As transmedia is often associated with high-profile artists (Nine Inch Nails, Lady Gaga), less well-known musicians may feel they lack the resources to create extensions. This is not true in the slightest! Such musicians can actually find advantage in their level of notoriety with the freedom to explore more experimental methods of storytelling.
Last week, a Canadian hardcore punk band called Fucked Up released their third album, David Comes to Life. It is a concept album, specifically a “rock opera” set in 1980’s England that revolves around five different characters. David, a light bulb factory worker, falls in love with Veronica, an activist, but her mysterious death triggers in him an existential crisis. The album uses multiple points of view and a narrative arc to flesh out the story.
Albums with very literal narratives and stories are the easiest to extend out onto other platforms. Characters are in place, themes well established, and events to build off of, either back into the past or forward into the future.
Back in March, Fucked Up announced they would be participating in this year’s Record Store Day, an annual event where specific independently owned music stores sell limited edition records or host special performances. Damian Abraham, the lead singer, announced on their blog that:
…we decided instead of recording any new music, why don’t we just release this compilation album from 1977 we’d been sitting on since from before we were all born? We found like 750 copies of this great comp so we’re gonna just use that.
It was soon revealed that this LP was called David’s Town, a fictional compilation of eleven bands that originated from the fake town Byrdesdale Spa. Guest vocalists were brought in to help mimic the 1970’s era British punk genre. This world building was intentional, not only making the town real, but reiterating the themes of the main album. Said Damian,
The story takes place at the end of the 70s and beginning of the 80s– the coming-in of Thatcher and Reagan politics. It’s like the death of organized labor and the rise of modern capitalism. Those are some undertones that run through it.
Through a unique distribution method, fans who pre-ordered the album directly through the record label Matador’s site were given early staggered track downloads a month prior to the official release. More importantly, this also gave them access to five unreleased songs and eight new tracks from four 7”s that further developed the characters than was possible on one album.
This is thoughtful and important world building, however still all on one platform. Fucked Up extended out, first with a pop-up record store in an art gallery in Toronto, opening at midnight of the release date. The band members played store employees and personally sold the music to the attendees, while David artwork lined the space around them. Specially signed light bulbs were available, an iconic image in the story.
Online, the album’s website gives a breakdown of the story arc across the album. It also hosts portraits of the five characters, each printed with an accompanying poetic self-description of themselves.
These are not just character development, however; the portraits have been printed onto 1000 postcards each, and distributed to a group of record stores in the United Kingdom. Fucked Up are inviting fans to locate the postcards, and “write/draw/create something inspired by love” on it before posting it to their record label. The band will judge the entries and pick a winner to receive prizes.
Invitational strategies are an important part of any transmedia campaign, large or small. By asking audience members to contribute, you are validating their time and dedication to the property, in this case, a band. Fucked Up are communicating to their fans that they care about how their music and message of love is being interpreted. The fans’ experience matters to them.
The only hitch to a rollout heavily dependent on localization (site-specific events, site-specific products, etc.) is the majority of an audience being left out. All of the energy and creativity that went into the David’s Town record, the release party, and the postcards would have been easily lost to most of the band’s fans. However, they smartly avoided this by making access available to the larger audience, without losing the special feeling and value that accompanies localization: David’s Town was available for download with the pre-orders, the release party was webcast live, and the postcards are also available online for purchase for any non-British residents.
David Comes to Life‘s release is a great example that a large budget is not necessary; thought, creativity, and careful planning can go a very long way.
(Header photo credit: Geoff Fitzgerald)