What Being a Music Journalist Taught Me About Product Management

Hanging out backstage with musicians doesn’t seem like the ideal training ground for product management, but there are actually a lot of similarities between writing articles people want to read and building products people want to use. Both are about engaging an audience, after all.

Lester Bangs

Here are some of the most valuable things I learned from my time spent talking about music in tiny dressing rooms:

Conducting open-ended interviews

Whether it’s talking with Adele about the inspiration behind her debut album or chatting with users about their pain points and motivations, interviews are the foundation stones of great journalism and great products.

Writing with clarity

When you’ve got to distill a 2-hour interview into a 300-word article, you’ve got to make the most of every sentence.

The same is true for writing job stories and product specs — you need to be able to turn your customer interviews into concise, usable docs.

Finding the right angle

As a journalist, you’re always asking “what’s the story?”

When you’re developing new products, you’ve got to be able to get to the root of the problem you’re solving and the people you’re solving it for.

Remembering it’s not about you

The best music journalists fade into the shadows while their subjects do the talking.

As a product manager, your job is to lead from the back and let your product (and its customers) take centre stage.

Knowing your market

The quickest way to fail as a freelance journalist is to forget you’re writing for an audience.

As a product manager, if you’re not building for a market that wants your product then you’re going to lose — understanding your market is everything.

The dream of every music journalist is to be the first to write about an era-defining band, artist or movement.

You can build great products on the back of others, but to be truly innovative you’ve got to lead the Zeitgeist, not ride it.

You can’t pay your mortgage with free CDs and guestlist passes

If you’re creating products — from magazine articles to iOS applications — your ultimate goal is to generate income.

In the end, what you’re doing has to be interesting enough for someone to give you money for it.

#prodmgmt #essays