MOD: Masters of Data

Bringing the human to the data

Josh Couch: Fender rocks the data

VP Engineering, Fender Musical Instruments

July 15, 2019


Think of it like a band. We're working together with the different disciplines to come up with the product for the user.

Fender learned from the data and created new apps like Fender Tune and Fender Play that are opening up the world of guitars to a whole new set of people.

Show Notes

Ben: Welcome to the Masters of Data Podcast, the podcast where you bring the human to data. I'm your host, Ben Newton.

In this episode, we get to hear from one of the most iconic and influential brands in the world, Fender, or more formerly known as The 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 Vaughan, and so many more.

I got to meet with the Vice President of Engineering at Fender, Josh Couch, at the Fender offices in Hollywood, California. Josh and his team have created new applications like Fender Tune and Fender Play, that are opening up the world of guitars to a whole new group of people.

So, without any further ado, let's dig in.

Welcome to another episode of Masters of Data Podcast. I must say this is one of the interviews I've been most excited about in the last couple months, to come and talk to somebody at one of my favorite companies in the world, Fender. I'm talking to Josh Couch, who is the VP of Engineering at Fender.

Welcome to the podcast!

Josh: Thanks, Ben. Thanks for having me.

Ben: Absolutely! I've been super excited about this, for a lot of different reasons that I'm sure we're going to dig into. But just to start off, we were talking a little bit before. You're a fellow southern. You've done a lot of really interesting things in your career. I'd love to take a couple minutes, and just learn a little bit more about you. How did you end up in software development in this industry? What led you that direction?

Josh: Yeah, sure. So, it was really accidental. I grew up in the South, in Georgia. I really didn't know what I wanted to do. I went to the University of Georgia, and got a history degree.

Ben: Yeah, I love that by the way.

Josh: Yeah, well, so my thought was, "I'll be a professor and teach history." Obviously, being a professor is hard to get into.

Ben: Yes.

Josh: You have to wait for someone to retire or pass away before you get one of those roles.

I met a girl in school, and she was California, so we graduated and moved out to California. The plan was to get my California residency and go to Berkeley, get my PhD.

Ben: Yeah.

Josh: But along the way, I had to pay the rent. I started working for a great company called Williams-Sonoma.

Ben: Yeah.

Josh: They actually had an opening on their tech support help desk, so I moved over to the corporate headquarters and did tech support for a while. Really learned a lot on the job, but saw what the software developers were doing, and was really intrigued by that, and just moved into that over time.

Eventually, I went back and got my MBA at San Francisco State, to manage and to grow in terms of my business understanding, and how I could help the business, both in terms of managing people but also managing the tech.

From there, I made a life move down to southern California. I got a job at MySpace. So, again, another big brand.

Ben: Yeah.

Josh: The people are familiar with and really worked with a lot of super intelligent engineers. I joined MySpace right after the post-peak. Facebook had just passed them, in terms of US audience.

Ben: Okay.

Josh: But learned a lot about what you could do with data, and what data meant to a company, and how you could really use that to derive product innovation, product enhancements, and just really understanding what you can do with products that you were building, as well as the I guess joining of music and tech. I really learned that at MySpace, and saw what you could do with music.

Ben: Yeah.

Josh: With data, whether it's recommending more songs to your playlist or recommending people that you should know, things like that, just really put that to good use at MySpace.

Ben: Are you a musician yourself?

Josh: Yeah. I've been playing since a kid, was in a couple of bands. I've been playing forever, not very good. I played forever. I should be way better than I am, but I love it.

Ben: Yeah.

Josh: And so, things happened at MySpace, which I won't get too much into. But went to another company after that, a media company that was in the social good space.

When the opportunity came up at Fender, and just the chance to jump into music and tech again, I decided to jump at it.

Ben: That makes a lot of sense. I would expect that a lot of people that end up here, even in software engineering, have a music interest already, right?

Josh: Yeah. You know, we actually have a lot of people who have a music degree or a music tech degree, which is really interesting, that sort of convergence of music and tech. Again, what's the math behind music and how does it work?

