Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors
Louisa McGillicuddy

GET UPDATES FROM Louisa McGillicuddy
 

Why the 'App Album' Could be the way Forward for the Music Industry

Posted: 01/10/11 01:00

Upon a cursory browse over the music section of my iTunes App Store today, the pick of 'highlights' is far from inspiring. There's the new Britney Spears app, which lets me virtually impose my own head on one of the songstress's back-up dancers - and, with a shake of my iPhone, watch my virtual self squeal, 'It's Britney, bitch.' Or there's Nicki Minaj's Pink Friday app, complete with an A-Z 'Nictionary', for when I find myself befuddled by everyday phrases such as 'waffle house', 'baldy locks', and 'Alfred Bitchcock'. Or there's even the official 'Robbie Williams Racing' game app - so I can, at last, race across the Mojave Desert with Mr Rock DJ.

It seems fair to say that the current market in artists' music apps is looking pretty dismal. Although almost every major musician now has an official app, the majority of these are simple rehashings of the artist's website content - the latest news, photos, video, tickets. And for those that do include any bonus material, it's little more than bells and whistles on an already lazy product. And as much as I love dancing with a virtual Britney and learning from the tome of Minaj, they only add to the ever-growing statistics of 'disposable' apps - to the extent that 26% of apps are now only ever opened once.

But fortunately, amidst the dross, there are a few important exceptions cropping up that look set to be real game-changers. We're seeing glimpses of genuinely interesting music apps that experiment with the basic relationship between listener and artist; namely, the 'app album'. This year has seen a few tentative movements towards the concept - Jay-Z released Decoded, which allowed users to create their own album from 10 out of 36 songs, each of which came with the rapper's annotated history of the lyrics. And Black Eyed Peas front man will.i.am launched BEP360, a '360 mobile music video' for the band's single The Time (Dirty Bit), which used augmented reality and the accelerometer on an iPhone for fans to pan around the video for a 3D view.

But most importantly of all has of course been Björk's Biophilia project. Teaming up with cutting-edge programmers like Theo Gray and Max Weisel, the Icelandic singer has created a truly landmark album in which the listener is given equal creative control to the artist. Housed within a 'Mother app', each song then has its own app, which includes a virtual 'game' that allows users to manipulate the track as they wish. Each song also comes with an animated score, an essay written by music academic Dr Nikki Dibben, and unique photographs mixed from live shows and National Geographic images.

It's an album so relentlessly ambitious in scope that Björk herself has admitted that she'd be surprised to break even from the project. But it's an incredibly refreshing step in a technology market that is so intent on increasing user/media interaction that things like 'scratch-and-sniff' cards in 4D cinema are allowed to happen. Her vision certainly won't be for every musician either - somehow I can't imagine it being the surprise follow-up record for The Saturdays - but it is a music app that is finally living up to the creative potential of the tablet platform, and embracing the developments in how we listen to music.

Projects like Biophilia are exciting because they use the wild west environment of the current music scene to their advantage. With the majority of listeners now getting their music for free on streaming services like Spotify or peer-to-peer programs like Limewire, it's no surprise that the CD album has taken a nosedive. But with sales of the iPhone and iPad continuing to soar, there's a definite niche in the market for those who have already shelled out for android phones and tablets, and are willing to spend a few extra pence on creative projects like these. Well, that's if they don't spend the 69p on a motorcycling Robbie Williams instead.

 

Follow Louisa McGillicuddy on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@louisamcg