episode of the Masters of Data podcast, I speak with a special guest who could have one of the coolest jobs of any guest to date. In this episode, we get to hear from one of the most iconic and influential brands in the world, Fender; more formally known as Fender Musical Instrument Corporation. Fender was founded in 1946 by Leo Fender and is best known for the Telecaster and Stratocaster electric guitars. These instantly recognizable guitars have been played by the likes of Muddy Waters, Keith Richards, Buddy Holly, Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughn, and so many more. I sat down with Josh Couch the Vice President of Engineering, at the Fender offices in Hollywood California. We discuss how Josh and his team have collected and learned from the data Fender collects and how they have consequently created new apps like Fender Tune and Fender Play that are opening up the world of guitars to a whole new set of people. We review how technology and music can work together, how data can be used to improve user experience and the ultimate goal for the iconic music brand which is finding more ways to adapt to the world of technology to help solidify its footprint.
Kicking things off Josh gives insight into his background and how he has found his way to working in data at a brand like Fender. As Josh explains he grew up in Georgia and moved to California to pursue education at Berkeley but in the interim ended up working at Williams Sonoma in tech support. This experience helped Josh to see behind the scenes into what the brand’s software developers were doing. From this (and deviating from the original plan), Josh ended up enrolling at San Francisco State to learn how to manage people and technology. After graduation he moved to SoCal for an opportunity at MySpace and gained more insight into data, what it meant, how it could be used for product development and how music and technology could be conjoined in a great way. As Josh explains, the data collected at MySpace was focused on curating recommendations of music or people you should know, but it opened up the world to helping him understand how data could be used to enhance the user experience, something he has been able to implement in a new way now that he as with Fender.
“45% of players are new every year, 90% of them burn out in the first 6 months” — Josh Couch
Aside from Josh’s introduction into data and technology, I also discuss with him what many see as the “impending doom” of the music industry and how it seems that people are not buying guitars anymore. So, in light of Gibson’s recent bankruptcy, how does Fender see the world they are in? As Josh explains, 4–5 years ago there was a consumer study done in the industry and Fender discovered that while 45% of players are new every year, 90% of them burn out in the first 6 months, the majority of which in the first 90 days. Additionally, 50% of new players are female, a demographic that Fender (and the industry as a whole) has not done a good job of engaging with. The data showed that while a large number of people are coming to guitars for the first time, they simply don’t stick with it. So how do you keep them in the instrument, which helps the player and the industry? The answer was bringing together people with a digital background who could effectively help bridge the gap of 78 years of craftsmanship and history with today’s digital and super-computer driven world. And so, Fender Digital was born.
“50% of new players are female” — Josh Couch
While finding ways to integrate technology with music is critical, this is not something new. In fact, as Josh points out, there have been attempts even at Fender to use digital solutions in the past, like the iPhone port in the Stratocaster. But the truth is, nobody to connect a phone to their guitar; but they are open to using apps that compliment what Fendar has already done so well. Prime examples of this are the popularity of digital amps (amps that create tone and sound digitally) which have been successful, as well as the offering of digital remotes available through the Fender Tone app. The key to using the technology successfully is gathering the data to figure out how to use it in a way that people will find value from. An example of this is the Fender Tune app that improves the guitarists’ experience by taking the approach of allowing both an expert and a beginner to navigate how to best tune their guitar, enabling users of all experience levels to find value; a tool that has received wonderful feedback. In fact, it has been so successful that this drove the Fender team to create Fender Play, an app that helps people learn how to play guitar and ukelele in hopes that it will interact with and capture beginners and help them push through the challenges of learning a new instrument.
People love apps and they love the simplicity that they offer for common problems. But the reality is that there are a lot of players in this space who are also building apps and digital solutions to training and teaching, albeit not with the same level of professionalism or intuition. As Josh explains, this means that there is a high barrier of entry; something his team has had to recognize and overcome. So how do you take the data being gathered and help it inform the products being built? As Josh and I discuss, it’s as simple as not making assumptions, but gathering the data on what is actually happening. When you assume you know who the user is, what the user wants and how they will use the product you limit yourself and do not provide something of value. But when you allow the data you gather to inform things like the voice being used, the number of options or variations there are in the different types and styles of curriculum, then people find value and use the product. The goal of Fender Digital is to find ways to effectively collect data and use it to curate solutions that will help new and seasoned players continue to love making music for the world to enjoy — something Josh’s team rocks at doing.