So, we've got a lot of folks with that background. And we have other software engineers who are also players, so I think probably 60% of my team plays guitar, which has been pretty great, or an instrument of some sort. And then, another segment of that, is just creative. They've got an art background or something like that.

I really felt like we could bring that creative approach to the tools that we're building for Fender users now, and I think that's really reflected in those applications and websites.

Ben: Do you have to specifically recruit drummers so that you can have a band at work?

Josh: You know, that's funny you should say that, when we are actively looking for drummers. No, it's every quarter we have something we call band jam.

Ben: Yeah.

Josh: We get together and form employee base bands. Drummers are typically in three or four bands, just because we've got so few of them.

Ben: Yeah, yeah, yeah. It's funny because even we're trying to organize something in a couple of weeks at my work. It's like the drummers are always the hardest to find.

Josh: Yeah. Yeah.

Ben: There's always somebody who plays guitar.

Josh: Totally.

Ben: Well, that's really cool. Yeah. I remember when I was researching your background, you've obviously had some great experiences with really top shelf brands, which makes sense that would bring a lot to the table for you personally.

One thing, when I originally reached out to Fender in thinking about you, saw the presentation. You guys did it at AWS, and I've seen other things that you guys have done. What I thought was really interesting about it, being very into this space myself, you're always hearing stories about the impending doom, about how no one's buying guitars anymore. You see a company like Gibson, that's had so many problems. They've recently come out of bankruptcy. But I mean, there's some hard times, guitar center, so and so forth.

Josh: Sure.

Ben: You know it all. You see that and you see all the struggles that they're having. To me, it's just absolutely amazing to then look at you guys. You seem to be in a completely different state. I think a part of that has to do what are particularly working on with your team.

Josh: Yeah.

Ben: I mean, tell me a little bit more about that. How do you guys see the world that you're in right now?

Josh: Well, it all started about four or five years ago. Fender did one of the first consumer segmentation studies in the industry around guitar.

Ben: Right.

Josh: They wanted to gather data. They wanted to say, "Okay, who are our player? What should our strategy be over the next few years?" One thing that they found was 45% of guitar players are new guitar players every year or new to the instrument. 90% of those churn out within the first six months, most of those within the first 90 days.

Ben: Wow.

Josh: So, the premise was, how can we capture some percentage of that and just keep them in the product, in the instrument and continue to play? Because that turns into real value for not only Fender, but for the entire industry.

Ben: Right.

Josh: Musical instrument industry, guitar specifically, amplifiers. Everything that we sell Gibson sells as well.

Ben: Yeah.

Josh: But we also saw that 50% of those new buyers were women, and that's not a demographic that we've done a good job of reaching out to in the past.

Ben: Yeah.

Josh: It's not one you typically would associate with Fender.

Ben: Yeah.

Josh: So, the idea was, let's start out with Fender Digital, which is our department, and let's figure out, "What does digital mean to Fender?" And so, they brought in people like myself, who had a good digital background, and who could really put together a roadmap with our CEO and with our other established executive team to figure out, "What does digital mean to Fender? We've been around for 70 years. What does the next 70 years look like?"

Ben: Yeah.

Josh: Obviously, people are walking around with super computers 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?

Ben: It makes a lot of sense. And I guess before that, Fender hadn't really focused on this space. This was 2015, right, when it started?

Josh: Yep.

Ben: What made you guys decide to ... You know, in particular, the thing that you guys presented with at AWS, in particular, was about the new apps that you build.

Josh: Sure.

Ben: What made you decide to go that particular route?

Josh: Yeah. Well, one thing that we've done in the past, that Fender has done is ... They've tried a few different things that were sort of digital related. They actually had an iPhone port on a Stratocaster that they built.

Ben: Yeah.

Josh: I think they sold maybe three of them.

So, what we realized is no one wants an iPhone in the middle of a Stratocaster.

Ben: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Josh: 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.

So, we've got a line of digital amps that have done very well for us, for example, the Fender Mustang line.

Ben: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Josh: Those sounds are created digitally, as opposed to analog with the tubes that were used for so long.

Ben: Right.

