Future Music Formats: evaluating the ‘album app’

1. Introduction

The music industry has been impacted by the effects of digital technology more than any other arts sector. While digital music sales in the form of MP3 downloads and digital music streaming services have made music instantly available, they have greatly diminished the tactile experience for the consumer and have limited the artist’s control over how their work is presented. Audio quality (i.e. the audio bitrate, dynamic range and distortion levels) is generally poorer than that found on CD or vinyl and supporting content, such as cover art, sleeve notes and credits identifying the performers, producers and engineers, are mostly absent when music is distributed digitally. Meanwhile, the revenue available to support music makers and related arts professionals has decreased, owing somewhat to music piracy and illegal file-sharing on one hand (De Beukelaer, 2014) and small royalty payments from streaming services on the other (Ellis-Petersen, 2014a).

The music album has perhaps suffered the most through the digital revolution. When a complete work such as this is reduced to simply a series of digital files that can be shared or streamed in any order without context, the concept of the album as a rich and coherent statement of the artist’s vision ceases to function (Ellis-Petersen, 2014b).

The mobile app is reported to hold the potential to reverse these trends and become the definitive delivery format for music in the next three years (Dredge, 2012). Apps can offer a richer, more engaging experience for fans by combining music, video, social media, and interactive features in a single, piracy-resistant package. Music formats delivering a richer user experience could potentially drive greater revenues for artists and rights holders.

The research presented here describes a study that seeks to evaluate the potential benefits of album apps to the commercial music industry. In particular the objective is to identify methods, technologies and opportunities for maximising and optimising the potential of digital music formats and commercial music sales through digital channels.

Additionally, there is a research objective: to discover new music sales strategies that are aimed at enhancing an artist’s connection with their fans. By addressing this specific objective, the research also serves to build a knowledge base of music consumers’ listening habits and their acceptance of new and future technologies and formats for commercial music.

2. Music delivery formats

2.1 The compact disc

In 1982, the compact disc (CD) represented the first commercially successful format for digital music delivery to the consumer, bringing a number of new features and opportunities. The standard compact disc holds stereo audio files at 16-bit resolution and a sample frequency of 44100 Hz, resulting in a streaming rate of 1,411,200 bits per second or 1411.2 kbps.

As a physical form of music delivery, the CD allows album artwork and additional material to be included with the audio. As with vinyl previously, the album artwork and additional liner notes can contain artistic imagery, song lyrics and other texts, producer credits, and details of musicians and studios used on the recordings.

The CD allows not only the audio to be contained within the disc, but digital data describing the held audio can also be embedded within the disc. This brought the first widespread use of audio metadata and the opportunity for tracks to be uniquely identified on the disc by an International Standard Recording Code (ISRC). The ISRC is a 12 digit code defined by International Standard ISO 3901:2001 and it is particularly useful for tracking artist and label copyright and repertoire, radio playback, and mechanical sales data, as detailed by the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI) (Toulson et al., 2014). The CD itself, therefore, contains a number of digital tracks, represented by binary audio data streams, and a number of binary metadata information fields. The procedure for creating an audio CD master file, which can be duplicated at a manufacturing plant, provides a level of guaranteed authenticity for the artist, record label and manufacturing plant. The Disc Description Protocol (DDP) CD image format, along with a suitable MD5 checksum verification code, ensures that the manufacturer receives the exact audio product provided by the mastering house, as it is very difficult for the DDP image to be tampered with following creation.

2.2 MP3 and data compressed audio downloads

More recently, music has been sold and purchased as discrete digital audio tracks through online stores such as Apple iTunes and Amazon. The standard delivery format for MP3 and other data compressed audio is 256 or 320 kbps, which is a significantly lower bit rate, and hence audio quality, than the CD. Some high–definition audio distributors are nowadays starting to offer digital audio downloads at and above the bit rate of CD data, however this results in slow download times and a higher requirement for data storage. Music sold as MP3 and other digital download formats are very easy to be pirated, with no method available to stop people from sharing their music collections.

