Are apps the new music video?

Boston alternative rock legends The Pixies are the latest music artists to release free content to the public in the form of a free smartphone app. Black Francis and his cohorts have released an official Pixies app for iPhone which features live concert footage, three live albums spanning twenty years of performances, and tracks from the band’s original demo tape, known as “The Purple Tape.”

Icelandic avant-garde singer Björk has also released an interactive audio-visual iPhone and iPad app to accompany her new album, Biophilia, while Belgian DJ collective Soulwax decided to forgo the making of a new album under their 2 many DJ’s moniker, and opted instead to release their Radio Soulwax, a collection of 24 hour-long mixes with accompanying visuals based on the original artwork of the featured songs.

Although YouTube is still a powerful marketing vehicle for music, it seems that the golden age of the music video, heralded just a couple of weeks short of twenty years ago with the launch of MTV, is drawing to a close, or at the very least, entering a new phase of its development.

The more forward-thinking artists are now questioning the wisdom of hiring a celebrity movie director and paying for a harem of dancers and enough lighting to land an Airbus, for a clip that will only ever be viewed on YouTube or Muzu, and fleetingly at that, when they can employ an app developer to create something that stays in the consumer’s pocket and can lead them to engage with, and even purchase from, the artist.

The Pixies app provides free content, but only after the user agrees to share the app with his or her Facebook or Twitter friends. The fan gets free, and legal, content, while the band gets invaluable exposure through social media, not to mention the links to purchase the band’s music and merchandise through the site.

Björk, being Björk, has a slightly more complicated approach, but the basic premise is the same. Her app, narrated by naturalist Sir David Attenborough, is an integral part of the overall concept of her album. The initial app is free to download, and acts as a umbrella for ten micro-apps, which will accompany the ten songs on the album, and will retail at around €1.79/$1.99.

These innovative and, frankly, odd apps will feature various games and interactive educational features which will teach the user about topics such as chromatic scales. This might be a step too far for many people, but if the video for “It’s Oh So Quiet” was released today, how much attention would it receive? Probably not enough to even cover director Spike Jonze’s wages. You have to applaud the source of Iceland’s second-most violent eruptions for her willingness to be a pioneer in this field.

Of course, bands have tried this before with CD-ROM’s; I remember all of twelve years ago spending what seemed like, and probably was, hours sitting at my mother’s rickety old desktop PC waiting for an interactive Foo Fighters “experience”, which turned out to be a couple of tour photos and a music video which took so long to load it felt like watching a cartoon being animated in real time.

Technology has moved on though, and the time is right for artists to properly explore the mobile world, and finally wreak vengeance on the video for what it did to the radio star.

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