Josh: So, one of the first things that we did was an application, was effectively a remote controller for that amplifier. So, you had the convenience of using it from your phone without having to mess with-

Ben: Is that the Fender Tone app?

Josh: Fender Tone, yeah.

Ben: Okay.

Josh: Yeah. So, we’ve seen a lot of opportunity there to do more and more with something like an amplifier. And whether it's gathering data for how people are using it or giving you more hands capabilities on the phone because you're kind of limited in terms of the interface you might have on an amplifier.

But the other app that we did early on was Fender Tune. What we learned from that was, again, it's an application that was really complimentary to the guitarist experience of how to tune your guitar, but we approached it from a beginner perspective. Like, let's not assume you know how to tune your guitar. Have you ever picked one up before? But you know, we'll be very accessible, really guide you through the process, but we'll combine it with a really high quality algorithm that we built in house that gives you high quality tuning experience.

Ben: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Josh: So, that combination of accessibility and the high quality experience and tech behind it, was really what drove us to Fender Play, which is where we spent a lot of our time over the last couple years. That's our subscription service that helps you learn how to play guitar, bass, or ukulele.

Ben: Yeah. Well, you know, I like the way you described that because I think one thing in particular, kind of coming from the background myself having used some of these apps, I mean most of the apps that you would see, would tend to actually not have that quality. There's just so many out there that you can see they're going after beginners, but then the quality is so low that you get frustrated with it really quickly.

Josh: Yeah.

Ben: I think that's interesting how you guys did that.

Josh: Or there's just a really high barrier of entry.

Ben: Yeah.

Josh: We're going to make you work for this, you know? I mean, it already hurts to play the guitar, right? Piece of wood, with steel frets and stuff.

Ben: Right, right, right.

Josh: It hurts, so let's make it easier for you to learn and hopefully stick with it.

Ben: Yeah. Yeah, no absolutely.

One thing that really resonated with me too, is the research that you guys did about how many women and girls playing guitar. Particularly, it just reminded me because I have a little eight-year-old girl and she's starting to play guitar.

Josh: Sure. Okay.

Ben: How does that affect to the design of an amp like this? What were you doing differently, that you might have done otherwise?

Josh: Well, I think part of it is the tone that you would ... Sorry, I've already used that word 100 times.

Ben: Well, it does come up quite a bit in guitars, right?

Josh: It does. Yeah. But the voice that we use. So, again, let's not make assumptions about who you are. Let's make it more accessible and open.

Ben: Yeah.

Josh: Let's give you options. And whether it's electric guitar, which has kind of been our sweet spot historically, but also acoustic guitar. We're seeing a lot of people coming in who want to do hip hop/R&B type music but the base, so let's offer base curriculum that can give you blues or funk.

Ben: Yeah.

Josh: So, just being a little more diverse in the way that we're approaching the product, and the curriculum, and the content that we're offering to the users.

Ben: Yeah.

Josh: But also, continue with not making assumptions, let's look at what you're actually doing. Let's gather that data. We're getting a lot of behavioral data from the people using the products, so how do we feed that back into the product? Let's look at 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.

Ben: Well, talk to me a little bit about how that works.

Josh: Sure.

I know the funny thing, I was going back and watching some of the videos. And even having played for years, once you start adding all the numbers, and the ends of cord names, and okay this is supposed to be-

Josh: [crosstalk 00:12:01].

Ben: Even as a guitar player playing for years, I just know I put my fingers ... That's what I've always done. What does that [inaudible 00:12:08] look like?

Josh: Sure. Well, to start with, we brought in people who had music backgrounds in curriculum, specifically music education background. We put together a curriculum that really walked user from, again, first time you picked it up to intermediate status.

So, we put a lot of thought and time into that and we catered it towards different genres, whether it's rock, or folk, and different instruments.

Ben: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Josh: We did some user testing along the way. So, here's our initial thought, here's how we're going to film the videos getting user feedback early on, and we fed that back into the product.

But now that it's released in production, we're looking at how people are using it. So, we are tracking how long people are watching videos for, how often they are rewinding the video, or starting over, or stopping, and pausing, and coming back to it.