From a creative viewpoint, the options for an artist attempting to portray a wider artistic vision to their audience is reduced through online sales and distribution. In general, album downloads are accompanied by only a single piece of artwork and with no opportunity for song lyrics or producer and performer credits to be included. Furthermore, the sales channels allow and encourage purchasing of individual songs, meaning that albums are less often listened to in the song order which the artist intended. The ‘Concept Album’ approach to curating music, such as David Bowie’s The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, is therefore much less impactful when the music is distributed as a data only product.

The MP3 file format does not generally hold the IRSCs despite the capability in metadata. At present, the metadata included within the CD specification is lost when the tracks are used in a data only format. Although the audio wave (WAV) file format holds a number of metadata fields in describing the audio data contained (such as information on sample rate, number of channels represented and resolution) there is no metadata field designated to hold the useful ISRC data. The UK Music Producers Guild have recently initiated a movement to have ISRC data embedded within broadcast wave (BWF) audio files and so allowing the benefits of CD metadata encoding to be available to software only releases (UK Music Producers Guild, 2013).

With software only releases, and for upload to online distribution systems, there is little guarantee of security or validation of accuracy, unlike the DDP and checksum approach for compact discs. It is very possible that the mastering house might provide mastered and final audio files, which could be tampered with, edited or accidentally corrupted before they are uploaded to purchase websites. It is evident that a more secure and standard approach is required where master audio files are uploaded to music distribution websites.

Figure 1 shows the millions of US music sales in terms of units and dollars for a number of music formats. It can clearly be seen that in 2013 more music is being sold than ever before, however the upward trend of sales is mirrored by a falling trend in terms of revenue. This divergence highlights the diminishing economic value of commercial music in the years since digital download sales became prevelant in 2004.


Figure 1: US music sales by format (Recording Industry Association of America, 2015).

2.3 Analogue audio – vinyl and audio cassette

Analogue distribution has diminished with the rise in digital audio. The cassette tape was a successful medium for music delivery for a long period, because it was small, portable, and more robust than vinyl. The cassette was the first convenient format that allowed home recording and duplication, meaning that for the first time listeners could compile their own mix tapes. Home recording and duplication has paved the way for music piracy, which has become an even greater concern with the rise of digital music download services (Sandoval, 2011). It is also interesting to note in Figure 1 that the cassette format disappeared around 2004, just as digital download sales start to increase.

Vinyl on the other hand has seen a resurgence in recent years, possibly as a consumer backlash to the digital revolution, as shown in Figure 2 (Dewey, 2013). In 2012 vinyl sales in the U.S. were up 36.2% in contrast to a drop in CD sales of 18.3% and stationary overall industry revenue (Freidlander, 2013). Vinyl is still regarded by some as the most ‘artistic’ music format, given the physical size and style, which lends itself to rich artwork and associated texts including song lyrics and producer credits. Vinyl is still subjectively classed as a superior audio quality by some, particularly with respect to MP3 and data compressed audio, but also with the CD.


Figure 2: Global vinyl sales figures (Dewey, 2013).

2.4 Internet streamed audio

Internet streaming audio services, for example: Spotify, have grown recently, given the increase in internet download speeds, which currently allow stereo audio streaming of up to 320 kbps. The new model for audio streaming is still in its infancy and it remains to be seen how this method of music delivery will evolve as mobile and remote internet access improves. There are issues surrounding royalty payments (Ellis-Petersen, 2014a) and it is still uncertain whether streaming services increase or decrease the likelihood of consumers making direct music album purchases. The conducted research herein is specifically targeted at evaluating commercial music purchase formats, although it is acknowledged that new business models are emerging and will play a significant role in the near future, particularly with respect streaming subscription services.