Outbound Links & Resources Mentioned
Masters of Data Episode — https://www.sumologic.com/podcast/fender-rocks-data-josh-couch/
Follow Josh on Twitter @JoshuaCouch
Connect with Josh on LinkedIn:
Joshua Couch — VP Engineering — Fender Musical Instruments Corporation | LinkedIn
Join LinkedIn A software product and engineering leader with more than 9 years of management experience and over 18…
Learn more about Fender and their products:
Fender Guitars | Electric, Acoustic & Bass Guitars, Amps, Pro Audio
Since 1946, Fender’s iconic Stratocasters, Telecasters and Precision & Jazz bass guitars have transformed nearly every…
Learn more about Fender Play:
Fender Play Online Guitar Lessons — Learn How to Play Guitar
Fender Play is the complete app for learning to play acoustic and electric guitar, bass and ukulele. Get started with…
Learn more about Fender digital amplifiers:
Fender Contemporary Amplifiers
Fender contemporary amps deliver the finest amp modeling technology, letting you shape your signature sound with ease.…
Follow Fender on Twitter: @Fender
Follow Fender on LinkedIn:
Fender Musical Instruments Corporation | LinkedIn
Learn about working at Fender Musical Instruments Corporation. Join LinkedIn today for free. See who you know at Fender…
● MySpace used data for recommending more songs to your playlist or recommending people that you should know
● There are a lot of stories about the impending doom of music and how no one’s buying guitars anymore. You see a company like Gibson, that’s recently come out of bankruptcy which make you question the future of the music industry.
● A recent study showed that 45% of guitar players are new guitar players every year or new to the instrument.
● Of that, 90% of those churn out within the first six months, most within the first 90 days.
● Additionally, 50% of those new buyers were women, a demographic that brands have not done a good job of reaching out to in the past.
● The goal of Fender Digital is to evaluate “What does digital mean to Fender?”
● The Fender Digital team has a good digital background, and who can really put together a roadmap with the CEO to figure out, “What does digital mean to Fender? We’ve been around for 70 years. What do the next 70 years look like? People are walking around with supercomputers in their pockets now. What can we do with that? How can we harness that? How do we speak to this new generation of users that we haven’t talked to before in the past? “
● No one wants an iPhone in the middle of a Stratocaster; people want the same Strat that Jimi Hendrix played, or Clapton played, or the same Jazz bass that Jaco played. But people were more open to applications that complimented the instruments and the amplifiers that Fender made for so long for so well.
● A successful solution is a line of digital amps that have done very well for us, for example, the Fender Mustang line and the Fender Tone app-a remote controller for that amplifier. So, you had the convenience of using it from your phone.
● The Fender Tune app is another solution that is really complementary to the guitarist experience of how to tune your guitar, but approached from a beginner’s perspective. It’s very accessible, and guides you through the process, but while combining it with a really high quality algorithm built by Fender that gives you high quality tuning experience.
● The goal of data gathering is not making assumptions, but looking at what you’re actually doing.
● By collecting behavioral data from the people using the products, how do you feed that back into the product?
● Allow the data to inform solutions for what content people are getting stuck on. Maybe they’re churning out a product because there’s a lesson that’s too hard. Or maybe we should look at the chords for teaching earlier on, and then see what’s at the curriculum path, and let’s change that up based on the behaviors that we’re seeing from the users and the application.
● Fender looks at both the quantitative analytics that they’re gathering, as well as just qualitative feedback from talking to users. They’ve had surveys from people that have churned out other product and they’re just trying to gather insight into why.
● By reviewing how are people consuming content, like are they doing it mostly on their phone, are they bringing up their laptop or putting it on their TV, etc. helps inform if the content needs to be adapted to new platforms.