So, trying to get a gauge of where are they getting stuck? Where are people pausing the video to practice a little more? How do we have tools then to either get them to the video quicker, like maybe we simplify it in a given lesson for how to play that C augmented, or simplify it in a way that users don't get stuck, and don't churn out, or don't get frustrated if you will.

Ben: That's pretty fascinating. I know when I watch those videos, you watch the same thing over and over, 20 times to get it right.

Josh: Yeah.

Ben: You guys have actually actively gone in, seen how people are using it, and then you go build specific features into the product to help them with that particular section?

Josh: We are, yeah. It's like a content quality process, as well as just general user feedback.

Ben: Yep.

Josh: We're looking at both the quantitative analytics that we're gathering, as well as just qualitative feedback from talking to users. We've had surveys from people that have churned out other product. We're just trying to gather insight into why.

Ben: This is kind of on an interesting note. When I was playing around with it yesterday, I ended up looking at some stuff online in my browser. I had initially, hearing some of what you guys talked about, I think primarily in terms of my phone.

How are people consuming it? Are they doing it mostly on their phone? Are they bringing up their laptop or putting it on their TV?

Josh: About 50/50 right now. Yeah, it's surprising. We thought it would be a lot more app usage, but it can be tricky to hold a guitar and a phone at the same time, right?

Ben: Yeah.

Josh: So, we're looking at ways that we can open that up into more platforms. Right now, you can use Chrome Cast or cast your Apple TV from the app. Should we do a native Apple TV app, just because it is a nice format to stand in front of?

Ben: Oh, yeah.

Josh: So, yeah. We're seeing about 50/50 desktop, browser, and then half usage. The behavior right now is roughly the same. People tend to follow the curriculum that we set in place. So, kind of starting from one and going through 10. But we are starting to see people who have been in the product longer start to explore a little more, and they start to get off what we call the path, and look at other songs, or look at other genres, or other instruments, and really start to take some of those lessons, and fill out their repertoire.

Ben: Taking a step back.

Josh: Sure.

Ben: In particular, when you run your team, what does that actually look like, in terms of the people involved? Is this an engineering led effort or do you guys have data scientists involved? How do the skillsets look that you're bringing to the table?

Josh: So, we have a really great product team, which is super important in a company like this.

Ben: Yeah.

Josh: Because they're kind of in the middle of everything, right? So, you have a lot of stakeholders, internal and external. But they are really driving the thinking of the roadmap. And then, on the engineering side, we're obviously looking at the data that's coming through, we're collecting it, we're providing it, we're making it available, and sitting down with our business analyst and product analyst to look at what's happening, and then make decisions based off of that.

Ben: Yeah.

Josh: So, it's a really collaborative, really creative ... Think of it like a band. We're working together with the different disciplines to come up with the product for the user.

Ben: How big is the team?

Josh: On the engineering team, we have all the different disciplines represented. We've got our client engineers, so Web and Native mobile. We've got our platform engineers, who are doing all the API's for us. We do have a couple of data engineers now, which has been relatively recent for us.

Ben: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Josh: We're really growing out that discipline. Now that we're gathering data, what we do with it? How do we structure it appropriately? How do we report off of it?

So, not only are we storing it in our application databases, but we're passing it down into our data warehouse, and starting to really generate some interesting insights in that data.

Ben: You know, actually, now that you bring up that particular bit, who do you see consuming that data? I think one of the interesting things, that I love the way you're talking about this, and reading interviews with people like your CEO, Andy Mooney. You guys were clearly very deliberative going into this. You had a clear idea of what you wanted to do. You clearly also have interests, all the way up to your CEO, just talking about it.

So, how does this data get consumed? Is this consumed up at the executive level and they're taking a look at it?

Josh: It is. So, we have a weekly meeting on Mondays where we go through the state of the digital business. We try to be as transparent as possible with that data. A lot of it is focused around the business. We established some KPI's early on for, here's how we want to measure the success of the business. How many lessons are being consumed? What's our LTV for a user? What's our churn rate for IOS versus Web?

