A transmedia campaign is only as good as its team. When a musician recognizes the value in creating extensions and decides to do so, they may not know how to successfully utilize the strengths of different platforms or how to create content for them. That’s okay! Musicians should be experts on creating and distributing music; navigating foreign platforms single-handedly could be a big time and money drain, and a distraction from their creative process. In order to further disseminate their art and messages, they should turn to producers who can assist them.
When Björk decided to create an app album, she went to two such collaborators. One was Scott Snibbe, a well-established interactive artist who has worked in a range of different media. He has released a number of iOS apps, exhibited his work in museums such as the Whitney Museum of American Art, and founded Snibbe Interactive, a company which develops immersive interactive experiences for a variety of uses, including James Cameron’s Avatar.
The other collaborator was Max Weisel, an up-and-coming software developer. In early high school, he experimented with the first iPhone and started building iOS apps before Apple’s App Store or their Software Development Kit were even available. He submitted his app Soundrop just as the store was opening and watched it become one of the first apps made available for the iPad launch.
This sound-based app drew Björk’s attention, and she hired him as one of a small team to develop her app album Biophilia. He specifically worked on the song apps “Moon,” “Solstice,” and “Dark Matter.”
You can see the “Moon” app below, as well as its incorporation into the song’s music video.
I was lucky to meet Max at the Creators Project’s excellent event Exploring Biophilia: Apps as the Next Creative Frontier for Music, and he was kind enough to answer some questions for me:
What are you currently working on?
Björk has pulled me onto the tour to get rid of the laptop. The audience has really no idea what my setup on-stage is doing. Throughout the tour, I’ll be working on iPad apps that change this. I’ll be creating more intuitive and organic apps that play her songs in a way that the audience can connect to. (Ed: See the quad iPad instrument above)
Scott stated that digital platforms can encourage users to “fall in love with music again.” Do you think digital/interactive platforms can accomplish this?
LPs forced a deeper engagement between the listener and the music. While not the most complex, LPs accomplished a few things. They included artwork, lyrics and stimulated the user while they listened to the whole album. Today when someone buys a new album, they listen to it while they’re working. Less attention is paid to the music because they have nothing to keep them from wandering off.
Björk’s app album solves this problem. User’s now have rich content that parallels the music they’re consuming.
Do you think music apps will become common place, or do you think there are too many barriers to entry? (rights issues, cost, etc.)
I believe Licensing in the record industry will stifle any similar project. Creating a single app is no small endeavor, let alone creating one for every song.
What do you think of apps/digital platforms as methods of telling stories within music? Effective? Supplementary?
This depends a lot on the development of the apps/digital media. I’ve seen plenty of supplementary apps that appear as an afterthought. It’s obvious the content was thrown together and isn’t well connected with the music. However, if you’ve got an artist that can collaborate properly with the developers and is dedicated enough to develop the experience alongside the music, an effective experience is extremely possible.
Unfortunately, this is becoming more difficult. The music industry is shit. Record labels retain all licensing of music and stifle an artist’s ability to branch out into other genres of media. As services like Spotify and Rdio make music more accessible, the amount of rich and unique content is going to decrease.
Would you like to work with a musician again? How do you think it’s different than other collaborations?
Definitely! I feel as though most companies don’t see app work as a collaboration. It’s simple just contract work. Artists want to have a say in what they create. They have specific reasons behind every detail. To most developers, this would be a nightmare, but if you’re working with an artist that knows how to collaborate, it’s like a dream.