2.5 Album app

The ‘album app’ format has emerged, given the ubiquity and processing power of smartphones on iOS, Android and Windows platforms (Bogdan, 2013). Recently Bjork released her Biophilia album as an ‘app’ which can be purchased and downloaded to iPhone and iPad devices and incorporating a number of unique graphics and interactivity features. The album app format potentially allows unique artistic and interactive content to be distributed alongside the audio, which may include artwork, photography, song lyrics, video, animation and even interaction and gaming features (Dredge, 2012). The album app is also an attractive method for music delivery because it is relatively secure, i.e. once the app is created it cannot be tampered with, ensuring that the exact artefact created by the mastering house is exactly that purchased by the consumer. It is also much more difficult to pirate and distribute unauthorised copies of album apps. A number of interesting debates remain to be initiated should the album app format become more ubiquitous and commonplace. In particular it is valuable that ISRC data is incorporated also into album app type releases, so that correct credits and royalties can be recorded and managed. If an artist decides to release music exclusively in the album app format (i.e. not at all through iTunes, online stores or on CD or vinyl), then the question of how the ISRC data is encoded or recorded will become pertinent. Potentially, professional album app development software could be enhanced to support the BWF file format, so that music app releases can contain the necessary metadata. A potential issue with the album app format is that it is not automatically recognised for music sales charts. This will need to be addressed for it to become a commercially viable music delivery format.

3. Research methodology

3.1 Summary of functionality gaps and research objectives

The background research of music formats and current listener trends, highlight a number of functionality gaps given the move from analogue and physical formats towards digital download platforms. The research methodology is therefore designed to address and evaluate these existing functionality gaps with the aim of proposing an improved user experience for the digital music consumer. It is a paradoxical concept that the advance of technology has taken the commercial and artistic values of commercial music backwards, seen a reduction in playback quality, and has furthermore opened the door to piracy and security flaws. To summarise: the contemporary digital download platforms, while being portable and allowing rapid catalogue access to music, fail to deliver the following features that had become valued in physical playback media such as vinyl, cassette and CD:

  1. Digital downloads have a limited capability to associate album artwork with commercial music.
  2. Digital downloads do not contain details of songwriter credits, performer credits, producer credits or studio credits.
  3. Digital downloads provide no access to song lyrics alongside the purchased music.
  4. Digital downloads are predominantly low resolution and inferior audio quality to that of physical media.
  5. Digital downloads are easily pirated.
  6. Digital downloads do not allow ISRCs to be incorporated alongside the audio data.
  7. Digital download formats do not utilise any DDP type security for ensuring quality control between mastering engineers and sales aggregators.

Additionally it has been noted that album apps are not, at present, automatically registered for chart eligibility.

The main objective of this research is to evaluate the album app format with the aim of developing a new digital music distribution format that fills most if not all of the functionality gaps that are described above. In doing so, the research aims to identify features and technologies that will expand and enhance both the listener and artist experience with respect to creation and sale of commercial digital music.

3.2 Experimental design

The experimental design for this research follows a standard research and development methodology, as described in Figure 3:


Figure 3: Research and development investigative methodology.

Initially, a number of existing music platforms and album apps were evaluated to identify valuable feature sets and to identify the necessary functionality gaps. Stakeholder interviews with music artists, industry representatives and consumer group discussions were utilised to assist and validate the functional design process.

From the research of prior art and stakeholder reviews, a design specification was developed by the collaborating organisations Script Inc. and Anglia Ruskin University. All app software development was conducted by Agency Mobile Ltd with continuous review and validation from Script, Anglia Ruskin, the artist (Francois and the Atlas Mountains) and the artist’s record label Domino Records.

The developed album app, Piano Ombre by Francois and the Atlas Mountains, was launched for commercial sale by Domino Records at the same time as other music formats in March 2014. The original sale price for the album app was £6.99 in the Apple App Store. The album was also available for sale as a standard digital download purchase in the Apple iTunes Music Store for the same price.

Finally, the album app was demonstrated directly to a number of consumer groups and industry stakeholders by the authors, in order to test and evaluate the benefits of the new digital music format.

4. App design through artistic review

4.1 Artist interviews

A number of music artists (10 in total, including Francois Marry of Francois and the Atlas Mountains) were asked to comment on the creative and commercial opportunities allowed by existing music delivery platforms and with respect to the album app delivery format. Their personal preferences with respect to music listening and purchasing were also discussed.