So, we report on those every Monday. And then, on Tuesdays we meet with our CEO and other executives to go through, road map what the week looks like, any challenges or any help that we might need from them. So, we've had a ton of support from Fender executives. It's really been very collaborative, very supportive from their standpoint.

Ben: Yeah.

Josh: But just more broadly, one of the things I love about Fender is they have their eye on the larger industry. Obviously, Fender benefits from a very healthy music instrument industry. It's not just all about Fender. We have interest in Gibson doing well.

But that data that we are collecting, we are also trying to share as much as we can with our retail partners because we have vested interest in guitar center doing well.

Ben: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Josh: Or mom-and-pop shops, who I have a few locations.

So, we're sharing what we're learning about our users. We're also trying to send our users back into their shops to get help or buy more gear.

Ben: Yeah.

Josh: So, it's not just about purchasing a guitar from or selling you more gear from us, but how do we make the larger industry bigger?

Ben: Well, you know, it does remind me of something I saw. At one point, I don't know if you guys were still doing this, but you were actually ... When people subscribed to the digital service, you were actually giving them incentives, right? To go buy physical gear, right?

Josh: Absolutely. And it's an opt-in program with our retail partners. They can choose to cooperate with us or participate with us. But you know, a lot of our retail partners have in-person lessons that they offer.

Ben: Yeah.

We don't want to cannibalize that, so we are also really pitching Fender Play to compliment that as well. Just like our apps compliment our guitars, our Fender Play lesson should compliment the lessons that our retail partners might offer in person.

Ben: Yeah.

Josh: Because we do acknowledge that there's a lot of things that are just better when you're sitting down with someone and working through it. So, we'll help you with the basics. Again, our goal is to keep you playing the guitar forever, so how can we partner with our retail partners to do that?

Ben: That makes a lot of sense too because there's a certain extent where, particularly for music education, they play off of each other, right? You sit down with a teacher, you learn some new skill set, you got to go practice that.

Do you find that there is that level of cooperation with teachers, where they can actually say, "Go do this Fender Play lesson?"

Josh: You know we are. Part of that is really just building up good will with the instructors that we're working with.

Ben: Yeah.

Josh: We employ a lot of instructors, and we have a lot of instructors, whether you see them on camera or not. They're sitting down and helping us come up with our tablature, for example. And then, that is our music that we load into the product.

Ben: Yeah.

Josh: And then working with other instructors getting feedback, mostly in the LA other. But other places that we have a presence, we get as much feedback as we can. How could we, for example, allow instructors to create homework for their students, and have them use Fender Play as part of their overall curriculum? Things of that nature.

Ben: You know, one thing this kind of reminds me of too, I was going back and I read a couple interviews with your CEO, and seeing how he was responding to some of the research you guys did.

One thing that I thought was really interesting, is that you guys are having a lot of success apparently with ukuleles.

Josh: Sure.

Ben: Is that tying in at all with the stuff you are working on with the app?

Josh: Yeah. We offer lessons with ukulele. Obviously, we're building out the product line.

Ben: Yeah.

Josh: We've got some interesting signature partnerships that we're doing with artists. But we're seeing a lot of ukulele use in schools.

Ben: Yeah.

Josh: I've got some friends in San Francisco. Their kids are taking ukulele as part of their class curriculum.

Ben: Yeah.

Josh: And so, we're seeing a lot of that. So, it's just a new area that we can get into. It's a new demographic, new kind of user base. They may not traditionally have looked at Fender as something they want to purchase something from, but ukulele is very accessible.

Ben: Yeah.

Josh: It doesn't hurt your hands as bad. It's very child friendly.

Ben: Yeah.

Josh: So, you get them learning the value of music early on, and maybe they can graduate to a guitar at some point.

Ben: Well, you know, that was something that ... I think back to some of the comments that I saw Mooney say, was this idea that it's not just ... At least when I was growing up and wanted to play guitar, it was like, "Okay, I want to be like Van Halen."

Josh: Exactly.

Ben: There was a very particular thing that you were going for. I want to sound like this person, virtuoso, whatever.

Josh: Yeah.

Ben: It seems like partly what you guys are trying to tap into, is this idea that it's a cultural thing too. It's playing with other people.

