Building the World’s Largest Performing Arts Ecosystem

by Taivara, Technology Innovation

The Audition Tradition

Performing arts programs in colleges and universities all have one thing in common: The audition.

If you want to go to school to study the performing arts, you can bet that you’ll have to audition. For a long time, it didn’t matter where you lived or what your economic situation was. If you wanted to get in, you had to travel and take one shot at impressing the adjudicators.

This was problematic for both parties. Travel was expensive and time-consuming for a 17/18 year-old just looking to go to college, and adjudicators spent days at a time sitting in an auditorium listening to auditions.

Programs sometimes made attempts at digitizing the process. They started accepting CD and DVD recordings of auditions but soon found themselves buried under stacks of discs and mismatched paper applications. There was no escape from this annual headache.

The Simple Solution

A startup asked Taivara to build a solution. The idea was to take the audition process and put it online.

Applicants could record themselves with a phone or video camera and upload the files to their online account, submitting them with their college application.

Adjudicators could simply log in to review and rate the digital auditions on their own time.

We helped them research the market to see if this was a viable product for the market to buy. Once they got commitments from customers we helped them raise enough capital to get the company rolling.

Not-So Simple After All

The founders had an MVP built by another firm. The MVP looked great but was technically weak. The product could barely handle more than a few users and didn’t take into account the requirements of the industry. We would need to build re-do the architecture to create a product that could handle the usage we expected.

After digging deep into the needs of the industry, we started to realize how complex the product would need to be.

To name a few complexities, applicants would need to use one account to apply to multiple universities, often using the same audio and video files for multiple applications. Programs would need to have different permission levels for different types of adjudicators and would often need one account to work with multiple programs. The web-app would need to process humungous video files and accept payments for application fees…

No matter how complicated the requirements were, we were able to prioritize the necessities, roadmap out future feature sets, and ultimately build the technology to solve these complex issues.

Caution: Heavy Traffic

One of the unique aspects of the industry was the application deadline. Top-name universities often set their deadlines on the same day. Unfortunately, it was quite common for applicants to wait until a day or two, even a few hours, before the deadline to start their application. This meant thousands of users would be bombarding the servers, each uploading gigabytes of files, all at the same time.

Taivara had to develop a web-app with enough server power to handle the heavy traffic while keeping costs efficient during the off-season.

The Code

To build out the back-end, we used a PHP framework called Laravel. This framework allowed us to easily cache ginormous media files for faster load times, send outbound emails seamlessly to our many users, write complex logic for our complex requirements, and fluently create and run database queries.

The Art of Iteration

After launching, we created tight feedback loops with key clients. Their feedback, along with our product knowledge, helped us quickly iterate and deliver necessary features, ensuring a healthy relationship with the clients that mattered most. The product continuously improved, allowing for more client acquisition and growth.

Off to a Great Start

The startup earned the trust of over 200 performing arts programs within the first two years of operation. The product designed and built by Taivara served as the primary digital audition system for some of the world’s most prestigious programs such as Juilliard and Cincinnati College Conservatory of Music.

After about 19 months the startup had sufficient cash flow. We helped them source, interview, and onboard their own in-house development team.

By the end of year three, the company had over 500 programs within their network and became the world’s largest performing arts ecosystem.

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