On the whole, the artists indicated that albums represent a theme, concept or artistic vision which made the album an ‘artpiece’ or something that is more than simply the music alone. Most of the interviewed songwriters were actively creative and artistic in other arts fields too, producing sketches, photography and other supporting artwork for their albums. The artists all said that they would like to add more artistic input to their albums, citing: time, cost and limitations of delivery formats as reasons for not adding as much rich artistic content as they would like. Francois reflected that the novel album app format gave him a new framework in which to focus his artistic outputs – creating sketches and interactive features that are a perfect fit for the dimensions and functionality of the delivery device (i.e. the iPhone). The track order of the album was also an important aspect for all interviewees, indicating that the listener experience is high on their agenda and that the tracks alone form a complete package, which should be consumed in a specific way. In many cases this is at odds with many emerging listener tools, such as iPods for continuous random track access and streaming radio services that play random tracks on a playlist.

Discussing the commercial opportunities of music formats showed that artists are willing to embrace a number of different formats, though many referred to vinyl and CDs as having an undeniable quality because of their physicality – not least for selling and signing at gigs and for the tangible experience and physical printed artwork. Many artists referred to the low quality of MP3 formats, and the reduced artwork and creative content, as being detrimental and devaluing music, however the benefits of immediate mobile access, portability and simple storage are qualities that are appreciated. In general it is clear that a number of formats are of value to artists, as they cater to all audiences, listeners and occasions. It is clear however that there has previously been no format that gives ‘the best of all worlds’, which the app may go some way towards delivering.

The artists liked the idea that a digital album app might be dynamic and change over time, allowing new songs to become available as the album progresses, as well as new artwork, news and interactivity. The only negative comment with respect to this approach is that it, potentially, allows a project or album to run forever, and there is some creative value in an artistic project having a completion date so that it can be archived and new projects embarked on.

All interviewees explained that they were keen to include song lyrics and producer credits within an album package or, where that is not possible, on an accompanying website. Many of the artists were aware of album apps and accompanying apps and appeared to be intrigued and interested in the format. Regarding the question of future trends and consumer preferences, a number of different responses were seen. It appears therefore that the artists themselves are unsure or divided on what the future might hold, which could indicate that there are currently opportunities for new innovations and strategies to be developed for the commercialisation of our future music.

4.2 Consumer feedback on music buying preferences

A number of consumers were asked to complete questionnaires at the artistic evaluation stage, to understand the demographic of the music buying public. In total 85 music consumers were asked to give quantitative feedback on a number of discussion points. The participants were all staff and students of Anglia Ruskin University (UK) with an age range between 19 and 50, and a mean average age or 23.0.

Figure 4 shows that YouTube was referred to as the most common source for new music discovery, implying that consumers are drawn to rich audio-visual media, i.e. the video alongside the music, rather than simply the music alone. Figure 5 shows the range of music formats, which the participants embrace. A surprising result here is the significant number of participants who purchase music in vinyl and high resolution formats. It must be noted that a proportion of participants were students enrolled on music degree pathways, but nevertheless, it is clear that higher-experience music delivery formats are embraced by some consumers. For the questions shown in Figure 4 and 5, participants were asked to choose one of three options for each category: ‘Regularly’, ‘Sometimes’ and ‘Never’. These scores were weighted 1, 0.5 and 0 respectively to give a normalised score between 0 and 100% for each category.

Figure 4: How the consumer cohort learn about new music.


Figure 5: Music formats purchased by the cohort.

Other than the music itself, participants also indicated their high interest in album art, band photography and production and performer credits, as shown in Figure 6. For the question shown in Figure 6, participants were asked to choose one of three options for each category; ‘Very Interested’, ‘Sometimes Interested’ and ‘Rarely / Not Interested’. These scores were weighted 1, 0.5 and 0 respectively to give a normalised score between 0 and 100% for each category.


Figure 6: Values and interests attached to a purchased music album.

Piano Ombre by Francois and the Atlas Mountains

The developed album app Piano Ombre is designed to provide a digital music album experience that maintains the rich visual media and additional artistic content that would be expected in an analogue sleeve, and much more as well. The listener can play the album while browsing song lyrics, production credits, photographs, biographies, artwork, animations, and can also access exclusive studio outtakes and B-side tracks.