Josh: Absolutely.

Ben: It's an enjoyment. It's a lifestyle thing. It's not this, "I'm practicing. I can shred this solo so I'm going to go perform tomorrow," right?

Josh: Right. Yeah, absolutely. We saw a lot of that with punk and then even again with grunge. Kurt Cobain's a hero for a lot of people because he wasn't Eddie Van Halen, but he expressed himself in a very clear way.

Ben: Yeah.

Josh: And used his instrument in a way that was very authentic to Kurt Cobain.

So, a lot of people are using it that way, whether it's for compositional purposes. The way that music is being made these days, it's more about rifts or certain samples.

Ben: Yeah.

Josh: So, they can use it for that purpose, as opposed to having that traditional three verses of chorus and shredding guitar solo. So, we'll still make the guitars the same way, but we'll help you use them in different ways and we'll teach you how to use them in different ways for different purposes.

Ben: That's really cool. The reference you made with grunge and with punk too, I hadn't actually thought about it that way before. But it actually makes a lot of sense, because it changed the way that some people played the guitars.

Josh: Yeah, absolutely. Yeah.

Ben: Taking a step back from all this, you released the first app, I think Fender Tune in 2016, right?

Josh: Correct. Yes.

Ben: And the Tone and Play were in 2017, is that right?

Josh: Yeah. Fender Play we're about to hit the two year anniversary in July.

Ben: Now, you're coming up on a two year anniversary, what are the big things you think you learned? If you look back at what you started with and where you're at now, what's the big learnings?

Josh: One of the big learnings is that people tend to plateau when they're playing. You touched on this a little bit earlier. I've played guitar for 30 years, I should be better than I am. I'd probably call myself intermediate, but in reality I'm probably what I call a beginner plus. I know my cords, I can play some rhythms, I've got some strong patterns, but I can't rip off the Eddie Van Halen guitar, nor could I necessarily tell you all the notes on the fret board.

What we're learning is that people tend to work through the beginning stages of our curriculum, but we need to help engage you and reward you more quickly. We haven't quite figured out those mechanism yet, but we're in progress of setting up what those are.

So, one of the insights is, people tend to stay in our level one for a long time.

Ben: Yeah.

Josh: So, how do we move you along more quickly, into level two? Give you rewards so that you can feel like you're accomplishing something, while also continuing to teach you.

Ben: Yeah.

Josh: We need to streamline a little better.

We've seen a lot of value in showing you the progress that you've made. So, how do we better reward you for that progress, how do we show your achievements more clearly, and then how do we make recommendations of the content that are more personalized to you? That's the next big stage for us. We've now got two years of data, let's start to personalize that data. Let's start to look at what you've done. Let's look at what other people have done. Let's make recommendations based off of that.

Ben: I think that really does resonate because I think back to, like you and I were talking about before the interview started, I also should be much better than I am after all this time.

Josh: Right.

Ben: But I think part of that is I thought at some point maybe it was just me. But I think I've realized with a lot of different people, you have to have a reason to play. You have to have something you're going for. My learning experience tends to be this rapid, rapid advancement in some particular thing, and then I'll plateau again.

Josh: Sure.

Ben: That actually makes a lot of sense, being able to tie into that and encourage that. It's like, "Okay, we see you're in to this now. Can we pump into that and actually help you go faster?"

Josh: Exactly. So, we offer this broad highway of our curriculum, but there's a lot of paths that people want to go off and learn something different, and then come back to the main highway.

Ben: Yeah.

Josh: So, we're learning how to provide that in a better way.

Ben: I think that's really great. I can't emphasize enough that I think it is really interesting, number one how you guys started off with the research. You went out and found out what people were doing. You realized this insight about beginners, and about how the demographics are changing, in terms of who plays guitar, and you're trying to go off of that, and actually trying to respond to that, and actually building something that's helping beginners get past that first stage, which I think probably was one of the big problems in the guitar industry before.

Josh: Absolutely.

Ben: It appealed to a certain set, people like you and me, rather than a broader group of people that actually want to play guitar. I think that's pretty awesome.

Josh: Yeah.

