Future Music Formats: evaluating the ‘album app’

Analogue and digital music formats each bring unique benefits for the consumer, the artist and the commercial record industry. Digital formats allow rapid and mobile access to an unlimited database of music, and bring valuable marketing opportunities on a global scale. Physical formats, such as vinyl, are more representative of an art piece, which may include cover art, photographs, descriptive texts, song lyrics and production details. There is however no current format for music delivery that maximises the experience for all of the stakeholders involved.
The emerging ‘album app’ format is a rich multi-media artefact that can be downloaded to a digital device. In 2011 Bjork released the first album app, Biophilia, which included a new unique interface for music listening as well as custom visual animations. Bjork’s cutting-edge approach however brought a number of unresolved challenges with respect to consumer adoption, design costs and chart eligibility.
The research presented in this paper evaluates the album app format and resolves some of the previous functional issues. Working with the band Francois and the Atlas Mountains, this project has realised the first ever chart eligible album app, Piano Ombre, which includes detailed artwork, song lyrics, guitar chord charts, production credits and access to exclusive bonus music material. The app has been evaluated by a number of consumers and industry representatives; in particular it has been observed that prior to seeing the app only 34% of those asked saw the format as having future potential, whereas, after seeing a demonstration of the app, 77% of participants said they would purchase music in this way. This paper therefore discusses the limitations of existing music formats, provides a case study overview of the developed album app material, and evaluates the consumer, artist and industry response to the proposed new format.