Visually the app takes its cues from the artwork for the album’s other release formats, using the album’s cover photograph prominently and repeating its circle motif in the circular icons found throughout the app. Figure 7 shows the album cover, the main user interface and the album tracklist. In the Francois app, the tracklist can only be played continuously in list order, unless the listener actively selects new tracks manually. From the album playlist the user is also able to engage a ‘download to library’ feature. If the user selects this option and inserts their email address, the audio, as both MP3 and high-resolution wave audio files, are made available for download to a personal computer and hence a digital music library such as iTunes. This feature also triggers an official sale registration, which can be reported directly by the record label as an official chart sale.


Figure 7: The main opening screen, menu screen and album tracklist.

Additional materials, including hand-drawn animations, a journal/sketchbook and candid behind-the-scenes photographs, were supplied by the band, as shown in Figures 8 and 9.


Figure 8: Hand drawn animations appear as loading screens.


Figure 9: An example journal entry and the band photos section.

Album tracks are presented side-by-side with notes from the composer, lyrics in French and English and an option to display guitar chords. The lyrics and chords scroll automatically to keep in time with the track being played (see Figure 10).


Figure 10. The track play screen with additional content including song description, lyrics and guitar chords.

The ‘Band’ section provides a list of tour dates with the option to buy tickets, a band biography and a list of album credits as shown in Figure 11. An ‘Extras’ section presents links to the band’s Twitter and Facebook pages, video playlists, the Domino Recording Company web shop and a newsletter sign-up option.


Figure 11: The band details section with tour dates, biography and album credits.

Finally, the Sun Tracker (shown in Figure 12) is a unique feature that ties in with the album’s themes and imagery. It encourages the user to aim their device’s camera at the sun, or to locate it using the device’s integral gyroscope and compass if indoors. A red circle then appears, allowing the user to take a photo before applying photo filters and either saving it or sharing it online. The Sun Tracker feature then unlocks one of 24 bonus tracks, one for each hour of the day.


Figure 12: The Sun Tracker and bonus music section.

It must be noted that this particular implementation of the album app was oriented to the artistic preferences of a single artist, i.e. Francois and the Atlas Mountains. There are many other features that can be implemented in the album app at the discretion of the artist, label and app design. For example: features such as random and repeat play can be implemented, as can features that allow the app audio to integrate with other applications and libraries on the device.

5. Consumer response

5.1 Consumer feedback on the album app

Demonstration sessions were held at Anglia Ruskin University during March and April 2014. Cohorts of students from arts and technology pathways were given a short presentation on the history and potential of music delivery formats. The participants received a demonstration of the Francois and The Atlas Mountains App and asked to indicate which features they found of interest. A total of 65 participants gave quantitative feedback during the consumer demonstrations. The participants were all staff and students of Anglia Ruskin University (UK) with an age range between 19 and 55, and a mean average age or 23.2.

For all questions, participants were encouraged to identify if they were ‘Very Interested’, ‘Interested’, or ‘Not Interested’. The questionnaire results are weighted 1, 0.5 and 0 respectively and used to calculate a normalised percentage score out of 100, where a maximum score of 100 indicates that all participants were ‘Very Interested’. A score of 0% indicates that all participants were ‘Not Interested’.

It can be seen in Figure 13 that almost all interviewees liked the album app format because of its ability to provide a mechanism for accessing high quality versions of the audio; scoring this feature at 88%. It is also evident that the additional creative content aspects of the app, such as appearance, song lyrics, guitar chords, access to exclusive content, imagery and production details all scored over 60%; highlighting a significant interest from the music buying public. A regularly updated journal and links to social networking pages were of less interest but still scored between 40-50%.


Figure 13: Specific responses to the Francois and the Atlas Mountains album app.

Having also conducted consumer evaluations prior to the album app being created, it was possible to see the difference between the audience’s perception of an idea or concept and how they perceived a real case study and demonstration. As shown in Figure 14: prior to being shown an example of the album app, only 34% of participants indicated that they would purchase music in this form. However, 77% of the group that were given a demonstration of the app before being asked the question responded that they would buy music in this format.