Ben: So, kind of putting a bow on all of this, you guys have going on four years under your belt with Fender Digital. What's next? What can you talk about, that you guys are thinking about, that you think is going to be the next big innovation to come?

Josh: Yeah, sure. One thing that we're starting to invest a lot more time on is that relationship with the physical product.

Ben: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Josh: So, I mentioned our Mustang amplifiers before. The roadmap for those amplifiers is really interesting, in that we have the technology on board already, and we're going to be offering more and more products with that technology. So, how do we understand better how people are using the physical products? Right now, it's just a gap. It's what you do in the app, but that's all we have.

Ben: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Josh: So, let's tie that to the physical product. Let's get that usage back. What are you using? How long are you using it? What are you not using?

So, on physical product, every button, every knob costs money. If people aren't using those, maybe we leave them off or maybe we add more, based on what people are getting stuck on.

There is the manufacturing process. One of the things we talked about to reinvent was, how we're starting to add more machine learning into the manufacturing process. So, whether it's things like, we're doing some wood matching, where we look at the pieces of wood that we glued together for our guitar bodies.

Ben: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Josh: It's always been a very human process. There's still a lot of human involvement, but how can we make that process a little cleaner and more efficient.

When you match wood on the body, you're trying to look for the wood grain, so that when you then do our three tone sunburst finish, for example, it looks beautiful. If you do it wrong, you can still use the wood. You don't waste it, but you just paint it black, or you paint it red. It's a solid color.

Ben: Yeah.

Josh: So, applying those machine learning concepts to manufacturing process is something we're going to be looking at.

And then with Fender Play it's, again, we have two years of data, how can we personalize the experience more and more? Not just recommendations but really keep you engaged. We look at lot at exercise applications, so Peloton's or Strava, things like that.

Ben: Yeah.

Josh: But we want to create those habits of the user coming back and learning at their pace, but in a way that makes sense to them, in a way that keeps them coming back, whether that's once a week, five times a week. But we can remind you. We can gently reward you or pride you to come back and start using it more and more based on you as an individual, as opposed to just one broad sweep.

Ben: That makes a lot of sense. Yeah.

Josh: Yeah. That and just more interactive features. We have great video base curriculum right now, but we're doing more and more with tablature and ways that we have you walk through the songs, reward you, listen to what you're doing, and give you feedback based on what you do.

Ben: There's probably a big market for that because at least some of the stuff that I use, can use a little bit more investment from somebody like Fender. I don't know how many times I've gone and tried to find things, and find out they're wrong, or they don't really work right.

Josh: Yeah.

Ben: That could be really interesting for you guys.

Well, you know again, Josh, it's been great talking to you. I think what you guys are doing is amazing. I'm really glad to see, for such an iconic brand, that you guys are taking and doing new stuff without giving up your heritage. I think that's really, really cool. I wish you guys luck going forward. Thanks for taking the time with me.

Josh: Thank you very much, Ben. I appreciate it.

Ben: And thanks everybody for listening. Check us out on the Seed, on your favorite podcast app. Rate us and review us so other people can find us.

Have a great week.

Speaker 3: Masters of Data is brought to you by Sumo Logic. Sumo Logic is a cloud native machine data analytics platform delivering real-time continuous intelligence as a service to build, run, and secure modern applications. Sumo Logic empowers the people who power modern business. For more information, go to For more on Masters Of Data, go to and subscribe, and spread the word by rating us on iTunes or your favorite podcast app.

The guy behind the mic

Ben Newton

Ben Newton

Ben is a veteran of the IT Operations market, with a two decade career across large and small companies like Loudcloud, BladeLogic, Northrop Grumman, EDS, and BMC. Ben got to do DevOps before DevOps was cool, working with government agencies and major commercial brands to be more agile and move faster. More recently, Ben spent 5 years in product management at Sumo Logic, and is now running product marketing for Operations Analytics at Sumo Logic. His latest project, Masters of Data, has let him combine his love of podcasts and music with his love of good conversations.

More posts by Ben Newton.

Listen anytime, anywhere

Available to stream or download via these and other prodcast apps.