Music videos are so 80s/90s, right? They belong with the era when MTV screened wall-to-wall vids instead of 'reality' TV? Try telling that to the millions who bought Gangnam Style; were they really simply loving the music? 1.6bn (and still climbing) have viewed the video on YT, not to mention the many re-makes (school eg, eg2), viral ads + celeb link-ups (even political protest in Seoul) - and it doesn't matter how legit it is, this nightmare for daydream Beliebers is making a lot of money, even from the parodies + dislikes. All this for a simple dance track that wouldn't have sounded out of place in 1990 ... but had a fun vid. This meme itself was soon displaced by the Harlem Shake. Music vids even cause diseases it seems!
This blog explores every aspect of this most postmodern of media formats, including other print-based promo tools used by the industry, its fast-changing nature, + how fans/audiences create/interact. Posts are primarily written with Media students/educators in mind. Please acknowledge the blog author if using any resources from this blog - Mr Dave Burrowes

Saturday, 19 October 2013

iPad apps replacing albums? Snoop, Bjork, Gaga...

Rather different from the usual album review! (on Biophilia)
With major artists Bjork, Jay-Z, Lady Gaga and Snoop Lion amongst those releasing iPad apps, does this mark the end of the album - or, at the time of writing at least, are these apps simply another promo tool seeking to flog merchandise ($100 pseudo spliff anyone? comparable to freemium games?) as well as tracks?

Ideas of this nature are far from new - I remember picking up several CD-Rom albums ('multimedia-a 2007 article posed the question: '“Interactive” Album Art: The CD-ROMs Of The Digital-Music Age?'
enhanced') back in the 90s ... and pretty much never bothering with the added content. Indeed,
WMG tried adding interactive booklets to about 75 albums sold on iTunes this spring, providing extra photos, lyrics and links to multimedia content much like extras on a DVD. But the booklets require Flash technology, which Apple later disabled in Quicktime because of a security flaw for which it has yet to release a patch.
So, are we moving beyond the concept of a traditional album, with its dozen or so tracks sequenced and packaged with cover art? Actually, hasn't that already become passe with most iTunes (etc) users picking up specific tracks not albums, and Spotify users creating track-based not album-based playlists?

At varying ends of musical credibility we have begun to see a spate of iPad apps replacing the usual CD/MP3 album release. Bjork's critically-acclaimed Biophilia was one early example:
Icelandic musician Björk recently released what she claims to be the world's "first app album." It's an iPad and iPhone app featuring 10 songs, each song accompanied by an interactive app. The "mother" app is called Biophilia, which is the name of the album. That is available free on iTunes, but the 'song' apps then cost $1.99 each and are bought from within the main app. 
Biophilia goes all out to capture your attention once you open the mother app. David Attenborough narrates the introduction, as a 3D cosmos floats on the iPad screen. "In Biophilia," he intones in his familiar scholarly voice, "you will experience how the three come together: nature, music, technology. Listen, learn, and create."
The first app, Crystalline, is a kind of game where you navigate through space collecting crystals as the song plays. There's a delightful artistic tie-in between the music, the concept of the song, lyrics, visuals and the interactivity of the app.  
You can see one screenshot above, or much more from the full article.
Jemima Kiss noted that even the app was itself just one piece of a wider promo package:
The app is just one part of Björk's multimedia vision for this album, which also includes live shows at the Manchester international festival, a documentary about the project produced by Pulse Films, a video by director Michel Gondry and the album itself. Songs included on the app have been stripped down and remixed by Björk and Damian Taylor, and each will become available during the build-up to the album release on 27 September.
At the rather less credible end of the market, Snoop Doggy Dogg - sorry, Snoop Dogg ... sorry, Snoop Lion*, released an iPad app for his Rasta-relaunch effort, as Stuart Dredge reports:
There's life in the old Dogg yet
Snoop Lion's Reincarnated: Track Notes App is a free download for iPad, released by digital publishing startup Citia, which has previously launched apps based on books by Kevin Kelly, John Maxwell and Dan Ariely.
The Snoop Lion app is the company's first venture into music, and the latest attempt to find a digital replacement for the liner notes and artwork from vinyl and CD albums.
"What you get isn't just the music – it's ABOUT the music," explains its App Store listing. "Where it came from, How it was made, WHY it was made. It's liner notes for the 21st century. Multimedia, multi-sensory, made for the fans."
At launch, three full audio tracks are included in the app, each with its own lyric video, quotes from producers and collaborators, and information on the reggae songs that inspired them – complete with links to buy them on Apple's iTunes Store.
The app also promotes Snoop Lion merchandise – t-shirts, "grindtainers" and a comfortable-looking pair of branded slippers, all sold from his Facebook store – as well as providing information on his Mind Gardens charity in Jamaica.
*If we're being bang up to date, Snoop wasn't feline the lion (cough...), he's now Snoopzilla!
Stick with Snoop: he'll make, ah, himself rich!