Figure 14: Consumers’ response both before and after seeing the album app demonstration.

In terms of qualitative feedback, the cohort additionally expressed interest in further possibilities of the album app format, questioning whether it could facilitate a full music score as well as guitar chords. Participants were also interested in whether the app could provide a way to find other related acts, perhaps on the same record label. Some concerns were expressed over where album apps will ‘live’ on the device and how they will be organised – highlighting the need for a ‘virtual CD cabinet’ type application on the device. Individuals were clearly aware of the limited capacity of their mobile devices and expressed concerns over the data size of the app.

A number of active musicians in the cohort were interested in the cost of development and were concerned that the (relatively) high cost of developing an app would mean that it was not an option for smaller acts and semi-professional artists.

5.2 Industry stakeholder interviews

Stakeholder interviews with industry professionals were conducted in order to gather opinions on the album app – the concept, the app itself and the potential for future development – and gauge the subjective success of the project. Key figures from the music industry were selected to give a representative view from the perspectives of music publishing, music licensing and the record labels. The stakeholders interviewed were from organisations including Sony ATV Music Publishing, Warner Chappell Music Publishing, Parlophone Records, Domino Records, the UK Music Producers Guild and PRS for Music.

The fact that the Piano Ombre album app is chart-eligible was noted as a positive step, particularly by the record label representatives, who saw it as a significant achievement. However, it was felt that the option within the app to download the album onto the device – which redeems the song files from the band’s record label and registers a sale with the charts – was not adequately highlighted and incentivised. A prompt to encourage the user to download the files when they first open the app was suggested.

The range of features offered by the app was well-received, in particular the inclusion of exclusive content not available online or elsewhere, which was seen as an artistic and commercial advantage for the format. Exclusive tracks, videos, lyrics and guitar chords were among the features specifically mentioned. It was generally felt that a media-rich app with this kind of additional content could offer sufficient added value to justify the purchase price. Several stakeholders expressed the opinion that the album app may remain a more niche, rather than general, release format. To many, the album app represents a “deluxe format for the uber-fan”. In other words, a consumer might be drawn to the extra features and functionality offered by an app-format album released by their favourite artist, but would still purchase the majority of their music in conventional formats.

One interviewee indicated that the format could find particular success with fans of heavy rock and metal acts, who are generally very active in purchasing additional content including live DVDs and guitar tablature books. Another interviewee felt that a situation might arise where such an artist and their management might even be willing to finance or part-finance a potentially loss-making album app in order to cement the artist’s positioning as an innovator. Another potential scenario discussed, was to use the album app as a pre-release portal, providing information and content in the run up to a major album launch, then offering the user an incentivised album purchase. It was felt that this concept has definite potential, although the exact offering, incentives and pricing structure require further thought.

All of the stakeholders interviewed had strong views on how the content of any future album apps should be licensed. The consensus was that a new licensing template should be established for album apps, thereby avoiding the need to negotiate individual deals with different rights holders for each app released. The principal issue surrounds the inclusion of lyrics, guitar chords and sheet music – the so-called lyric and graphic rights. While existing PRS structures should be able to administer the mechanical and performance rights (respectively, the right to reproduce the work in a specific format and the right to perform the work in public, including downloading it from the internet), the lyric and graphic rights are handled separately.

In order to account for the extra rights exploited by the album app format, an uplift in the royalty payments administered by PRS for Music would seem to be preferable to direct accounting between label and publisher. Not only would this simplify the process, but it could avoid any legal issues with the major digital distributors, such as Apple, who require a signed agreement stating that all of the material contained within the app is the property of the app publisher (in this case, the record label).

6. Conclusions and future opportunities

The format of the album app as a credible digital music format has been developed and tested in a live scenario for the very first time. The app Piano Ombre by Francois and the Atlas mountains is also the first chart eligible music app in the world, so this is a significant and valuable step forward.

In evaluating participant responses at consumer and stakeholder review meetings, the most impactful features are the inclusion of artwork, song lyrics, producer credits, guitar chords and the ability for the musical content to be a dynamic portal for discovering exclusive music material. Additionally, the opportunity to use the app as a portal for accessing high definition versions of the audio was also very well received. Additionally, the enhanced security with regards to piracy and quality control at the distribution stage is unique to the app as a digital download format. This project has shown a method for expanding both the artist’s and consumer’s experience when engaging with commercial digital music. For artists the app allows them to add a greater artistic vision to the album and maintains the creative focus on the album as a packaged art piece in a digital context. For consumers there is an enhanced feature set, but also a greater connectivity and understanding of the artistic vision of the release.

It was valuable to observe the consumer cohort’s perception of the album app prior to and after seeing a demonstration. On discussion alone, only 34% of participants were excited by the album app concept prior to its development but this rose to 77% when they saw the app functionality directly. This highlights an intriguing challenge for technical innovators in the creative industries, in that consumers may have a degree of apathy with respect to new technologies and methods at the concept development stage. Until the new technology is built and can be demonstrated, it can potentially be rejected.

The music industry representatives saw the album app as a viable future music format, but were hesitant to regard it as a definite trend for the future. It was regularly discussed that a ‘perfect storm’ or a coming together of the right artist with the right album and just the right digital context at the right time, would most likely be required to push the album app as a new, principal, digital format. If this could be achieved with a huge internationally regarded artist, the music industry could change considerably in just a short space of time.

At present the cost of developing an album app is prohibitive to independent and unsigned bands, but, as with all new technologies, the cost would reduce considerably with ubiquity. For larger multi-record selling artists, the cost of app development is quite small and could see a lucrative additional income stream for music releases. Additional proof of market testing is required with the album app format, and the authors are currently pursuing opportunities to develop a second case study analysis with a number of music artists. Bringing a new commercial music format to the public requires a substantial marketing budget but with sufficient investment in place it would be possible to compare the change in sales and revenue patterns between the album app and conventional music release formats. For example: it is envisaged that dynamic musical content, which can be pushed to the app after the sale date, can extend the peak-sales life of a released album and prolong its shelf life, in contrast to the majority of sales profiles which see most album sales within the first one or two weeks after release.

Although a relatively small-scale study, the research conducted here indicates that the future for album apps is positive. Indeed Paul McCartney recently re-released five of his solo albums as album apps (Dredge, 2014). It is suggested however that more larger scale research be conducted in order to quantify more significantly whether the album app format is likely to be embraced fully by consumers. In June 2014, Bernhoft Islander released his self titled album as an app and includes interactive features that allow the listener to manipulate the balance and panning of the mix and to experiment with looping sounds and phrases (Greeves, 2014). This approach to more interactive digital music has also been experimented with before by Bjork, Peter Gabriel and Gwilym Gold, and these could deliver the extra functionality required to entice music consumers to explore music in a more immersive manner. The use of interactive musical content was discussed during the artist consumer groups in this research, and the response was clearly divided between those embracing the idea and others who suggest that music should be heard in one way only – ‘as the artist intended’. Regardless of the split opinion on interactive music applications, one thing is certainly clear: digital platforms for music sale are not currently providing the rich user experience that will encourage listeners to pay for the music they consume. However a new digital platform, album apps or potentially another innovation, are on the horizon and the commercial music industry can expect to see the methods of sale and consumption evolve in the very near future.


This research was supported by the Digital R&D Fund for the Arts, with funds provided by NESTA Arts & Humanities Research Council, Arts Council England and public funding by the National Lottery.


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Album app examples

Francois and the Atlas Mountains “Piano Ombre” https://itunes.apple.com/gb/app/piano-ombre/id840099884?mt=8

Bjork “Biophillia” https://itunes.apple.com/gb/app/bjork-biophilia/id434122935?mt=8

Paul McCartney and Wings “Band on the Run” https://itunes.apple.com/gb/app/band-on-run-paul-mccartney/id723450958?mt=8

Bernhoft Islander “Bernhoft Islander”  https://itunes.apple.com/gb/app/bernhoft-islander/id870484538?mt=8