So, Snoop Summat's app appears to be a means of monetising much more than his music; is it comparable to the 'freemium' computer games that constantly invite gamers to pay for extras? Sean Michaels tells us about the $100 spliff ... sticker?!?
Fans of rapper Snoop Dogg – or Snoop Lion as he now calls himself – are paying almost $100 (£65) for the chance to adorn their photographs with an imaginary spliff. Price is no obstacle for the most devoted users of Snoop's new mobile app, where virtual "stickers" are sold for real money.
The software is called Snoopify: an app for iOS and Android that lets users "decorate their photos" with Snoop-related cartoons such as bling, fried chicken and walrus hats. Although the basic program is free, fans can pay $1.99 for a bundle of 24 more "stickers". Beyond that, there's a deluxe, standalone sticker that sells for $99.99: the Golden Jay, a hand-rolled cigarette emitting a wisp of rainbow smoke. "Dis is too much to handle!" reads the subtitle.

At the excruciatingly pretentious/visionary artist (according to preference) end of the music biz, Lady Gaga's ARTPOP is perhaps one of the most hyped music releases of our age. Having built up rhetoric and expectations of its revolutionary content, it turns out to offer stuff to go with each track; an album+, or album 2.0?
ARTPOP may not be much of a "multimedia experience" after all. Despite having previously described her new album as an "a musical and visual engineering system", Lady Gaga has indicated that the app component is merely "an interactive jewel case".
Back when ARTPOP was announced, fans imagined it as a big-budget inheritor to Björk's Biophilia: a chimeric mash-up of music and app, exploring multiple themes across symbiotic technologies. "ARTPOP is not just an ALBUM it's a PROJECT," Gaga said at the time. Although the music would be released "in regular physical and digitals", the app was the main event: "an iPad, iPhone, mobile and computer compatible application ... that is completely interactive with chats, films for every song, extra music, content, gaga-inspired games, fashion updates, magazines."
Instead, the ARTPOP app has begun to sound like an interactive advertisement, similar to the app for Jay Z's Magna Carta Holy Grail. "The app is in essence, an interactive jewel case," Gaga tweeted yesterday. While fans will be able to "socialise" through the software, it's not an improvement on (or even an alternative to) buying the album: "The app is free, available in App Stores on your device. You can purchase the music through the app once it's downloaded."
(Quotes from Sean Michaels' article)
Not a fan then? Don't expect applaws here...

This rather opionated ('hater'?) Tumblr site didn't mince its (misogynistic?) words:
As expected, Lady Gaga overhyped her new material and herself: she put herself in the same category as Warhol, and even said she was “reversing” the direction of his art (!).
Also, being the manipulative, dismissing bitch she is, she pretended Bjork’s Biophilia and Bluebrain’s The National Mall (the very first app-album in history) ever existed. Gaga presented “ARTPOP” as a groundbreaking invention that is going to change the history of music.
Try not to vomit while reading ARTPOP’s official press release:
I'll let you click through if you wish to read that. As Flavor Flav would say, don't believe the hype.
Gaga's grandiloquence generated Guardian gripes

The hyperbole over her apparently revolutionary concept has received rather gentler mocking from the broadsheet press too:
As you well know, Lady Gaga's new album, Artpop, isn't merely a collection of hummable pop songs encased in a CD, or preloaded on to a downloadable interface. It is, instead, a "reverse Warholian expedition" that aims to blur the lines between art and pop, and pop and art in a way not seen since she tried to do it on all of her previous albums. Yesterday she unveiled the Jeff Koons-created artwork for the album via a Twitter hashtag and a worldwide simultaneous live-stream thing
(Michael Cragg, Guardian)

Vanessa Thorpe, in an article inviting artists to comment on the credibility of Gaga's claims, sets out some historical detail on Pop Art. On 'the launch of a social media app that seeks "to make connections between music, art, fashion and technology"', she notes:
True, you could argue these connections are already there, but these will be Gaga's own connections, fabricated in her bespoke Haus of Gaga workshop. Her team promise to "explode on to the physical and virtual universe" with the album, which will announce a new age, "an age where art drives pop, and the artist once again is in control of the icon".
Cynics may wonder whether the move towards a legitimate artworld platform is simply a strategy to refresh the Gaga brand. And yet the connection with pop art has credibility, not only because of her ironic epigrams about "lying profusely" in interviews, or her preoccupation with fame (her bestselling debut album of 2008 was called The Fame), but because she has picked up on abiding themes in the work of Warhol, the artist who once said: "Making money is art, and working is art, and good business is the best art."

The bottom line is that such apps are already bringing in serious money, even if their artistic merit, or supposed challenge to the album format, are less visible at this point; here's Stuart Dredge again:
Most major music artists have an app of some kind nowadays, although in most cases a relatively simple one that pulls in social media updates and YouTube videos while pointing fans out to buy music, tickets and merchandise.
Others have taken a different approach. Snoop Dogg was making $30k a week from sales of digital stickers in his Snoopify photo-sharing app in June this year, while Trey Songz was reportedly making $54k a month from sales of virtual items within his Angel Network fanclub app earlier in the year.
Biophilia remains the most creatively-ambitious artist app, but also a bigger financial risk – it was rumoured to have cost more than $500k to develop, but sales figures have never been released for the iOS version. A Kickstarter campaign to raise £375k to port the app to Android and Windows 8 was cancelled 10 days in after failing to pick up steam.
Lady Gaga looks to be pulling out all the stops for the ARTPOP app in order to make it the most successful artist app yet, and prove there's a business model for apps as a format for music distribution.

So, at this point in time, are we seeing genuinely groundbreaking apps challenging the concept of the music album? If so, pass on links to any examples. If not, might we still do so a year or so down the line?

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